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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Hardcover – January 5, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that. (Feb.)
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Michelle Alexander’s brave and bold new book paints a haunting picture in which dreary felon garb, post-prison joblessness, and loss of voting rights now do the stigmatizing work once done by colored-only water fountains and legally segregated schools. With dazzling candor, Alexander argues that we all pay the cost of the new Jim Crow.
Lani Guinier, professor at Harvard Law School and author of Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice and The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy
For every century there is a crisis in our democracy, the response to which defines how future generations view those who were alive at the time. In the 18th century it was the transatlantic slave trade, in the 19th century it was slavery, in the 20th century it was Jim Crow. Today it is mass incarceration. Alexander's book offers a timely and original framework for understanding mass incarceration, its roots to Jim Crow, our modern caste system, and what must be done to eliminate it. This book is a call to action.”
Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP
With imprisonment now the principal instrument of our social policy directed toward poorly educated black men, Michelle Alexander argues convincingly that the huge racial disparity of punishment in America is not the mere result of neutral state action. She sees the rise of mass incarceration as opening up a new front in the historic struggle for racial justice. And, she’s right. If you care about justice in America, you need to read this book!”
Glenn C. Loury, economist at Brown University and author of The Anatomy of Racial Inequality and Race, Incarceration and American Values
After reading The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander's stunning work of scholarship, one gains the terrible realization that, for people of color, the American criminal justice system resembles the Soviet Union's gulag---the latter punished ideas, the former punishes a condition.”
David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer-prize winning historian at NYU and author of W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963
"We need to pay attention to Michelle Alexander's contention that mass imprisonment in the U.S. constitutes a racial caste system. Her analysis reflects the passion of an advocate and the intellect of a scholar."
Marc Mauer, Executive Director, The Sentencing Project, author of Race to Incarcerate
A powerful analysis of why and how mass incarceration is happening in America, The New Jim Crow should be required reading for anyone working for real change in the criminal justice system.”
Ronald E. Hampton, Executive Director, National Black Police Association
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Top Customer Reviews
The book develops this argument with systematic care. The first chapter provides context with a brief history of the rise, fall and interrelation of the first two racial caste systems in the United States, slavery and Jim Crow. Subsequent chapters provide close scrutiny of the system of mass incarceration that has arisen over the past thirty years, examining each stage of the process (e.g., criminalization, investigation, prosecution, sentencing) and the many collateral consequences of a felony conviction (entirely apart from any prison time) and how and why each of these has operated to the detriment of African-Americans. The book also explores how the caste system Alexander identifies is different and not-so-different from Jim Crow, the many political and economic forces now invested in sustaining it, and how it has been rendered virtually immune to challenge through litigation. The book concludes with an argument that while many particular reforms will be needed to change this system, nothing short of a social movement that changes public acceptance of the current system can solve this problem and offers critiques and proposals for the civil rights movement based on this analysis. Everyone who reads this book will come away seeing the War on Drugs and mass incarceration in a new light.
Alexander points out that this is nothing more than a new system to marginalize and discriminate against blacks, and calls it "the new Jim Crow". If anything, it's more accurate to call it the new slavery. Just go to Angola State Prison in Louisiana and watch all the black prisoners working in the cotton fields. Look familiar? Now how did this happen? How did the number of Americans behind bars go from 350,000 (still a high number) to over 2 million in the last 30-40 years? A large part of it was the War on Drugs, started by Nixon around 1970. Alexander traces the history of the drug war, and describes how it became a vehicle for mistreating blacks even in the face of prevalent "colorblind" attitudes of most Americans today. We don't directly label blacks as inferior and make them ride the back of the bus today, we just try real hard to get them labeled as felons, then we can discriminate. And most Americans don't realize we're doing it and how much damage this causes. It's also expensive and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
In the final chapters Alexander offers some ideas on how to dismantle this system. It's very hard, and it's not enough to file lawsuits in individual cases. It requires a major protest movement. Many things have to be undone, such as the entire drug war, disenfranchisement laws, the management of prisons by private corporations to name a few. But the resistance will be huge because many jobs would disappear, and no one wants to be seen making life better for criminals. Also, colorblindness won't do - we need to be conscious of racial differences yet driven to treat everyone with respect, fairness and kindness. It's a totally different mindset for most Americans. Especially fascinating was her description of how such concessions, or "racial bribes", as affirmative action serve to justify continuing the system as it is. Affirmative action has helped a lot of blacks become successful, but it glosses over the main problem. The fact that we have a black President also obscures the real issues.
Alexander states also that a full treatment of how to fix this problem would require another book, and I eagerly await that. In the meantime, please read this one.