How BBB Honors Black History Month
As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s worth reiterating that the act of sending books to incarcerated individuals is itself a form of anti-racism and represents a meaningful step toward enhanced social justice. We also support Black authors and publishers when we make special bulk book purchases and make a point of distributing culturally and socially conscious literature.
Black and indigenous people of color still make up a disproportionate percentage of the US prison population. Our country’s prison system remains racist in numerous aspects, as delineated and visualized by Wendy Sawyer in a 2020 article for the Prison Policy Initiative. “Systemic racism is evident at every stage of the system,” she writes, “from policing to prosecutorial decisions, pretrial release processes, sentencing, correctional discipline, and even reentry. The racism inherent in mass incarceration affects children as well as adults and is often especially punishing for people of color who are also marginalized along other lines, such as gender and class.”
In her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, legal scholar Michelle Alexander shows that by targeting black men—in part through the ill-fated War on Drugs campaign—the US criminal legal system functions as a system of racial control even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. While Jim Crow laws were discarded decades ago, a large percentage of the African American community is still confined to prisons. And, as Alexander demonstrates, it remains legal to discriminate against those with criminal convictions in nearly all the ways in which it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. (It’s worth noting too that The New Jim Crow is often requested by our correspondents, a reminder of how interested our clients are in this type of writing).
While our efforts alone cannot solve problems of the magnitude outlined by Sawyer and Alexander, the moves toward empowerment that they do offer remain significant. Improving access to books is one way to help disrupt a route through the criminal justice system that has come to seem inevitable. During Black History Month, and of course beyond, we invite you to help us in our mission in any way you can, by donating money contributing BIPOC books to our library, or by volunteering to strengthen our cause.