At New York’s Union Theological Seminary Wednesday evening, legal scholar and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander, author of the best selling The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, spoke to a capacity crowd and invited everyone there “to explore the meaning of race and justice at a particularly critical moment in our nation’s history, a time when it seems as though we may be once again at a fork in the road.”
She began, “A nation founded with lofty ideals of freedom and equality but extending those ideals to wealthy white men only is the founding paradox of our nation to this day… Even now, as a black man sits in the Oval Office. For years now I have been obsessed with this paradox — not its theoretical existence but its concrete manifestation in the brutal system of mass incarceration, a penal system unlike anything the world has ever seen.”
Alexander described a society in which one third of black American men spend time behind bars, a figure that jumps to 60 percent for those without a high school diploma. They experience “legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives… Once branded a criminal or felon you are ushered into a parallel social universe in which the basic civil and human rights that apply to others no longer apply to you.”
Alexander’s appearance, hosted by Union’s Institute for Women, Religion and Globalization was the Fifth Annual Judith Davidson Moyers Women of Spirit Lecture, a public forum to discuss the most pressing global issues faced by present day women leaders of faith — issues including environmental justice, poverty, war and women’s education.
Judith Davidson Moyers is CEO of Public Affairs Television.