Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review of Ghosts of Jim Crow by F. Michael Higginbotham

Initially I didn't know how to approach this review without being longwinded so I decided to take the things that stood out to me most and use the same structure as the author F. Michael Higginbotham uses in Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America.  F. Michael Higginbotham is a tenured law professor at the University of Baltimore and the former Interim Dean at the University of Baltimore School of Law. I really appreciate the approach he used with this book in the fact that it's simple to digest so a broad audience can read it without the aide of a person familiar with legalese or a legalese for dummies book.

Higginbotham begins with a little background into his experiences with racism and how those instances shaped his reasoning behind a lot of his arguments in achieving ending structural and cultural racism and having a true post-racial society.  A post-racial society isn't meant in the sense of being color blind but a way of ending notions of racial victimization, racial hierarchy, isolation, or judgement perceptions being a way of the past and not practiced by the majority. Having the preface helps the reader to get to know the author and understand that he's coming from a place of honesty and that plights of one person are actually the plights of many. Although raised in an upper-class home with two parents and well educated, he was still subject to the many prejudices that have longstanding since the days of slavery.

The introduction and Part I explores how the racial paradigm was formed and how the mindsets of black inferiority and white superiority are widespread through society by the installation of laws to make it such. Laws that forbade slaves to read, be publicly tried without a judge or jury, and even them not being lawfully able to own property. These laws were of course in place to maintain white superiority and black inferiority ultimately leaving behind its many ghosts. As long as blacks remained uneducated, subservient, poor, and believe they are, the racial paradigm will not change. 

Part II further parallels how Jim Crow laws and the harmful effects it has made for our society today. Jim Crow laws gave the false sense of seperate yet equal but as we look back on the past we know this wasn't true. Blacks were systematically killed without judge or jury, given lower wages when compared to other whites with similar skills, and often under-educated because their schools didn't offer subjects that were on course with furthering their education. Even if the majority wanted to attend college, there were few accepted into college. Higginbotham also references the "white-flight" which left many urban areas at a disadvantage when it came to receiving government funding. There were even vouchers given to whites to help send their children to schools that did not accept blacks. Jim Crow influenced the races not to mix so notions of inferiority and superiorty never had a chance to change because neither knew much about the other.

Part III was the most interesting for me. I really enjoyed reading his ideas on how to acheive a true post-racial society. I am most in agreement with two points he makes such as equal funding to all schools. I went to a elementary magnet school and I understand the importance of having an education. I also believe that every child should at least have a chance to have a level playing field. When an ENTIRE society is better educated the ENTIRE society benefits. There are better job opportunities, more self-worth and less actions of crime and violence. When people are aware of their options they can make better more informed decisions. It's no secret that inner cities such as Detroit and Chicago have a heavy gang presence as well as high crime rates but an effort to keep children in school can decrease these occurances which are heavily associated with blacks. This will help keep jails from being so crowded with black and latinos who are sentenced at disproportionate rates when compared to identical crimes committed by whites.

The second idea I agree with completely that Higginbotham states is for blacks to take advantage of how far things have come since the days of Jim Crow and not to play the victim. Taking responsibility of one's own life is a pretty popular idea. Blacks being associated with being takers or lazy is so far embedded into the racial paradigm that people reference our president as "the food-stamp" president, asking for his background check, and suggesting that he produce his grades or birth certificate. These social prejudices can only be changed if we accept the challenge and change them. Blacks referencing that another black is "acting white" only further suggests that being white is better than being black and hinders the movement towards a post-racist society.

There are many more points Higginbotham argues pretty convincingly and it was a pleasure to read his insight into ways we can change the racial landscape of our society. I tried to be as brief as possible but Higginbotham refereces a lot in this well researched book. I suggest this book for everyone. It was interesting to see how the ghosts of Jim Crow are still lurking where they really shouldn't be.****

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