New Jim Crow selected as First Readings book for Class of 2019

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In an email to the Brown community this morning, Dean of the College Maud Mandel announced that Michelle Alexander’s 2010 bestseller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, will be the First Readings book for the incoming Class of 2019. Alexander’s book has won rave reviews for its searing, comprehensive look at how the incarceration system in the United States consistently and deliberately targets black Americans, turning many into second-class citizens without basic rights, including the right to vote. Mandel called the selection “compelling and timely,” and she is “confident that this choice for the First Readings Program will inspire productive discussions among students and their seminar leaders.”

Bluestockings published a petition endorsing the selection last December. The letter argued for The New Jim Crow‘s selection on the basis of its merits as a powerful conversation starter for incoming Brown students:

We identify the first-reading as a critical opportunity to begin redefining a culture at Brown that would ask students to constantly grapple with the myriad social constructs that each of us exist within. Brown’s institutions, just as those in the academy and American society at large, perpetuate systems of inclusion and exclusion that are not yet bled of their racist and classist roots. While Michelle Alexander specifically handles the case of contemporary anti-black and anti-brown policing and incarceration strategies, embedding these strategies in historical racism and classism, her book can offer lessons for the immediate Brown community. It is our hope that the conversations that stem from the first-reading discussion groups will introduce students to engagement with the intersections of race and class (within Brown and beyond) as well as spark a sustained interest in examining these and other systems of oppression.

Along with The New Jim Crow, the First Readings Committee had been considering Kirk W. Johnson’s To Be a Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis American Left Behind, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, and Kamia Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows as finalists for the selection.

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