Book Review: Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores: Dominique DuBois Gilliard, Intervarsity Press: Westmont Illinois (2018) 240pp.

Many of us had hopes (no matter how apparently misguided) that America was a nation where race relations would progress with each successive generation. We thought that the pernicious effects of Jim/Jane Crow and other forms of blatant degradation, denigration and humiliation that had been subjected on Black Americans for centuries would gradually, perhaps rapidly diminish with the passage of varied pieces of legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Law of 1968 and other forms of legislation passed by congress and ratified into law.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After all, American society had been firmly etched into the 21st century within the twenty first century. W.E.B. DuBois’, dramatically, searing prophetic message of the color line was supposed to have come and gone. It was a supposed thing of the past. A disturbing, yet distant reminder of an unflattering America past. The era of an ugly yesteryear long gone. Flash forward, a century later, it seems little has changed. While no reasonable person can deny that progress has indeed occurred — legal segregation, lynchings, poll taxes, grandfather clauses etc… are no longer part of the nation’s landscape. Hell, in 2008, the nation that had only four decades earlier granted legal and voting rights to its non-White (mainly Black citizens) elected a Black president with a nontraditional name, not once, but twice. Indeed, a beautiful, attractive, two parent Black family resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight memorable years. This fact, in and of itself, was enough to make anyone who has dedicated his or herself to the cause of racial equality to cry tears of unabashed and unrestrained joy.

Progress aside, and legal segregation is prohibited–the cold, hard truth is that for every step forward, there have been two (arguably several in our current environment) steps backward in regard to racial progress. The truth is that racism is still a deeply entrenched and undeniable fact in American life as ever. It is like the gadfly that the nation can never totally rid itself from. It acts in a cyclical fashion. It ebbs and flows like a river at high tide. It recedes at times, and gains momentum at others.

While there has been racial progress in this country, today America is clearly moving backwards when it comes to race. After eight years of an hardworking, intelligent, disciplined, measured president (arguably too measured on many issues, especially when it came to race) we now have a president who is the personification of white backlash against Black progress, the guy who has been elected the head warden and has hired an entire staff of likeminded morally bereft derelicts to assist him in carrying out the grand plan of his admirers in performing the dirty work for policies that mete out unrestrained violence against the poor, immigrants, women, LGBTQ folk, Latinos, Muslims, Black people and others who are not White, heterosexual, able bodied and male.

Over the past decade, we find ourselves in a society where there are no racists, or at least there is considerable debate on who qualifies as racists. We are in an era where White supremacists march boldly in college towns and college campuses proudly claiming what they see as there superiority over non-whites, Jews, and others they see as unworthy of human dignity. We are in era where White cops frequently target and murder Black suspects (often unarmed) with impunity. We are in an era where we have a commander-in chief who overly disparages non-Whites and refers to White supremacists as “very fine people.” In previous decades, such behavior would have been shunned and such people would have been marginalized to the fringes of American culture. However, to paraphrase legendary folk singer and living legend, Bob Dylan “the times, they are a changin’.”

To be fair, racism has always been a part of this nation. It is deeply ingrained in the fabric of our culture and is American as apple pie. Rather, what we are seeing now, is a case of blatant, undisguised bigotry, the type that many White people had to keep disguised and leashed since the 1950s or at least since the early 1960s, now being unleashed and allowed to unapologetically permeate itself in various sectors of our society in many cases, without consequences.

What is even more disturbing is the fact that more than a few people have no problem in pointing the finger (in many cases, disingenuously) about who is responsible for the current racially fragmented state. Whites can proclaim that because they did/do not have a white sheet or hood in their closet,, have a swastika in their drawer, invoke racial epithets, treat people (at least on the surface,) as human beings should be treated, that they are free of racial animus. They are indeed, misguided. The fact is racism continues through systems of oppression against people, institutions that target their victims and perpetuate the violence in a varied, intergenerational manners.

In his first-rate book, Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores, Reverend Dominique Gilliard provides a very convincing and spellbinding narrative that explores the history and foundation of mass incarceration by exploring the role of the church and Christianity’s part in contributing to this current situation. The book is divided into two sections and consists of eleven (11) chapters. Gilliard dissects America’s foundation of multifaceted forms of justice as it relates to Scripture and deftly exposes, both the theologies and tactics that perversely aid and amplify mass incarceration.

While there have been a number of books that have recently examined the issue of mass incarceration, most notably, Michelle Alexanders’ deservedly well heralded The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Color Blindleindness, the majority of these books, including Alexander’s, primarily focus on the mass incarcerationprison pipeline and the prison industrial complex. Gilliard looks at the role of religion and its often overlooked contribution to mass incarceration

While effectively exposing the problems with an ample level of admirable historical analysis and painstakingly detailed facts, Gilliard admiringly provides very concrete, plausible, and inspirational ways that Christians can pursue the path toward justice that transforms, reconciles and rehabilitation. He pulls no punches, takes no prisoners and keeps it real in a polite, yet firm and direct manner as he boldly and skillfully addresses how racism, racial bias, socio economic class and in certain cases, sexuality can have an adverse impact on those embroiled in the criminal justice system. No one is spared.

He does this by providing very creative and in some cases, avant-garde solutions to the issues of mass incarceration. As Mr. Gilliard sees it, God’s justice is ultimately redemptive, not one designed solely for judgmental and unsparing purposes. The books is a very lucid, quick, tough, inspiring read. Rethinking Incarceration is both, required reading and a model for those who are interested in tackling the issue of mass incarceration in an aggressive, yet compassionate and innovative manner.

Information about Mr. Gilliard can be found here in the link below.

Written by

Historian, public speaker, social-cultural critic. Professor of African American and Gender Studies, Post-WWII U.S. History, at East Tennessee State University.

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