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Video Interview with Michelle Alexander

General Assembly 2012 Event 213

Watch an interview with Michelle Alexander, civil rights advocate, litigator, scholar and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness exposes today’s racial caste system and how to resist it.


SPEAKER 1: What is it that you think is at the basis of the inequitable ways we treat each other?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: At the core of all of these systems of racial and social division and inequality, including the system of mass incarceration, is the belief that some of us are not worthy of genuine care, compassion, and concern. It's an idea that is deeply rooted in our psyches. It's a idea that was written into the US constitution with the 3/5 clause. And it is an idea that we will likely be wrestling with for a long time to come.

But we cannot turn away from the challenge. And I think, really, the privilege of being alive today is the privilege of being able to work for racial and social justice and for the greater recognition of the unity and oneness of all.

SPEAKER 1: Is there something about this that you'd conceive of as religious work?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Absolutely. I think this is deeply spiritual work for me, and I think for so many of the people who are engaged in it. It's about how we view and value each other as human beings, whether we see in them genuine dignity and humanity, view them as children of God, or whether we view them as others who can be kicked to the curb and disposed of. And unfortunately, many of us who claim to care have been too willing to turn a blind eye to those who have been viewed as criminals, or viewed as others, because of the countries they came from or perhaps the mistakes they have made.

SPEAKER 1: Here we are for five days, which I don't think of as an endpoint, but as a kick-off point. What do you think we can do as a movement, and as religious people, to work on this?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: I think one of the most important things that can be done, initially, is consciousness raising. And in fact, that's the main reason I wrote my book, and why I encourage others to see films, read books about these issues, because many of us think we know, but then realize with closer study and examination that, perhaps, we don't. And there are so many myths about the system of mass incarceration, about the nature of our economy, the structure of our government—all of these things that affect our lives, our communities, so profoundly. And so I think the first step is engaging in consciousness raising, forming study circles, holding forums. And then the next step is to act on what we know, coming together as churches, as congregations, as communities, to take action, to do justice where we are and where we live.

SPEAKER 1: How do you keep going considering what a long haul it is?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: I think that it's really remembering that it's the work itself is what makes life meaningful. It's not arriving at the promised land. It's the journey itself. And that's what keeps me going, because I know that it's unlikely that in my lifetime I'll be able to say, we've done it all, and that new challenges will be born. But our work today is to make the road by walking and to take the journey.