Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Brief Review of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" by Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander is a civil rights lawyer who has dedicated her career to fighting racial injustice in the U.S. criminal justice system. In The New Jim Crow, she illuminates the racism that infects every stage of that system in an effort to influence public understanding about the War on Drugs and its devastating consequences for the entire nation. Ultimately, Alexander calls for an end to the War on Drugs because “there is no path to liberation for communities of color that includes this ongoing war” (220). She establishes the high stakes of this crises by defining contemporary mass incarceration as a form of racialized social control that creates an undercaste—“a lower caste of individuals who are permanently barred by law and custom from mainstream society” (13).

That definition is strengthened by her argument that mass incarceration is an echo of previous, vile forms of racialized social control in the United States: slavery and Jim Crow (the network of laws and social restrictions that enforced segregation). The book opens with a brief account of Jarvious Cotton, an African American who cannot vote. “Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy” (1). Disenfranchisement has taken different forms for different generations: Jarvious’s great-great-grandfather was enslaved, his great-grandfather and grandfather were intimidated and abused by the Ku Klux Klan, and his father was subjected to poll taxes and literacy tests. Jarvious himself was convicted of a felony and is on parole. Despite the different means used to exclude these men from democracy and society, the oppressive ends are the same.

Alexander is sensitive to the risks of making this argument by analogy; she reveals that she was skeptical of the similarities between Jim Crow and mass incarceration even as she worked as the Director of the Racial Justice Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California (3-4). However, she carefully illuminates the broad influence that the criminal justice has over the lives of impoverished people of color. These populations are subjected to surveillance, supervision, and restrictions on their freedoms in the shape of police procedures, prosecutorial discretion, mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, conditions of parole, and laws limiting access to employment, public housing, and welfare for convicted felons. Prison time is only one dimension in which the U.S. criminal justice system exerts control over African Americans.

Alexander presents statistics and narratives to reveal the racial inequality of arrest rates, prosecution, sentencing, and incarceration for drug offenses; she reports, “In at least fifteen states, blacks are admitted to prison on drug charges at a rate from twenty to fifty-seven times greater than that of white men” (96). She warns against a reform strategy that targets legal decisions by insightfully critiquing the precedents established by the United States Supreme Court that make it nearly impossible to stage a legal challenge against systemic racism in the War on Drugs. Past rulings have barred people from alleging claims of racial bias in policing under the Fourth Amendment (Whren v. United States), severely limited grounds for challenging racial bias in prosecution (Armstrong v. United States),or sentencing under the Fourteenth Amendment (McCleskey v. Kemp). Alexander advocates for a holistic reform movement that fights against institutionalized racism and racist public perceptions of criminality. In her words, “all of the needed reforms have less to do with failed policies than a deeply flawed public consensus, one that is indifferent, at best, to the experience of poor people of color” (221).

Alexander spotlights two particularly provocative issues: the tendency for colorblindness to act as a veil over racist practices, and the presumption that a person must be innocent to deserve advocacy.

Alexander showcases the dark side of colorblindness by pointing out that overt symbols of racism like derogatory slurs, nooses , or Ku Klux Klan imagery are “widely condemned by people across the political spectrum; they are understood to be remnants of the past, no longer reflective of the public consensus about race” (211). Slavery and Jim Crow were overtly racist forms of social control, but criminalization allows mass incarceration to masquerade as a set of colorblind practices aimed at securing public safety. Alexander forcefully argues that the criminal justice system, and the War on Drugs that keeps it humming, are not at all colorblind in practice. The many cases of police officers exercising individual discretion to identify drug dealers by making traffic stops and conducting searches without any evidence beyond a targeted person’s race exposes the falsity of racial blindness (64-68, 129). “Throughout the criminal justice system, as well as in our schools and public spaces, young + black + male is equated with reasonable suspicion, justifying the arrest, interrogation, search, and detention of thousands of African Americans every year” (194). Drawing attention to the racial inequality evident in incarceration statistics and mandatory minimum sentencing laws is an important rhetorical move for undermining the myth of a “post-racial” America.

Alexander also warns about the propensity of civil rights advocates to believe that a person’s purity and innocence are prerequisites for advocacy. She notes, “Challenging mass incarceration requires something civil rights advocates have long been reluctant to do: advocacy on behalf of criminals. Even at the height of Jim Crow segregation—when black men were more likely to be lynched than to receive a fair trial in the South—NAACP lawyers were reluctant to advocate on behalf of blacks accused of crimes unless the lawyers were convinced of the men’s innocence” (214). Alexander rightly argues that if this bias in advocacy is allowed to persist, the injustices and oppression that are perpetuated in the name of “fighting crime” cannot be resisted in a meaningful way. “Criminals, it turns out, are the one social group in America we have permission to hate. In ‘colorblind’ America, criminals are the new whipping boys. They are entitled to no respect and little moral concern” (138). Advocates who would fight against mass incarceration must be willing to openly show respect and concern for the folks who have been caged, literally and metaphorically, as criminals.

The New Jim Crow also introduces a number of other topics relevant to concerns about racism and the U.S. criminal justice system, including the privatization and profitability of prisons, and public perceptions of affirmative action and black exceptionalism. The book would be appropriate for inclusion in an undergraduate or graduate course, and the chapters contain sufficient reiteration of major themes that excerpts are intellectually and argumentatively complete. The book is tightly argued and Alexander has a very powerful writing style that is well adapted to a general, public audience.

Please read and share The New Jim Crow: this book can fuel the conversations that we must have about prisons, race, and justice.

-Megan G. Bernard
Rhetoric and Public Culture
Northwestern University


ADmin said...

We let you know here how you can improve your homework to get good grades.

Arsalan Yousuf said...

Thank you for this fantastic and needful read. I was very encouraged to find this site. Thanks a lot. Report writing

Tyler Champine said...

This is a crucially important topic, and as such, deserves careful scholarship. For a more critical reading of Alexander's New Jim Crow, see, Greg Thomas' response here:

Clifford Nivarre said...

Nowadays racial injustice in the U.S. criminal justice system is very rude and they are sprouting out of nowhere. buy soundcloud likes

karen jones said...

can teenagers too be affected of being colorblindness? or is it just the old timers? full spectrum sun lighting

Anna said...

I appreciate your idea here. Definitely it has a good content. Thank you for imparting more of your own thoughts. Good job!

prapti nusrat said...

My name is Sumon. I am a visitor. Today i visit your blog and read your whole information attentively. You wrote more valuable data in your blog. Now i am very happy because now i get more information in your content. Thank you so much for your great post.

Corlin Divabla said...

Last year when I began to write about my involvement in civil rights in 1963, it seemed I couldn't put a proper face on the memory. I just seemed to recall the difficult times surrounding my participation.
see more at-los angeles african american female lawye

MBCS Hridoy said...

Thank you for the update, even if its not perfect i would like to try this one. I'm now looking for the equipment on the store to use for my solar. police jobs

Như Quỳnh said...

This is a great web site Y1 Games, Y2 Games Good sparkling user interface and Y4 Games, Y5 Games very informative blogs Y6 Games Y7 Games. I have found it enormously useful.Y10 Games
I love all the posts Friv 4 School, Kizi 8, I really enjoyed,would like more information about thisKizi 9, because it is very niceFriv 8, Friv.Com Thanks for sharingFriv4School, Fynsy

Như Quỳnh said...

I feel firmly about it, Friv and also really like comprehending far more with this particular subject matter ABCya, GirlsGoGames. In case doable Hopy, Y8, is it possible to thoughts modernizing your site DiDi, Friv 2017
I truly cherished perusing Friv 2018, Friv 2 School your online journal Y88, Y8Y8 . It was extremely very much composed Y8 Games, Friv 4 School and straightforward Friv, K7x . Thanks alot!

Friv4 Games Online said...

Thanks for the share loved reading the article, please do share more like this wiht us .
happy wheels | friv | girlsgogames | games2girls | happy wheels

Alvira Li said...

Not anybody wants to go on months-long searches for their beaker best rolex replica, and doubtable even beneath still will wish to accord with all the altercation surrounding actuality and automated reliability. In a nutshell, these new watches ally the best of the old and the new, giving best replica watches uk lovers the adventitious to own a vintage-looking Rolex after any of the inconveniences surrounding best breitling replica. The Bamford Heritage Explorer I is priced at £11,500, while the Bamford Heritage Bicolor Paul Newman Daytona is £24,000.

Alice Denny said...

The blog or and best that is extremely useful to keep I can share the ideas. Age Of War 2
Big Farm | Slitherio | Tank Trouble
Of the future as this is really what I was looking for, I am very comfortable and pleased to come here. Thank you very much.
Happy Wheels | Goodgeme Empire |

Mircea said...

Great info ,thanks I like your ideas.
match 3 games | Mario flash games | Kizi life is fun | Mahjong games | 2 player games | Arcade games | y8 games | Super Mario Bros

ane semprul said...

This blog is so nice to me. I will continue to come here again and again. Visit my link as well. Good luck
obat aborsi
cara menggugurkan kandungan

yoob games said...

Thank you for this fantastic and needful read. I was very encouraged to find this site. Thanks a lot.
Free Games :
لعبة بنت ملكة
لعبة ملابس التزحلق

Yassine Yassine said...

شكرا على المقالة المميزة حقا اشكركم على هذه المبادرة الجميلة احسنتم الاختيار اصدقائي تفضلوا بعض العاب تلبيس بنات مسلية ومرحة جدا العبوها مع اصدقائكم رابط موقع العاب تلبيس

Trần Mi said...

The article gives me a lot of interesting information. I still often share life experiences with friends. And I enjoyed the convenience and attractiveness of free messaging app
whatsapp baixar , baixar whatsapp , baixar whatsapp gratis

Trần Mi said...

Facebook has become a part of my life, not only helped me to connect with you but also where I can share every moment in life. I really like the convenience that it brings
facebook baixar , baixar facebook , baixar facebook gratis

Brandy Lehmann said...

Come at this source to find out help from top-writers.

Linh Hoa said...

I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it.Cheers for the info!!!! & This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic
baixar facebook , baixar facebook gratis , facebook baixar ,

Linh Hoa said...

Your article made me very impressed. I enjoyed it, I would expect at your website, or more articles
baixar whatsapp, baixar whatsapp gratis, whatsapp baixar,

Linh Hoa said...

In your article, points caught my attention the most is how your prose, to give me a deep impression. Wish you would write more. good luck!
return man 2 game , return man 2 , return man ,

Linh Hoa said...

I think what you say on here is the best thing. Looking forward for our lives become increasingly more beautiful
subway surfers game , subway surfer , subway surfers ,

ngocanh said...

Your blog posts are more interesting and impressive. I think there are many people like and visit it regularly, including me.I actually appreciate your own position and I will be sure to come back here.
outlook iniciar sesión l iniciar sesión outlook l outlook l iniciar sesión

ngocanh said...

Nice! thank you so much! Thank you for sharing. Your blog posts are more interesting and impressive. I think there are many people like and visit it regularly, including me.I actually appreciate your own position and I will be sure to come back here.
facebook entrar l entrar facebook l entrar no facebook l entrar facebook direto l entrar facebook agora

tyas putri said...

obat pelancar haid

obat pelancar haid

obat pelancar menstruasi

obat telat bulan

obat telat datang bulan

obat haid manjur

obat aborsi

obat aborsi manjur

toko tangerang said...

thanks for sharing, nice post.

Procomil Spray

Viagra Australia

Hammer Of Thor

Cream Pembesar Payudara Huomeiren

Emilay Breast Suplemen Pembesar Payudara

Obat Pembesar Payudara Breast Lift Up

Puerarin Obat Pembesar Payudara

Qiansoto Breast Pembesar Payudara

Satto Breast Cream Pengencang Payudara

Black Mamba Oil

toko tangerang said...


toko tangerang said...

klg tangerang
membesarkan penis secara alami
testimoni pelanggan klg pills usa
khasiat klg pills obat pembesar penis

toko tangerang said...

klg tangerang
membesarkan penis secara alami
testimoni pelanggan klg pills usa
khasiat klg pills obat pembesar penis

Mircea said...

Thanks for your reviews and for article.
Cool math spades unblocked

flower 999 said...

Obat Penggugur kandungan,,, Nice bag you can earn money from that
Thanks for your posting
Visit me @, Obat Aborsi,,
Jual Obat Aborsi,,,

Harga Obat Aborsi,,,

Faisal Ahmed said...

I just book marked your blog on Digg and StumbleUpon.I enjoy reading your commentaries. Send Gifts To pakistan

Games 2 Girls said...

Thank you for such a sweet tutorial - all this time later, I've found it and love the end result. I appreciate the time you spent sharing your skills.