Our theme for the month of June is “Top Ten.”
1. The Central Park Five | 2012 documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon
It was 2014 when I first heard about the story of the five young black men who were wrongly accused of raping and murdering a white woman in the “Central Park Jogger” case of 1989. After forced confessions and zero DNA matching, these kids spent between six and thirteen years in prison (only Korey Wise was old enough to be tried as an adult) before they were exonerated when the true culprit confessed in 2001. My classmates were discussing the case and Donald Trump’s reaction: a full page newspaper ad calling to “bring back the death penalty” in my first graduate class at Brooklyn College. I was shocked that I had never heard of this before and watched this documentary as soon as I got home. Learning about this was eye-opening for me at the time because I realized just how ignorant I was about race in America and how much I still have to learn.
2. The New Jim Crow | nonfiction by Michelle Alexander
“In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
3. “The Problem We All Live With” (Parts 1 and 2) | This American Life episodes by Nikole Hannah-Jones
Nikole-Hannah Jones is amazing and has greatly shaped the way I think about public education. She has spent her career researching school segregation and the ways in which it is still happening in a very real and intentional way. I urge you to listen to this and start conversations about how integration is the solution to our broken education system.
4. “Nonviolence as Compliance” | article by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This article, following the 2015 riots in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, was referred to me by a friend when I expressed that people who participate in violent protests are “hurting their own cause.” I changed my thinking.
“When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is ‘correct’ or ‘wise,’ any more than a forest fire can be ‘correct’ or ‘wise.’ Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is.”
5. Americanah | novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Not just informative, but truly one of my favorite books.
“I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable.”
6. “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City” | article by Nikole Hannah-Jones
Nikole Hannah-Jones again, this time about choosing where to send her own child to school in NYC.
“Saying my child deserved access to ‘good’ public schools felt like implying that children in ‘bad’ schools deserved the schools they got, too. I understood that so much of school segregation is structural—a result of decades of housing discrimination, of political calculations and the machinations of policy makers, of simple inertia. But I also believed that it is the choices of individual parents that uphold the system, and I was determined not to do what I’d seen so many others do when their values about integration collided with the reality of where to send their own children to school.”
7. “The Case for Reparations” | article by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.”
8. 13th | documentary by Ava Duvernay (available on Netflix)
I realize that, unfortunately, not everyone is going to spend an hour reading the above Atlantic article or all of The New Jim Crow. But please, at least watch this documentary.
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt their communities.” – former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman
9. Fruitvale Station | film by Ryan Coogler (available to rent on Amazon)
Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant, who was murdered at twenty-two years old by the Oakland police in 2009.The entire film simply follows the last day in his life, making it especially powerful.
10. The Hate U Give | novel by Angie Thomas and film by George Tillman Jr.
“Pac said Thug Life stood for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G-L-I-F-E. Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?’”
Last, I know this list is lacking. Bryan Stevenson and James Baldwin are top of my list. I hope people continue to share resources with me as well. I promise to keep educating myself, and I hope you learned something too.
Caroline (Higgins) Nyczak (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.