On Race & (In)Justice: Resources for Legislators

June 16, 2020

Our role at the Millennial Action Project is first and foremost to listen — our second is to support. The call and response relationship…

On Race & (In)Justice: Resources for LegislatorsOur role at the Millennial Action Project is first and foremost to listen — our second is to support. The call and response relationship of a healthy democracy is critical to our work, and is the premise by which we serve the legislators in our network.Social media is awash with books and other resources which champion anti-racism and center the work on self-reflection and learning, in order to create the personal change necessary to change the culture. Legislators have the added responsibility of creating the policy changes which will fundamentally change the system of oppression we have inherited.At MAP, we aim to continue our service as a bridge between protest and policy change. At this moment, we are working hard to research and vet bipartisan policy recommendations and sample legislation for criminal justice reform to support your legislative efforts.In the meantime, we have cultivated resources for you below. These resources have been selected by Team MAP — these are the books we’re reading, documentaries we’re watching, and the guides we’re following as we unpack our learned biases.Even in our art we must confront the default of Eurocentricity in religious depictions and general standards of beauty.Donna aka Madonna Without Child I by Kadara Enyeasi.These were among the first pieces that struck me at the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town. It struck me because it is broken down into so few elements (primary color, religious iconography, and a Black woman) that it insists to be reckoned with. It provokes the West that so built up an image of a White Madonna, and offers a renewed, inclusive vision; for why can’t Donna be Madonna as well? — Alex B.What we’re readingBooks:The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein. This book fits right in with my education in anti-racism. It meticulously explores generations of policies designed to ensure segregation of Black and White communities; it is a reminder of the unjust racial legacies which we must try to dismantle every day, lest a sequel is written about us in generations to come. — Alex B.If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin. James Baldwin is an incredible author and this book shows what a broken system does to couples and families. — BlaineThe Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin was the first book I read that has race as its primary focus. The book deals with questions of race broadly, but confronts legacies of violence and anxiety around the future particular to black Americans. Baldwin does two things brilliantly in this book; he personalizes the tragedy of being a black American in a beautifully written letter to his nephew, and he addresses race’s complex history with religion in the United States. In the letter to his nephew, Baldwin bridges over a century of historical and expected violence towards black Americans through the story of his family, and the longing for a fairer, more just future for his nephew leaves the reader bemoaning the intransigence of hate, yet awed at the depth of feeling and resolve Baldwin exhibits and tries to pass along to his nephew. In the second half of the book, Baldwin more directly addresses structures of repression that many Americans readily ignore through a critique of American christianity. Baldwin traces his own journey from engagement with christianity to a later rejection of the limiting quality of this faith, that historically in America has perpetuated the image of a white god, in a white society, even when adopted into predominantly black and minority communities. While this second half of the book is not a polemic against religion and faith as a whole, it tackles the difficult legacy of faith in America through the lens of Baldwin’s experience. Baldwin takes the reader on a journey of introspection and outward discovery in this powerful book. — JoeThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. This book is considered mandatory reading for anyone working in criminal justice and civil rights and has been cited in judicial decisions. As a civil rights litigator and legal scholar, Alexander paints a very clear picture of how the U.S. criminal justice system uses the War on Drugs as a primary tool for enforcing traditional — and new — modes of discrimination and oppression. Through this lens, we better understand how the U.S. came to have the highest incarceration rate in the world and how we disproportionately punish communities of color. — StacyRise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, by Radley Balko. I chose this book because of a five star rating from a self-declared staunch conservative who hailed it as “well researched, full of facts, and…politically neutral!” Investigative reporter, Radley Balko, digs into the history — and perpetuation — of policies and actions at all levels of government which have led to the militarization of police and the inevitable collision with the values of a free society. — StacyHeavy, by Kiese Laymon. Often, the best way to learn to empathize with another person’s experience is by immersing yourself in their story. Kiese Laymon writes a beautiful — and aptly named heavy — autobiography which details his experience growing up as a Black man in Mississippi. The weight of this book stayed with me long after I put it down. — StacyArticles & Essays:“Letter From a Birmingham Jail” — Martin Luther King Jr. It amazes me how MLK, one of our enduring American figures, wrote the first part of his Letter on the margins of a newspaper, in a jail cell; arrested and imprisoned for civil disobedience, he responds to critics who argue that the battle for civil rights needed to be fought in courtrooms, negotiating rather than in the streets. He writes “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” which is just as relevant and necessary to hear today as it was in 1963. — Alex B.Donna aka Madonna Without Child II by Kadara Enyeasi.What we’re listening toPodcasts:NYT 1619. New York Time’s 1619, by Nikole Hannah-Jones: NYT’s 1619 is an incredible visual, written, and auditory experience which seeks to reframe our understanding of America by examining slavery’s role in shaping almost every political, economic, and cultural development that followed. I’m currently listening to the podcast series, which begins by chronicling the difficult, heartbreaking, and deeply optimistic efforts of Black people throughout history to gain equal rights. Hannah-Jones closes episode one saying: “It is Black people who have been the perfecters of democracy.” Indeed, for anyone working to strengthen our democracy into the future, 1619 is required reading (or listening!) to understand how we got here today. — LaylaDonna aka Madonna Without Child III by Kadara Enyeasi.What we’re watchingMovies/DocumentariesJust Mercy (streaming free in June). Just Mercy is a stunning and heart-shattering portrayal of the unjust criminal justice system, particularly in the South. The film touches on many different aspects of the flawed system, including: dehumanization/humiliation of anyone of color, no matter your wealth or title, the cruel incentives white inmates have to accuse black people, lack of mental health support (particularly for army veterans), unfair trials, and death row. — Lani13th — on Netflix & Youtube. 13th, a powerful documentary that features activists, scholars, and political figures on both sides of the aisle, demonstrates how the legacy of slavery persists today in the form of mass incarceration. The film identifies economic and political incentives for mass criminalization and incarceration of Blacks, explores the politics of fear and anger, and criticizes dangerous corruption in our political system. — MeredithTrue Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality — free on YouTube. True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight For Equality, narrated by Bryan Stevenson, documents the relationships between slavery, lynching, segregation, and mass incarceration, making clear that “slavery didn’t end in 1865, it just evolved.” The film places Bryan Stevenson’s compelling experiences working with death row and other inmates within the context of the United States’ continuing history of racial injustice. — MeredithWhen They See Us — available on Netflix. “When They See Us” is a fantastic depiction of the problematic, often overlooked plea-bargain system in the US. The series brings to light the impossible decision that black Americans accused of a crime are often forced to make: go home to their families and admit to a crime they didn’t commit, OR attempt to prove themselves innocent in trial. They often have no choice but to select the former, for two reasons: 1) white officers physically beat them until they falsely admit, and/or 2) they don’t have the resources to hire a lawyer and will find it close to impossible to win in trial. — LaniI Am Not Your Negro — Available on Amazon. Based on the novel James Baldwin never finished, this is an incredible meditation on race in America since the beginning of the country. — BlaineSlavery by Another Name. This is a historical documentary from PBS that details the various forms of labor exploitation that continued in America following the 13th Amendment. Learning about the Vagrant Statutes and Black Codes that were strategically put in place provides valuable context and insight into how we got where we are today. — NickFor our White and NBPOC (Non-Black People of Color) legislators in particular, we hope these resources help you in your efforts to become a stronger ally to the Black community and a better informed legislator for your constituents.To our Black legislators, we are here to support you and to listen.

By Millennial Action Project on June 16, 2020.

Rep. Sara Jacobs


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