Saturday, January 9, 2016


During most of his presidency (1981—1989), Ronald Reagan avoided using the word “AIDS” until nearly 60,000 cases had been reported and more than 27,000 of those men and women had died.

The word he did employ, more times than anyone could possibly count, was “crack” as in “crack baby,” “crack house,” “crack mother,” and “crack whore.” Instead of a war on AIDS, Reagan had declared a war on drugs in 1982 when drug use was declining, not rising.

To read Michelle Anderson’s seething book, The New Jim Crow, is to awaken to a reality in American politics that virtually proves (with meticulous data and overwhelming statistics) that mass incarceration in America is testament to that the virulent disregard that we, white people, have for black and brown people.

The New Jim Crow is a call to arms.

In order to respond to Anderson’s detailed account—as emotionally rendered as it is intellectually generated—I look for myself in the book’s pages (as I do with most books), trying to insert myself so that, whether I like it or not, I am part of the action.

The pain that I feel, combined with anger and embarrassment, must be channeled into action.

Halfway through the book, I am overwrought with so many thoughts that I must begin organizing them. The connections create sparks, lightening bolts of empathy, fear, regret; the illumination is blinding.

There are times when I don’t want to believe Anderson’s words, often hurled off the page, seemingly in my direction. But I cannot duck; I let the words stick.

I do not question the conclusions that are masterfully drawn in The New Jim Crow: Americans (Democrats and Republicans alike) have (consciously or not) allowed (and in some cases, engineered) an environment in which black people—because of a perverse, immoral legal system—are afforded no more dignity than slaves were at the start of the Seventeenth century.

(Please don’t stop reading.)

"The pain that I feel...
must be channeled into action." 

Anderson’s reasoning is not based on conjecture; she relies on facts when she says (in the Introduction to her book):  “An extraordinary percentage of black men in the United States are legally barred from voting today, just as they have been throughout most of American history. They are also subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service, just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents once were.”

Because her canvass is so massive, Anderson could not go down every road. But I, as a reader, am able to fill in blanks that personalize the book’s intent. In fact, isn’t that our job as conscious readers?

In the early Nineties, when I began to seriously pursue becoming a parent, I knew that—as a single, gay, HIV-positive man—my options were limited. While I explored the possibilities—everything from being the weekend “father figure” in a lesbian relationship to being “Dad” to a foster child from the county of Los Angeles.

" a single, gay, HIV-positive man--
my options were limited."

After several fostering stints of varying durations (two brothers for four months), I came to the conclusion that I wanted a baby of my own; I wanted to be the parent of a child from as early as possible so that our bond would be as unalloyed as possible.

There is an unwritten and unspoken transaction that often transpired (or did during the particular period of time) whereby situations arose that were “foster-to-adopt”—in other words, a high likelihood that if you fostered one of these babies in limbo (most of whom had no apparent familial ties) you would logically (a word not usually associated with adoption in any of its myriad tangled manifestations) become the adoptive parent.

However, this proposition did not come without risks, risks that The System knew gays and lesbians were willing to take. Keep in mind that we were not perceived as the most

desirable candidates for parenting (still aren’t by many factions, including the Vatican); single men (no matter how they identified themselves sexually)—presumed to be pederasts—were were at the lowest echelon. In my case, if you included HIV status on my parenting resume, I would be considered somewhere after Joan Crawford. So I lied.

When the implied foster-to-adopt, rather than straightforward foster care, became the quest, each potential mama and papa was put through an exhaustive training, designed to weed out the lightweights.

Even though I had no specific mandate in terms of my future child’s gender, ethnicity, or potential disabilities, I do remember being told repeatedly that one must be prepared—especially if you took on the parenting of a black baby—for the probability that you’d be dealing with a “crack baby.”

And what exactly did that mean? At every level—from medical authorities to legal pundits to adoption experts—a “crack baby” would likely be physically challenged on many levels, unable to bond (even make eye contact) and unteachable. One maven told me that the child would forever mimic the affect of the mother in her addicted state.

In The New Jim Crow, Anderson explains: “A few years after the drug war was announced, crack cocaine hit the streets of inner-city communities. The Reagan administration seized on this development with glee, hiring staff who were to be responsible for publicizing inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores, and drug-related violence. The goal was to make inner-city crack abuse and violence a media sensation, bolstering public support for the drug war which, it was hoped, would lead Congress to devote millions of dollars in additional funding to it.”

In January of 1995, I became the foster-to-adopt parent of the most beautiful little creature on the planet.

She was a “crack baby.”

1 comment:

  1. I apologize profusely for mistakenly identified the author of The New Jim Crow as Michelle Anderson, not her correct name: Michelle ALEXANDER.