The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: The New Jim Crow

Readings on Racism

Over the last year and a half, I have done quite a bit of reading to help me better understand our current racial situation in the United States and some of the history that lies behind it. Of course, I have not read everything and, indeed, there are a few specific books that I still have intentions of reading, but I have read enough that: (1) I feel like my grasp of the situation is far better than it was previously, and (2) I feel confident making a few recommendations.

Though I hope these recommendations are beneficial for anyone, they are intended for a specific group: Christians who believe in the equality of all people and thus, deplore racism, but who also are uncertain or skeptical of the existence of “systemic” or “structural” racism. I suspect that many of my readers fall into this category, and so I am specifically recommending the three books below, because I used to fit into that category myself, and these books were very helpful in shaping my own views.[1]

Rather than write a full-on review, I will simply introduce each book and share why I found it to be helpful.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnessby Michelle Alexander: This is not a fun read. On the contrary, it was devastating. Alexander lays out, in detail, how the American criminal justice system disproportionately punishes people of color in a variety of ways (ways that are certainly tied to socio-economic status, but which cannot be completely explained by social class). This is a helpful book to begin to understand a particular aspect of systemic racism and the way that it has creatively adapted throughout our nation’s history: when slavery was abolished, Jim Crow segregation took its place. When segregation was outlawed, mass incarceration took its place.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein: in many ways, I felt this was The New Jim Crow applied to the housing industry in the United States. It talks about all sorts of creative ways in which government officials—at the federal, state, and local levels—orchestrated the largely segregated society that still exists today in our country (zoning ordinances, neighborhood covenants, blockbusting, white flight, establishment of ghettos, construction of interstates, and more). The Color of Law shares tons of data and statistics, but is written in a narrative style that is easy to follow and understand.

The Color of Compromise: the Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby: this book specifically addresses the American Church, and confronts the reader with the uncomfortable reality that throughout American history, white Christians have largely (though not entirely) turned a blind eye toward racism, and many times have actively supported and furthered racist agendas. Tisby does not shy away from hard truths, but he writes with clear affection for the church, and offers helpful suggestions moving forward.


This is an admittedly short list, and certainly there are a host of other helpful resources out there. I wanted to keep the list short, because I always find it overwhelming when someone suggests a list of a dozen must-read books. Most people simply do not have the time to do so. Three books is a much more manageable number. But also, I specifically include these books for a few reasons:

  • They tend to be more objective than subjective, based on historical data, research studies, and specific policies than personal perception or anecdotes (there is nothing wrong with the latter, but I think the former tends to be more convincing to a skeptical crowd).
  • They are not based on white guilt, but they do suggest a collective responsibility. It does not make sense for people to feel guilty about things entirely out of their control, but it certainly makes sense to take stock of the situation we all find ourselves in and do the best we can to improve it.
  • They do not promote the sense of paternalistic white saviorism that I have sensed from some who are seeking to respond to racial inequities.[2]

These books were really helpful for me; I hope they are for you!


[1]  When I say that I “used to” fit into that category, I am not suggesting that my devotion to Christ or my rejection of racism has changed (far from it!), but merely indicating that where I was once somewhat ambivalent about the reality of systemic racism in contemporary times, I am now firmly convinced of it.

How to go about addressing that reality is an issue for another time, but until we acknowledge the existence of a problem, we can’t do anything to address it.

[2] I am hardly the first one to pick up on this tone. I think it comes from a sincere desire to help (“we (white people) made this mess, and it is up to us to fix it!”), but it easily becomes patronizing (“we know what is best for you; step aside and let us come make your lives better”) and denies people of color of agency and dignity.

Reading in 2019

Regular readers of The Doc File know that I keep track of what I read each year, and that I enjoy chronicling that here on the blog and offering some reflections about my favorite reads from the previous year.

Without further ado, here is my list from 2019:

  1. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs
  2. The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament World, by Bruce W. Longenecker
  3. Enter the Water, Come to the Table: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in Scripture’s Story of New Creation, by John Mark Hicks
  4. Success Sparklers: A Treasury of Quips, Quotes and Sparkling Sayings for the Positive Person, compiled by Ivy Conner
  5. The Honorary Consul, by Graham Greene
  6. Small Group Strategies: Ideas & Activities for Developing Spiritual Growth in your Students, by Laurie Polich and Charley Scandlyn
  7. Walking Away From Idolatry, by Wes McAdams
  8. The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
  9. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas
  10. The Hidden Harbor Mystery, by Franklin W. Dixon
  11. Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys
  12. My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  13. The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander
  14. Selected Stories of O. Henry, Introduction and Notes by Victoria Blake*
  15. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
  16. Beyond Atonement: Recovering the Full Meaning of the Cross, by N.T. Wright, Gregory Boyd, and Ruth Padilla DeBorst
  17. The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence S. Ritter
  18. God, Guys, and Girls, by Derry Prenkert
  19. Sabbath Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, by Walter Brueggemann
  20. Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring our Best When the World is at Its Worst, by Ed Stetzer
  21. How To Lose a Kingdom in 400 Years, by Michael Whitworth
  22. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  23. The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants, by Kenneth E. Bailey
  24. Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki
  25. I Am A Church Member, by Thom S. Rainer
  26. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter
  27. That’s Why We Sing: Reclaiming the Wonder of Congregational Singing, by Darryl Tippens
  28. Fire Upon the Earth: The Story of the Christian Church, by Norman F. Langford
  29. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore
  30. Family Worship, by Donald S. Whitney
  31. The Shepherd’s Ring, by Whit Jordan
  32. The Yellow Feather Mystery, by Franklin W. Dixon
  33. The Clue in the Embers, by Franklin W. Dixon
  34. Murder at Wrigley Field, by Troy Soos
  35. Visions of Restoration: The History of Churches of Christ, by John Young
  36. New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church, by David M. Young
  37. Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith
  38. The Greenest Island, by Paul Theroux
  39. Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Change, by Chris Field
  40. The Secret Agent on Flight 101, by Franklin W. Dixon
  41. Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
  42. Discipeshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples, by Jim Putnam & Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman
  43. Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, by Rachel Held Evans
  44. Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths That Matter, by David Fraze
  45. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson
  46. The Fourfold Gospel, by J.W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton
  47. Prayer, In Practice, by J.L. Gerhardt
  48. It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, by Peter Walsh
  49. Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them, by Jonathan Merritt
  50. D2: Becoming A Devoted Follower of Christ, by Phil McKinney II
  51. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
  52. One Loaf and One Cup: A Scriptural and Historical Survey, by Clinton De France

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total decreased from 54 books in 2018 to 52 in 2019. I was pleased with this number considering that we moved in the middle of the year, my life was crazy busy preparing for that move and adjusting to it, and my reading time was (probably) somewhat less.
  • For the last several years, I have been between 48-54 books per year. This really seems to be my sweet spot.
  • This was my first full year removed from grad school, so I wondered how that would affect my reading. I still read a lot, with a decent amount of reading still geared toward faith, ministry, discipleship, biblical studies, etc.
  • I enjoyed my reading this past year. There were some books I didn’t love, but really, no major disappointments.

I want to share my Top 10 books for the year, but before I do so, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on a few books that didn’t make my Top 10, but I still wanted to comment on:

  • The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence S. Ritter: this was a great book of memories of baseball players from the early 1900s. As a huge fan of Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, I was delighted to recognize that this book was a major primary source for many of the quotations for that series.
  • Family Worship, by Donald S. Whitney: This was a very short, yet very convicting, read. Christan parents, we really don’t have a good excuse for not having regular worship or devotional time at home with our families. If you want motivation, guidance, or conviction related to this, read this book.
  • The Shepherd’s Ring, by Whit Jordan: This was a novel for children written by a friend, and I loved it. It is currently unpublished, and I read an early draft. I can’t wait to hold the real thing in my hands and tell you about it.
  • Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith: This is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it frequently. It doesn’t make my Top 10 list because that feels like cheating. Otherwise, it would be there almost every year.
  • Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, by Rachel Held Evans: RHE was just a couple years older than me, and tragically died from an illness earlier in 2019. I am not really the audience for this book, but I listened to the audio version (read by the author) and am so glad I did. I disagree with Evans on a variety of issues, but she is incredibly likable and it is clear that she genuinely loved God and other people, and wanted to remove barriers that prevented people from knowing the God she loved so much. It was good for me to read.

Regarding my Top 10 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-10):

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs: This was a fascinating and tragic true story of a man who grew up in the rough neighborhoods of Newark but managed to find his way out and graduate with honors from Yale, only to end up back in his former neighborhood where he ultimately was murdered in a drug-related crime. This story was well-written and gripping, and also filled with impending dread, as you knew from the title that it would not end well. Memoirs are not the best way to analyze complex social issues, but this book did provide for thoughtful reflection on racial issues (which, between this book, The Other Wes Moore, and The New Jim Crow {described below}, was a repeated focus for me in 2019).

The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament Worldby Bruce W. Longenecker: Longenecker, a well-known biblical scholar who specializes in the origins of Christianity, writes this epistolary novel that consists of a series of letters between several characters, including Luke the Evangelist. What results is a moving story that helps to illuminate the New Testament world including aspects such as honor-shame culture, patronage, the nature of letter writing, and Roman persecution. It took a little bit for me to get into it, but by the end, I absolutely loved it.

The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expeditionby Caroline Alexander: This was a fascinating account of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition complete with penetrating character studies and amazing photographs. This is simply an incredible, unbelievable tale. I really didn’t know what to expect going in, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Nightingaleby Kristin Hannah: I have discovered that I love reading fiction set in WWII, and this is a good example of this. This novel tells the story of two sisters living in Nazi-occupied France, and the very different ways they seek to survive and resist during a very difficult time.

The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentaryby Robert Alter: Alter is a world-renowned expert on the Hebrew Bible who gives special attention to its literary features. This is his own translation along with commentary, which I used for my daily Bible reading early in the year. I don’t know Hebrew well enough to evaluate how great his translation is, but it was certainly readable, and I found his commentary to be frequently insightful.

New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church, by David M. Young: I mentioned this book, and Young, in my recap of this past year’s Harding Lectureship, where I heard him speak three times. The short version of the book is that Churches of Christ (and really, churches across the spectrum) are declining in the United States, and the solution to this problem is to get serious about prayer, making disciples, and planting churches. If you have come to suspect that church should be about more than a social gathering, worship wars, and a consumeristic buffet of programs catering to the whims of members, this book is for you (wow, that was a little preachy!).

Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Changeby Chris Field: I did not have high expectations for this book, but I really liked it. Basically, it is a book about how to bring about culture change: you have to find a problem that really bothers you, and then attack it with creativity and perseverance. Most of the book is a series of inspiring vignettes of people who did exactly that. This was a really encouraging book for me.

Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths That Matterby David Fraze: I already reviewed this book here on the blog, so I don’t feel the need to say much here, other than the fact that this is now one of my favorite youth ministry books (I read a lot of them), and I plan on using it from now on with all of my youth ministry interns.

12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaosby Jordan B. Peterson: Although I have friends who are big fans of Peterson, I was not a fan, and actually began to read this book with a great deal of skepticism. Peterson’s breadth of knowledge is so vast that I found it difficult to evaluate at times (Is this brilliant? Is this nonsense?). At other times, when he crossed into areas I could better evaluate, I was blown away: his handling of the biblical text, especially the Book of Genesis, was very impressive (he is a little shakier on the teachings of Jesus—on a very deep level, I don’t think Peterson knows what to do with Him). Ultimately, what I would say is that each of Peterson’s rules range from helpful to profound, even if I don’t fully agree with all of the reasoning he uses to arrive at them. I “read” this book in audio format, and will likely reread it, soon.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnessby Michelle Alexander: This is not a fun read. On the contrary, it was devastating. Alexander has two basic arguments in the book: (1) the American criminal justice system disproportionately punishes people of color (specifically through the War on Drugs), relegating a large chunk of African American society to being residents of an “undercaste”, and (2) this has been done intentionally. Although I don’t believe she established her second argument (to be fair, I don’t want to believe it), her first point seems absolutely clear to me. For those who do not understand (or worse, deny) the reality of systemic racism, this is a great book to read.

That was my reading for 2019. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

As always, I have a bunch of books lined out to read in 2020, and can’t wait to get into them.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

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