It’s been half a year since we found ourselves flung into the most extraordinary of times. While we grapple with a new world order, I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to connect with you beyond social media. I’m so stoked to be able to share with you - for the first time, today, and twice a month hereon - important, exciting, and meaningful ideas that matter. I hope we both learn new ways of looking at the world around us through this process.
We’re living in a complicated reality where life is not just life, but power, politics, optics, and war. In light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the Akademi Mag Newsletter’s first ever edition looks at one of many aspects of contemporary Black American history that have informed recent American dissent.
Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book ‘The New Jim Crow’ talks about how though slavery has been abolished, the institutionalized discrimination of Black Americans continues to thrive today, given disproportionate rates of incarceration in a criminal justice system built on racial inequality. Post-slavery, Black communities were ousted from the electoral democracy by Jim Crow Laws that enforced racial segregation and disenfranchisement. Though the laws were done away with in the late 1960s, the practice still exists today - disguised and justified by the prison system. America’s institutions continue to deny Black communities the right to vote, subjecting them to a life of ‘lesser than’.
In the 1970s, the US government launched the ‘War on Drugs’ to stop drug crime by imprisoning users and dealers. While then-President Nixon was staunchly against drugs, his administration as well as those that followed also sought to politically appease White, Southern, anti-Black Americans. Decades later, this War has decimated America’s Black communities. In 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy declared: "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”
How did this happen? First there was a US-funded media campaign that caused the public’s opinion that drugs are America’s ‘number one’ problem to soar from 2% to 64%. Then, a sudden crack cocaine epidemic in poor Black neighborhoods, followed by a discriminatory law that gave 100x harsher sentences for drugs that were more readily available to Black neighborhoods compared to White ones. Black homicides, fetal deaths, low birth-weight babies, weapons arrests, and numbers of children in foster care soared, while life expectancy fell. Disparities had always existed, but they were compounded by the War on Drugs, leading to irreversible socio-economic devastation. The US became the largest overall consumer of narcotics in the world. In three decades, the penal population doubled itself seven times over, with Black Americans making up about 40% of it, despite representing 13% of the total population.
No reparations have been made, despite campaigns by the Black community – in fact, the War on Drugs is ongoing today. Michelle Alexander tells us in her own words: The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. It imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. And more Black men are behind bars or under the watch of the criminal justice system than there were enslaved in 1850. 1 out of 5 incarcerated people in the world is incarcerated in the US, and if prisons are not reformed at a faster rate, the future looks bleak.
Want to know more?
North and South Korea are in the middle of a war of informational paper leaflets sent via balloons and floating bottles, and it could have fatal consequences.
Drug gang violence is rising in Mexico because of the government’s focus on COVID-19.
Hubble researchers just processed striking pictures of dying stars creating chaos as they breathe their last.
A prominent Egyptian LGBTQ+ activist died by suicide after developing PTSD due to her experience in jail.
Israel is about to annex the West Bank, which is grim news for Palestinians.
Did You Know?
Less than fifty years ago in Romania, abortion and birth control were banned and people were taxed for childlessness under a ‘natalist’ policy. Then-dictator Ceausescu felt that a stronger population would boost Romania’s economy, allowing it to repay its foreign debt. Parents started abandoning ‘extra’ children, especially ones with disabilities, in orphanages.
In the 1990s, when the Marxist-Leninist communist government toppled, American television exposed the conditions of children to the world. Doctors and social workers who were allowed to visit these institutions for the first time described the condition of the neglected children as unspeakable, saying that they were like trolls or ‘cretins’ - filthy, stinking, and stunted. One paediatrician said, looking at them, ‘You almost start to disassociate’. Many of the children are still alive to tell the tale, because it has only been 30 years since Ceausescu was killed. The Atlantic recently interviewed Izidor Ruckel, and pondered the difficult question: Can a person unloved in childhood learn to love?
Gem from the Internet
Conserve the Sound is a ‘museum for endangered sounds’ including old telephones, pinball machines, clocks, and more. It was once described on the internet as an ‘earchive’. The German website expects user responses to be along the lines of: “Phew, that is weird and nerdy!”.
Message to the Reader
A message to the reader from Rega Jha, writer and ex-Editor in Chief of Buzzfeed India:
"I bet when we tell our Life Stories, decades from now, this moment will be nodal in many. “When the pandemic happened,” we’ll say, “I decided to move close to nature” or “I knew I had to devote my life to service” or “I got laid off and started doing more art” or “I realised I was in love with him.”
We’re being transformed, all of us, one way or another. Exceptional circumstances do that – thaw our firmly formed Selves, introduce us to latent possibilities and desires. This is exciting. It’s also disorienting.
I’ve been trying to reshape the confusion into curiosity. “F***, this is not who I’d planned to be,” my mental monologue says, and I counter, ten times a day: “F***, I can’t wait to meet whoever I’ll become.”
What's Keeping Me Occupied
I’m currently listening to music by Delta Spirit, an American Rock band. In tune with today’s edition, their song ‘People Turn Around’ reflects the personal and societal wreckage caused by socio-economic strife, drugs, and isolation in impoverished communities. The song is bittersweet and nostalgic, beginning with the harmonica and ending with the question: “Is your life like mine?”.
The needle is sweet and the snow it is pure
The pain I've been hiding from, I'm finding a cure
The night it is warm, well the light it is cold
The family I'm loving, I'm calling them home