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Arlene Keizer: A Passionate Witness: Becoming an African American Juror in the Age of Obama

• Arlene Keizer (UC Irvine): $10,000.00 for A Passionate Witness: Becoming an African American Juror in the Age of Obama

Bearing witness for the deceased is one of the African American arts of death. As an Afro-Caribbean-American feminist intellectual-turned-juror in a murder trial in which the defendant and all of the victims were black, I saw first-hand the extraordinary ability of African American witnesses to modulate the tenor of the courtroom through focused and inspired testimony. I entered the jury box with the intention of serving as a brake on a system that consigns disproportionate numbers of black men to lifelong incarceration. I emerged, stunned, as part of a multi-racial group of 12 who found the defendant guilty of virtually all the charges against him. A Passionate Witness is my own form of testifying about a disturbing ritual of contemporary African American life and about a critical moment in my formation as a black person in the US. President Obama’s election drew attention to a generally hidden portion of the black American community, those of us who are racially marked as black but are not, in ethnic terms, African American. We are at once insiders and outsiders with respect to the African American community, and that insider-outsider status describes my relation to jury duty as well. This book uses the perspective of the insider-outsider to paint a group portrait of the black American community as revealed through a party, a shooting, a trial, and interviews with diverse participants.

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