Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books:

41rKUS1X0IL._SX331_BO1 204 203 200_One of the great paradoxes of the Obama era is that it encouraged so many liberals, both black and white, to see the black experience in America not as a slow, arduous struggle for freedom culminating in the election of a black president – Obama’s version, not surprisingly – but as an unending nightmare. Not least among the reasons was that a black man of unerring self-discipline and caution, bipartisan to a fault, should have provoked such ferocious white resistance – fanned by the man who questioned the validity of his birth certificate and then succeeded him as president. This most eloquent champion of ‘post-racialism’ may have been the most powerful man in the world, yet he remained a prisoner of his race, of his ‘black body,’ as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in Between the World and Me.​1 In the face of repeated police shootings of young black men or atrocities such as the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, Obama did little more than deliver one of his formidable speeches. And – as he did in Charleston – sing ‘Amazing Grace’, as if only a higher power could cure America of its original sin, and end the nightmare.

That nightmare began in the early 17th century, when Africans were packed into slave ships and transported to the American colonies, where they – or those who survived the Middle Passage – were sold at auction, stripped naked for the perusal of prospective buyers. With the defeat of the South in the Civil War – by 1804, all the northern states had abolished slavery – four million slaves won their freedom. Under the protection of federal troops, they gained the right to vote, and to elect representatives to state legislatures and the US Congress, in the unfinished revolution known as Reconstruction. But the forces of white supremacy in the former Confederacy proved resilient and inventive, and succeeded in overturning the gains of Reconstruction: black captivity wasn’t liquidated so much as reconfigured.

More here.