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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

by Michelle Alexander

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,2651242,282 (4.41)315
This work argues that the War on Drugs and policies that deny convicted felons equal access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits create a permanent under caste based largely on race. As the United States celebrates the nation's "triumph over race" with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status - much like their grandparents before them. In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community - and all of us - to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.… (more)
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» See also 315 mentions

English (119)  Spanish (1)  All languages (120)
Showing 1-5 of 119 (next | show all)
Heartbreaking. Powerful. Inspiring. A life changing book everyone in America, in my opinion, should be required to read. It's message is well researched and cited, fair, and clear. Moving. ( )
  btbell_lt | Aug 1, 2022 |
I have recommended this book since it's release. But getting anyone to read can be difficult. This book confirmed so much, about America that for many others had been previously hidden from their worldview. I had been calling out similiar bias as I had witnessed it over the years. Usually with little success. So it was very satisfying to read and learn from this book, and I recommend it to all. I have told my republican friends for decades that if they support any politicians or laws that discriminate on race sex religion, they might very well be racist. Racism doesn't need a white robe and hood anymore. Read this now classic book, and read "Chokehold" afterwards. ( )
  CriticalThinkTank | Jul 19, 2022 |
This is an incredibly dense and important work. If you want to understand how a nominally colorblind criminal justice system leads to racially biased mass incarceration of Black and Latino men, you should read this. Published in 2012, it continues to be relevant. Some of the examples are starting to show their age, but the core system it describes is still in place.

The New Jim Crow is a system of racial control meant to marginalize Blacks. It was built to replace Jim Crow laws, just as that caste system was built to replace slavery. Each of these caste systems has responded to the downfall of the system before it. The New Jim Crow, in particular, has to hide racial bias behind the veil of a colorblind system.

The motivation for a racially motivated system of control is to create a wedge between poor Blacks and poor Whites so that they do not form a coalition against the more affluent. By pushing down Blacks, Whites avoid being at the bottom of America's social hierarchy.

The tool used to replace segregation was calls for law and order. Civil rights activists were portrayed as wanting to disturb the peace. The primary tool of the New Jim Crow is mass incarceration built on top of the War on Drugs. From the start, the War on Drugs included an intentional effort to associate Blackness with drugs and criminality. This is despite the fact that Whites use and sell drugs at rates comparable to Blacks.

How does a nominal colorblind criminal justice system act as a tool of racial control? At every step of the process, bias is allowed into the system. Law enforcement officers have large amounts of discretion. They have financial incentives to increase drug arrests. Because of the systematic racialization of drug criminals as Black, society tends to ignore civil rights violations in Black communities. Put all of these together, to disproportionate enforcement of drug laws in Black community.

Second, the courts have systematically worked to ensure that only clear evidence of individually targeted racism is considered valid grounds for racial discrimination. Statistical patterns, no matter how widespread or well supported, are not considered valid evidence. Support for such discriminatory outcomes have been justified, in part, by the observation that while there is evidence for biased outcomes, questioning the colorblindness of the criminal justice system would lead to it falling apart.

Finally, convicted criminals are subject to legal discrimination in housing, employment, education, public benefits, and voting. This creates a permanent undercaste which is unable to integrate back into the mainstream economic system.

The critical thing to note about this process is that it does not depend on explicit racism. Racially biased outcomes are the result of how the system as a whole fits together.

Because of this, removing the racial bias in the criminal justice system requires more than incremental fixes. Changes are required across the whole system. Furthermore, for those changes to have lasting effect we must acknowledge the role of race in the current system. If not, the current caste system will just be replaced by another.

Successfully dismantling racial caste systems will require a broad coalition. This cannot be limited to just groups who have traditionally been discriminated against. Even though it may raise legitimate anger, we must bring White men into the coalition and find a way to build a system that works for everyone. Race has been used as a racial wedge in the past. We cannot let it continue to be used as one. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
An amazing read! The author takes a very complicated subject and explains it in a very clear and concise way without bombarding you with too many dates and facts. I would highly recommend. ( )
  awesomejen2 | Jun 21, 2022 |
Whew.... What can I say about this book. Very well written. Great use of sources. Very informative. Gave me lots of good background and info. So much so, I'll have to resist the urge to become a pedant, lol.

This was a great book and helped fill in some knowledge of the holes of our american society in a way... it's good to see where the momentum and inertia of the "criminal" justice system and it's work to keep certain groups of people down.

It's a shame. This book or a streamlined version of it, should be required reading for everyone. Even if a lot of them will choose to ignore it. ( )
  Vulco1 | May 23, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 119 (next | show all)
Quoting Alexander: "I consider myself a prison abolitionist, in the sense that I think we will eventually end the prisons as we know them. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we don’t need to remove people from the community who pose a serious threat or who cause serious harm for some period of time. But the question is do we want to create and maintain sites that are designed for the intentional infliction of needless suffering? Because that’s what prison is today. They are sites where we treat people as less than human and put them in literal cages and intentionally inflict harm and suffering on them and then expect that this will somehow improve them. It’s nonsensical, immoral, and counterproductive, and that is what I would like to see come to an end."
 
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.
added by 2wonderY | editPublisher's Weekly
 

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alexander, Michelleprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chilton, KarenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
West, CornelForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Wikipedia in English (41)

American juvenile justice system

City of Los Angeles v. Lyons

Comparison of United States incarceration rate with other countries

Jim Crow laws

Michelle Alexander

Prison

United States presidential election in Idaho, 1984

United States presidential election in Illinois, 1984

United States presidential election in Iowa, 1984

United States presidential election in Kansas, 1984

United States presidential election in Kentucky, 1984

United States presidential election in Louisiana, 1984

United States presidential election in Oklahoma, 1984

United States presidential election in Oregon, 1984

United States presidential election in Rhode Island, 1984

United States presidential election in South Carolina, 1984

United States presidential election in South Dakota, 1984

United States presidential election in Tennessee, 1984

This work argues that the War on Drugs and policies that deny convicted felons equal access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits create a permanent under caste based largely on race. As the United States celebrates the nation's "triumph over race" with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status - much like their grandparents before them. In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community - and all of us - to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

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