“Before announcing the verdict, Justice [Gustin L.] Reichbach scolded the department for what he described as a widespread culture of corruption endemic in its drug units,” The New York Timesreported.
“I thought I was not naïve,” Reichbach reportedly said. “But even this court was shocked, not only by the seeming pervasive scope of misconduct but even more distressingly by the seeming casualness by which such conduct is employed.”
I’ve been reading Alexander’s book at bedtime, and it’s not a comforting read. As previously reported in our interview with the author, she contends that mass incarceration of people of color like DeLeon and Figueroa represents a new “racial caste system,” and nothing short of a social revolution can dismantle it.
I heard Alexander speak at the Princeton University “Imprisonment of a Race” conference earlier this year and something she said there has been nagging at me since I picked up her book again. She said the civil rights era strategy of shining a light on model black citizens and distancing ourselves from those with criminal records was a tragic mistake and is no longer viable.
“People of color are no more likely to use or sell drugs than whites. The color blind veneer of the system has made us blind to how racial bias permeates the system. We have to deal with the shame and stigma that keeps people silent,” said Alexander. “We’ve got to make safe places in churches, schools, etc.”
WILD YOUTH: Christine A. Scheller, third from left, in 1979 at age 15.
When I was a drug-using teenager, I was arrested two or three times for nonviolent crimes that were committed when I was under the influence. I spent a couple hours in a jail cell after one arrest and a life-transforming month in a juvenile shelter after a parental conflict over my incorrigibility. Both experiences convinced me that I never wanted to be locked up again.
I’m fortunate that I surrendered my life to Jesus when I was 17, because if it had been another year or two, and I had gotten into the same kind of trouble, I, like other members of my family, would have been saddled with an arrest record that could have limited my choices for far longer than justice would demand.
One of these loved ones spent eight months in prison, and became a Christian there, after police coerced his “friend” into falsely testifying against him. He went straight to Bible College when he was released and has been, for 25 years, a Bible teacher, elder, and pastor, but still can’t work in certain industries because he has a felony conviction on his record.
Another was stopped by California police, ostensibly because of a broken tail light on the car someone else was driving, and was arrested for possession of a hash pipe. No drugs, just a pipe. Bail was set at $20,000. This young man spent two days in jail and never used drugs again, but still isn’t sure if the felony conviction was dropped or not after he completed a diversion program and probation.
Alexander said, “Felon is the new n-word” and we should stop labeling people with it. She also disavowed “repeat offender” and “career criminal,” saying these terms mask the struggle of cycling in and out of an unjust system.
The members of my family with arrest records have managed to learn from and overcome our histories, in part because of the support of our middle class families and in part because we are white.
In a CNN column today about the decline of black political conservatism, Baptist preacher and former Atlanta Journal editorial board member Frederick Johnson said that he used to tell his son that if a racist cop pulled him over because he was black, that was the cop’s fault; but if the cop found drugs in the car, that was his son’s fault.
“Unlike some conservatives, I don’t wish to let either party off the hook,” said Johnson. Amen to that.
According to Alexander, if we were to return to the days before the war on drugs, we would have to release four-out-of-five prisoners who are currently incarcerated. That’s unlikely to happen, she said, because one million people are employed by prisons.
“This system is so deeply rooted now that it’s not going down without a major fight,” Alexander said.
She advocated movement building that includes the work of artists, students, and law enforcement personnel, and said there needs to be consciousness raising within the black community and an eradication of class divisions that keep middle class blacks from advocating for poor ones.
“Activists take the risks, while advocates are professional tinkerers with the system,” she said. “What’s necessary is for those who are advocates to support those who are activists and to envision themselves as activists.”
I’ve taken a small risk here by announcing that there are drug arrests in my personal and family history. I don’t enjoy doing it, but as a Christian I’m so deeply, personally unsettled by the injustice of “mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness” that I feel compelled to confront disabling shame by admitting that I too have been a criminal.
As if chemical relaxer burns, alopecia, and unnecessary poverty from the staggering cost of sew-ins and lace fronts wasn’t enough, our hair has found another way to potentially kill us.
U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, who is black and no stranger to black women’s hair concerns, issued a warning last month against the common excuse of skipping exercise to preserve a hairstyle. According to the New York Times, Dr. Benjamin’s remarks to Bronner Bros. International Hair Show attendees aligned with a 2008 study where a third of the women cited their hair as a reason they exercised less often.
“For shame,” I’d like to say, but I’m just as guilty — maybe even more so because my hair is chemically relaxed. I’m in no danger of the regression from straight to curly to kinky that happens when moisture strikes pressed natural hair. I can identify, however, with the sinking feeling brought on by rain when I’ve just dropped $50, $75 or $100 (or more) to get my hair done. And, in case you didn’t know, weaves and wigs aren’t exactly waterproof nor are they cheap. Given the investment, I absolutely think twice before willfully dismantling a style through sweat from a vigorous workout.
Biblically, our hair is our glory, our individual object of pride. When Mary anoints the feet of Jesus and then washes them with her hair, the symbolism of the act of sacrifice is as much about the cost of the oil as the fact that she willingly sullied her hair to honor the Lord. Then and now, regardless of whether we grow ’em or buy ’em, we hold our tresses in high regard. We capitalize on our locks’ ability to influence the jobs we’re offered, determine how we’re treated and even how we’re admired. Ignoring the historical and social context of black women’s hair makes it easy to ridicule the expense of it all and downplay its significance.
But our hair is not as significant as we make it, particularly if we allow it to compromise our bodies so dramatically. Our hair was meant as a covering, not a cross to bear.
Exercise isn’t just for overweight people, and those who don’t engage risk more than obesity but also hypertension, higher levels of bad cholesterol, poor sleep, and increased fatigue. Beyond that, if it’s our desire to positively participate in a movement of God with a broad impact on the world around us, physical health must trump physical beauty, even as the two coexist.
Whether well coiffed or not, we still exist for a greater purpose that we can’t be ready to fulfill if we’re falling apart. We can’t be spiritually strong if we’re physically worn down.
As good stewards of the bodies God gave us — that still belong to Him — we have a responsibility to maintain ourselves as much as possible to fulfill our individual callings. And if that means exercise at the price of a few bad hair days, then so be it. Just keep the flat iron ready for after the workout.
You’ve got to wonder if Disney is starting to have second thoughts about producing a film with an African American princess. A few weeks ago we told you about the drama surrounding the upcoming release of The Princess and the Frog, a new animated film featuring Disney’s first black princess. Well, people still aren’t quite sure what to do with Princess Tiana.
First there was a bit of hubbub over her name and occupation, which were ultimately changed from the supposedly slave-sounding “Maddy” the maid to “Tiana” the chef. Then, as The New York Times reports, there’s the controversy over setting the fairy tale against the backdrop of New Orleans and the fact that the story finds Tiana (spoiler alert) spending ample screen time as an amphibian. Now TheRoot.com has raised the conversation to a whole new level, questioning whether we need another princess in the first place. Writer Monique Fields muses, “Whatever in the world do princesses do? More importantly, how do they get paid? Real life is not a fairy tale, and few folks live happily ever after. So just what are we telling our girls when we dress them up in frilly dresses, dust them with makeup, and put glitter in their hair before they really know who they are?”
While we can grant that some girls do get stuck in the princess narrative, spending their lives searching for Prince Charming, doesn’t it feel a bit like Fields is missing the point? The fantastic nature of these stories quite intentionally inspires a sense of whimsy in young women. Girls are supposed to be left asking what if a pumpkin wasn’t just a pumpkin? And what if people weren’t always what they seem? In that world, a frog might be a prince. Candlesticks might actually dance. Perhaps something good we can’t see or touch or hear is moving all around us all the time. Besides, Disney has never pretended to peddle realism.
Whose House? Run’s House
Just when it felt like the only black family on television lived in the White House, Rev Run and the rest of the Simmons family are back for a sixth season of Run’s House on MTV. Catch the premiere episode on Monday night (10 p.m. ET/PT) when the family takes us on their Hawaiian vacation. We’re curious to see if this will be the episode where Rev Run and his wife Justine deal with their son’s recent arrest or if we’ll have to wait until later in the season to see how JoJo is punished. The oldest son from Rev Run’s first marriage and aspiring rapper, Joseph “Jo Jo” Simmons, was arrested last month for drug possession and resisting arrest but was quickly released on his own recognizance. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. Until Monday, check out the following preview for the new season:
It looks like the Carrie Prejean saga may finally come to an end. On Thursday, Donald Trump and Miss California USA pageant officials officially fired the Miss USA contestantciting failure to uphold her contractual duties. Despite Prejean’s insinuation that the decision was made because of the political controversy surrounding her stance on same-sex marriage, Keith Lewis, the executive director of Miss California USA, tried to remain clear that Prejean’s termination had nothing to do with her beliefs. “This was a decision based solely on contract violations including Ms. Prejean’s unwillingness to make appearances on behalf of the Miss California USA organization,” he stated. Prejean told TMZ.com she was “shocked,” which left us wondering if she’s the only person who didn’t see this coming. The entire state of California is embroiled in a heated debate over gay marriage with the passing of Proposition 8 last November and the recent decision of the California Supreme Court to uphold the ban on same-sex marriage. After publicly taking such an unpopular position on the gay marriage issue, and further aggravating the situation by joining forces with the National Organization for Marriage, was she really surprised that pageant officials leaped at the chance to let her go? It’s a shame she may not have carried out her responsibilities faithfully, at least for the sake of being above reproach. Did all the attention from traditional marriage supporters go to her head? In any event, this now gives us time to get reacquainted with that other statuesque blond. You know, the one who actually won the Miss USA pageant. If only we could remember her name.
Obama’s Gospel Tribute
When President Barack Obama starts jonesing for a little musical entertainment, all he has to do is say the word and the line of A-list singers ready to serenade him stretches from the White House to the Washington Monument. But as of Tuesday, President Obama’s access to instant personal entertainment just got even easier. On Tuesday, Central South Distributors released a special tribute CD to honor the first African-American POTUS called A Gospel Tribute to President Obama. The album features Israel Houghton, Juanita Bynum, and Donnie McClurkin, among others. In a tribute to First Lady Michelle Obama, Kelly Price and Shirley Murdock also appear, singing “The Curtain’s Raised.” Check out the CD at Amazon or ilovegospelmusic.com.
Facebook’s Taking Names
For all the Facebook addicts out there, get your fingers ready. On Saturday at 12:01 a.m. the popular social networking site will allow users to claim their own personal Facebook usernames and URLs. With a potential 200 million people competing simultaneously to stake a claim in cyberspace by snatching up their own name, you’re going to need to type fast if you want to be able to “own” www.facebook.com/YourNameHere. We’re not exactly tech savvy enough to know what all this means, but we’ve heard that The Daily Beast is comparing this massive domain grab to the Oklahoma Territory land run of 1889, minus the horses and dust. If you are on Facebook, be sure to become a fan of UrbanFaith. We promise we won’t poke.