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Liked Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow? Then read Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard

Poet El Jones suggest two books challenging conversations around race.
El Jones is a poet and academic based in Halifax. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

When Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow came out, there was talk that the U.S. was a post-racial society. The nonfiction book makes the case that racism didn't end; it was just redesigned as a caste system that puts Black men into prison. El Jones is a poet and academic based in Halifax. She has found a Canadian match for The New Jim Crow in Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard.

Questioning progress

"Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow is eight years old, but the issues she talks about in this book have come back into the international conscience. It came out after the election of Barack Obama — when we were post-racial and Black people had finally made it. Part of the argument of this book asks, 'If we've made it and the civil rights movement has been a triumph, then why are so many people being incarcerated?' One of the things Alexander argues is that racism reinvents itself. What you see through the prison system is the same Jim Crow oppression and racism for Black people taking place through mass incarceration and the war on drugs." 

Beneath law and order 

"Rather than being about crime, Alexander argues incarceration is a system of racial control. It returns us to the conditions we had under Jim Crow where we couldn't vote, access education or access housing. Alexander talks about how we've internalized images of Black criminals on the news. What is in fact a system of racism is spoken about in euphemistic terms as being about law and order. This dialogue allows people to argue things that are anti-Black, but never using racialized language. Everyone knows what these practices are about, but they are allowed to persist."

The great Canadian myth

"Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard gives us the entire history of state violence in Canada against Black people. For Canadians, it has become common knowledge that the United States mass incarcerates Black people — people feel this happens in America but it doesn't happen here. Policing Black Lives debunks that and reminds us that there was slavery in Canada for over 200 years. What's important about Robyn's book is that she doesn't just look at prisons or policing, she also looks at border patrolling, the foster care system and how children are taken from Black women. She particularly looks at gender and violence towards Black women and trans people. It's important not only because it expands our concepts of state violence, but also because it challenges these mythologies that Canada is the site of the underground railroad and that any problems with racism are somehow imported here by Trump and not something that is ingrained in our own history."

El Jones's comments have been edited and condensed.