Alumna’s ‘Green Book’ Reflects Different Take on the State of Race Relations
Many Americans who didn’t live through segregation have become newly familiar with the “Green Book” thanks to the movie of the same name, which won the Oscar for best picture Sunday.
The “Negro Motorist Green Book,” published from 1936-66, helped black motorists have safer travels during the Jim Crow era.
Recently, a University of Virginia School of Law alumna brought the concept back, with a modern twist.
Jan Miles, a 1995 graduate of the Law School, published “The Post-Racial Negro Green Book” in 2017. The book is an overview of racial bias against African-Americans in the United States, published by Brown Bird Books.
“We live in the real world, though,” Miles wrote in The Washington Post, referring to the oversimplification of racial issues in the popular movie. “And black Americans still need guides like the ‘Green Book’ of the movie’s title as we set out to explore the United States.”
The book is a self-described “time capsule” of the years 2013-16. Styled in the fashion of its predecessor, which advised black motorists about restaurants, hotels and other services available to them in the U.S., this “Green Book” compiles statistical research and reported incidents of racism, broken down by state.
In Louisiana, for example, where the book was published, the population is 32.5 percent black — yet blacks were 50.5 percent of the victims of police homicide over the four-year period. The section touches on stories such as that of Alton Sterling, who was killed by Baton Rouge police while selling CDs in front of a gas station, and describes disparate outcomes for blacks and whites who brandished weapons at police.
In introductory comments, Miles details how she relied only on verified reports. Incidents for which there was not enough information to assert that race played a role were excluded.
“It was important to me that the credibility of the book’s contents not be put into question by uncorroborated incidents,” she explained.
She intended to present the incidents and facts without commentary, she said, but the format and styling of the book were indeed chosen to make an editorial statement.
“The question I’m asking with the look and feel of this book is: How far have we really come?” she said.
Ultimately, the book is meant to serve as a conversation starter and a resource for people studying racism or trying to effect change on the issue, she said.
Miles is slated to appear on CNN’s “United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell” to talk more about the book this spring.