In the national Catholic magazine America I’ve just published a short review of an important new book with a long title: The Scandal of White Complicity in U.S. Hyper-Incarceration: A White Spirituality of Resistance. It’s an effort by three Catholic thinkers to articulate the depth of white complicity in this country’s massive, highly racialized prison system and to outline an approach to resistance grounded in Catholic social thought.
What would a movement against mass incarceration be able to accomplish with the support of the country’s largest religious denomination?
Upon recognizing the depth of the problem that mass incarceration poses, it may be tempting for many whites, especially those used to positions of influence and authority, to leap into devising solutions. Reading Michelle Alexander’s book certainly brings to mind a litany of anathemas—for instance, discriminatory policing, the senseless drug war, wildly excessive sentencing laws, the broad discretion afforded to prosecutors, the perverse incentives of the private prison industry and chronic underinvestment in communities of color. But the authors of The Scandal of White Complicity do not venture far into policy proposals or political strategizing. Nor do they allude to the many biblical passages about freeing captives that might tempt one to play the liberator.
What they offer instead is a call to humility, to accountability to people of color, to solidarity. The task they set for white Americans is to organize themselves and each other as allies, and to follow the lead of their neighbors of color who are already fighting the battle against the new Jim Crow every day.