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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Hardcover – January 5, 2010
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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.
Alexander notes in her preface that she wrote this book specifically for people who already care about racial justice, and if you're one of those people, I urge you to read this with the promise that you will come away from it with a much more comprehensive understanding of our current racial caste system.
It's so well-researched, so informative, and so compelling. I've seen some readers lament that Alexander spends parts of the second half of the book rehashing arguments from the first half, but this approach actually worked for me: by reiterating certain points throughout, she helped me better understand their context within the bigger picture.
Finally, I have to say that reading this book now—during this point in time—was especially impactful. I learned that there's a deep history of politicians and wealthy whites exploiting white working class vulnerabilities and racial resentments in order to preserve power and deliberately driving a wedge between poor whites and poor minorities. With so much talk right now about the economic anxieties of white working class Trump voters, I came away from this book with an even deeper conviction that pandering to poor and working class whites exclusively is absolutely not the answer. Rather, we need a real movement that addresses class struggles among all races so that we don't risk history continuing to repeat itself.
The studies of the multi-billion-dollar prison industry, mostly housing poor men of color and exacting a double standard of justice, going after crack cocaine but not penalizing "white crimes" such as marijuana, alcohol, heroin, in the same manner. I was floored to see that 78 percent of drunk driving arrests are white males yet the jail-time is miniscule compared to crack cocaine offenses. And drunk driving kills 500 percent more people than all drugs combined.
I was also stunned to see that there is a monetary incentive to keep the prisons expanding, that prisons employ 2.5 million Americans and that Dick Cheney has invested in the private prison system, which is a part of his stock portfolio.
That we would make housing young people, stripping them of their rights, and encouraging criminal behavior by forcing them in prisons, and turn it into a profit motive while calling this "the War on Crime" is a great moral failure and Alexander has done a great service of exposing this morally bankrupt malady, what I would call Jim Crow 2.0.
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Stunning.Just stunning.Read more