Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bending Toward Justice?


Today we started watching 13th, the incredible documentary (based largely on The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander) about race, mass incarceration, the carceral state, and for-profit prison industry. We will spend all of February reading excerpts from The New Jim Crow using a curriculum developed by Teaching Tolerance. Our unit on The New Jim Crow fits well with our study of Reconstruction, using materials from Facing History and Ourselves. After finishing 13th on Thursday, we'll take another look at Black Codes from 1865 -- likely in a new light.

As Faulkner famously remarked, "The past is never dead, it's not even past."

One of the things I loved most about 13th (I had already read and taught The New Jim Crow in an American Studies course at Princeton, so the information was not at all new to me) was connecting with the work of Jelani Cobb, whom I now follow on Twitter.

I approach US History very much as a problem to be resolved: How do the Declaration of Independence and Constitution come to mean (or at least come closer to meaning) what they say: That all . . . are created equal. That "We the People" includes all of The People? Thus the Civil War is followed by a second American Revolution fought on those very terms: Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" is a rewriting of the Constitution, and the Reconstruction Amendments (13, 14, and 15) are a Second American Revolution. But a Second Reconstruction proves necessary as well, during the 1960s with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in particular.

And now today? Revanchism. Will we now bend toward justice? Or slouch toward Bethlehem? I'm not yet sure, but I believe that diversity and inclusion rests on truth and reconciliation (I stole that from a recent NYT opinion piece, which I must find and link). Reconciling ourselves to the truth is surely the work of history.

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