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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Paperback – January 16, 2012
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Alexander is absolutely right to fight for what she describes as a much-needed conversation” about the wide-ranging social costs and divisive racial impact of our
Invaluable . . . a timely and stunning guide to the labyrinth of propaganda, discrimination, and racist policies masquerading under other names that comprises what we call justice in America.
Many critics have cast doubt on the proclamations of racism’s erasure in the Obama era, but few have presented a case as powerful as Alexander’s.
—In These Times
Carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable.
[Written] with rare clarity, depth, and candor.
A call to action for everyone concerned with racial justice and an important tool for anyone concerned with understanding and dismantling this oppressive system.
Undoubtedly the most important book published in this century about the U.S.
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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.
Alexander shows how the war on drugs has resulted in vastly unequal outcomes by race, even though all studies show that whites and people of color use drugs at the same rates. She shows clearly through careful, logical analysis how this system operates, how it has been inoculated against legal challenge at every level (which was shocking and deeply disturbing to me) and how the lifelong effects of being caught in this dragnet never end.
This book is urgently needed now more than ever. If there is any hope of healing the poisonous legacy of slavery in this country, it is imperative that this system of oppression be understood clearly, and dismantled permanently, without allowing a new version of racial control to spring up in its place.