Right after I posted on Adam Gopnik’s piece in the New Yorker, I ran across this sharp and excellent criticism of it by Lisa Guenther, who calls Gopnik out for failing to interrogate the racially determined– or let’s just say racist– claim that crime in the U.S. has decreased since the 1980s, which he takes primarily from Berkeley criminologist Franklin Zimring’s book about New York. You can almost hear Guenther’s weariness as she obligatorily reminds us to ask whether New York or the country is “safer” for the young black men who, like Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and countless others, are routinely targeted and lose their lives as a result of the “stop and frisk” programs that Zimring praises and tries to distinguish from racial profiling.
At the same time, by addressing Gopnik’s perspective– and exclusion of the perspectives of people and communities most affected by mass incarceration and associated police practices– Guenther raises the traps of the question of platform, writing, ”To be sure, poor people do not often publish books with Oxford University Press, nor publish articles in The New Yorker. This is part of the problem.”
What kind of ideas can or could not make it into the New Yorker or any major press? What do those limits have to do with the positions that we embrace, endorse? How do our adjusted expectations contribute to a status quo? Many thanks to Guenther for prompting these questions, and her tempering with realism my excitement about the fact the New Yorker is willing to publish a long piece advocating sentencing reform and to offer the U.S. racial caste system as an explanation for mass incarceration. Please don’t miss her piece, especially if you’ve read the Gopnik. I’ll give her the last words here:
“Those of us who are privileged enough to enter these sites of power have an obligation to push beyond what seems like “common sense” to us – especially when we are addressing issues that directly affects those who do not share this privilege. This obligation is both political and epistemic; we simply cannot get a sense of what the world is like by remaining entrenched in our privilege, and we certainly can’t change the world from this position.”