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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Paperback – January 7, 2020
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“Devastating. . . . Alexander does a fine job of truth-telling, pointing a finger where it rightly should be pointed: at all of us, liberal and conservative, white and black.”—Forbes
“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 criminal-justice policies.”—Ellis Cose, Newsweek
“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.”—Daily Kos
“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.”—Publishers Weekly
“[Written] with rare clarity, depth, and candor.”—Counterpunch
“A call to action for everyone concerned with racial justice and an important tool for anyone concerned with understanding and dismantling this oppressive system.”—Sojourners
“Undoubtedly the most important book published in this century about the U.S.”—Birmingham News
“During the past decade, no single book was more directly responsible for reshaping how the American public understands race and mass incarceration than Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.”—Carolyn Copeland, Daily Kos
“[The New Jim Crow] took the academy and the streets by storm, and forced the nation to reconsider the systems that allowed for blatant discrimination.”—The Chronicle of Higher Education
About the Author
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In one instance, the author attempts to paint President Clinton as a closeted racist, liberal sellout, and conservative crony intent on deploying the death sentence on as many black males as he can in order to sway white voters by falsely reporting the details of an execution he attended while Gov. of Arkansas. In the first chapter the author writes that in an effort to appeal to the white lower class voter,
"Bill Clinton vowed that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he. True to his word, just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton chose to fly home to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for the dessert from his last meal to be saved for him until the morning."
At first glance I found this to be quite an appalling thing for the then Governor to focus on. It seemed as though some mentally impaired man had been a victim of his own impairment, possibly committing a crime he had no intention of committing or any knowledge of what he was actually doing, and that the state of Arkansas was about to murder him simply for being less intelligent than the general public. Alexander makes it sound as though this man was innocent. Her words lead you to believe Bill Clinton is the monster in this story and that Rector was the victim of racial prejudice.
What she didn't write, is that Ricky Rector murdered a man at a club because the bouncer wouldn't let his friend, who wouldn't pay the $3 cover charge, in to the building. Rector became angry, pulled a gun, and fired several shots at the bouncer, wounding two bystanders and killing one man instantly, after the man was struck in the throat and spine by Rector's .38 caliber revolver round. Rector fled the scene, evaded police for 3 days, and eventually agreed to surrender to a police officer he'd known since childhood. This police officer, Robert Martin, visited Rector at Rector's mother's house, where it was implied the surrender would occur. Once in the house, Robert Martin was eventually shot twice in the back by Rector, and died shortly after. Rector now had 2 assaults and 2 murder's on his list of pending charges. And by the way, he is not mentally impaired, at all. That comes next.
Rector, realizing his grievous error in life choices decides enough is enough and walks out the back of his mother's house, having just shot and killed Robert Martin, and puts the gun to his own head. He fires, but misses slightly. The round penetrates his skull, destroying his frontal lobe, but leaving him alive nonetheless. This is where his "mental impairment" begins.
This doesn't sound like much of a victim to me. This mental impairment the author appeals to is one of his own doing, and one resulting from a choice he made to kill himself after consciously deciding to fire several shots into a crowd of people and then intentionally killing an indefensible man. This sort of sweeping logic the author does in order to keep the dirt she want's out and the rest under the rug makes for a difficult and frustrating read. You want to agree with her on most points, but she blatantly misrepresents the facts on so many occasions that you end up writing amazon reviews to express your frustration.
This book started off okay, but it's false implications like this that show the author's intentions. While they are likely coming from a point of genuine concern, they are not in good faith, nor those of someone coming from an unbiased point of view. Read it, but don't just take it at it's word. Just like any other opinion.
1. CLAIM: The book claims that the practice of racial discrimination in employment, housing, access to public assistance of old was made illegal, but has now been reinstituted against black people because if you are a convicted felon you can be denied all of those things.
QUESTION: wouldn’t it be the smart things to do to just not commit felonies in the first place? If the right to vote and have a job and a place to rent or buy or have access to public services was so valued, why then engage in a lifestyle that threatens that? Isn’t the real difference is that the black man living in the Jim Crow south had arguably done nothing to be denied these things and the felon of today has?
2. CLAIM: On page two she says as she walked out of the party celebrating the election of Barrack Obama, she was reminded of the harsh realities of the new Jim Crowe in America because she saw a black man handcuffed by the police, yet she doesn’t mention why or for what he was in cuffs?
Question: isn’t that relevant?? Was he in cuffs for being black? Or because he had committed a crime or had an outstanding warrant? Is THIS really the evidence that we are living in an age of the new Jim Crowe? Are the cops NOT supposed to respond to a call for service?
3. CLAIM: We use the criminal justice system to label people of color as “criminals”.
Question: doesn’t that apply to European, Hispanic and Asian Americans too? Isn’t just about everyone convicted of a crime labeled a criminal?
4. On page 4, the author declares “Quite belatedly, I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow”
Question: so she believes that there is a conspiracy among European American legislators and executives in America that secretly conspired to pass laws in order to go after a segment of the black population that is typically living under the poverty level, oftentimes not particularly well educated and far too often either unemployed or underemployed, while allowing the middle class and upper-middle class black folks (made up of carpenters, electricians, bank executives, salesmen and women, accountants, restaurant owners, dentists, lawyers and doctors) who have more purchase power with their higher incomes and better connections due to their jobs and social statuses flourish? Why go after the poor and downtrodden when they have no power to really deny “white America” of anything? Why would they want to do that? Wouldn’t it actually benefit these evil, racist white men at the top to see the poorest of the poor in the black community (and every other community for that matter) get good paying jobs, improve their homes or buy/build new ones, buy new cars, see less crime and all of the other things plaguing too much of the black community?
5. The author then goes on to state again that once released from prison, they have lost all the same rights that were denied to black folks under Jim Crowe.
Question: assuming that is true, why then commit crimes if you are going to be denied these things? And, aren’t Americans of all backgrounds denied these things when they are convicted felons? It doesn’t just apply to black Americans, does it?
6. On page five the author states that 75% of black males can expect to spend time in prison.
Question: how is this an indication of racism, especially in a city like the District of Columbia that has a black mayor, a police department that is 59% black and only 32% white, a city council of 13 democrats of which seven are black? Are the police simply driving around and arresting young black males and putting them in prison for loitering, or is the Metropolitan Police there in DC responding to serious crimes and calls for service?
7. The author states on page seven that in some areas in the United States, as many as 80% of young black males have criminal records and are now legally discriminated against.
Question: Is it not THEIR fault that they have criminal records? And if they are now discriminated against, is it because of their color? Or their crime?
8. On page nine the author states that as a national average, one in three black men are in some stage of the criminal justice system, yet incarceration trends are seen as a crime problem and not as a racial justice or civil rights issue.
Question: are they in jail because of their color? Or their crime? And if the likelihood of them being incarcerated for longer periods of time because the laws are targeted at them, why are they committing crimes in the first place? And who in their community is setting the right example and ALSO making them aware of the fact that if they do even the slightest thing they are going to pay a heavy price?
Top international reviews
After looking at a pamphlet, proclaiming that Drug War is the new Jim Crow, the author ignored it as a theory promoted by a bunch of conspiracy guys. She continues in her job as a civil rights lawyer, but in due course realises that the statement was actually true. Millions of black and brown people in the US are languishing behind bars because of the Drug war that was unleashed during the 80’s when Ronald Regan was the president. The outcome of her quest to expose the truth is this book. And what a fantastic book this is.
Here are the key points raised in the book:
1. The race based segregation never went away, it just changed to a form that was more palatable to the prevalent norms in the society. Started as Slavery, ended with the civil war in 1865. Transformed to Jim crow laws, ended with the civil rights law in 1964. Transformed to War on drugs in the 1980’s, and still going on. It’s like a chameleon changing colours to avoid being detected
2. The criminal and judicial systems act in tandem to act as a funnel sucking in an increasing number of black and brown people into a life of segregation. At top of the funnel are the police who routinely stop and search the minorities looking for drugs, flagrantly defying 4th amendment which was meant to protest people’s right to privacy . Black and brown men are put in jail for possessing even small quantities of drugs, while the white men are treated differently. Once they are behind bars, they are scared into accepting guilty plea by the prosecutor, or go to trial and risk harsh sentences. The prosecutors have been granted virtually unlimited power to go after them. And by passing laws, the higher courts have made it impossible for police and prosecutors to be held accountable for their actions
3. Once the person comes out, the segregation doesn’t end. They are discriminated on every possible front: housing, jobs, social benefits. It is monumentally difficult for him to get back to normalcy. Often, he ends up back in jail. And the cycle continues
4. There are incentives for politicians and businesses to keep things the way they are. For politicians, it’s a way to keep the white people feel distracted from their poor economic condition. For businesses that manage jails, there’s money to be made as more and more people are put behind bars. Their profit depends on more people being incarcerated. With such strong incentives, it won’t be easy to pass legislation to abolish this race based segregation
‘Colorblindness’ in the sub-title of book means that we as a society have become indifferent to the plight of these minorities. Because it’s too convenient to think that segregation doesn’t exist, especially when we see a black man getting elected as the president. And we don’t hear people openly vouching for racist beliefs (although that is changing as we can see in the current US election). The author warns against this indifference. Just because those prisons are located in remote villages, away from the main society, we cannot ignore this race based segregation.
Finally, the author proposes that nothing short of a movement will end this form of segregation that is being waged under the name of War on Drugs.
This is an important piece of work for the current generation - it highlights why we need to educate the public on crime and justice, and how important it is to be involved in your local community.
A fantastic read from a talented and thought-provoking writer.
Here’s one such first principal: why do we imprison others? I’m of the mind that it shouldn’t be to punish, however bad the crime, but rather to protect the liberties of ALL. In the interest of subjective self-disclosure: I have two neighbours, who have each been through the prison system multiple times. Now in their sixties, I help with their banking and medication, because they are both illiterate. It would have been of the greatest benefit to society to teach them to read, but the principal of their incarceration was to punish.
Michelle Alexander has done something remarkable (also check the documentary, “13th” which wouldn’t exist without this book) in exposing structural inequality on an industrial scale. Her argument is elegant and carefully evidenced, it will profit anyone who reads it (even naysayers). As important as John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice”, and I hope destined to be a standard text alongside Hobbes’ “Leviathan”.
I'm from the UK. This book opened my eyes to the Workings of the American justice system.
If I could, I would give it 6 stars
This is shocking and eye-opening stuff.
Well written: not too casual and conversational but also not too dry.
The best book I have read in a long time.