For one of my law school courses title Race and the Law, I had the pleasure of reading The New Jim Crow. Its a great read and it presented some very interesting assertions and theories that I think are very relevant today in 2016. Check out my thoughts below:
Michelle Alexander’s purpose for writing The New Jim Crow was to alert “liberals” like herself about her theory of the true purpose of the criminal justice system. She wanted people to understand how “people are being targeted, criminalized, [and] stereotyped to support popular complacent consent for [individuals being criminalized and] incarcerated, and then denied full citizenship upon release.”
In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander addresses the issue of racism being nonexistent in America by explicitly stating that racism is not dead, because it exists within the criminal justice system and its treatment of Black minorities. In the book, Michelle Alexander discusses the rebirth of the caste system, mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and her theory of the New Jim Crow. Michelle Alexander also discusses how this theory of the New Jim Crow originated, and she discusses the history and the purpose of Jim Crow laws. Michelle Alexander specifically speaks to the oppression of Black Americans by discussing slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the history of the racial caste in America. The racial caste system being a system in which seeks to control an entire race.
Michelle Alexander then discusses the issue of mass incarceration and its impact on Black America. Michelle Alexander sees mass incarceration as a process that causes individuals, especially Black minorities, to be swept into a system that brands them with the label of being a criminals or a convicted felons, places them in prison, and then releases them into society as permanent second class citizen. These individuals become second class citizens because they are stripped of many of their rights because of their criminal records. Specifically, Michelle Alexander compares this issue of mass incarceration to purpose of the earlier Jim Crow laws. Michelle Alexander speaks specifically about the War on Drugs in relation to it’s devastating impact on the African American community, and the way in which it has enabled the criminal justice system to control and oppress people of color. Michelle Alexander acclaims that mass incarceration has placed minorities at a lifelong disadvantage. In the book, Michelle Alexander draws parallels between the issues of mass incarceration and past racial caste systems such as Jim Crow laws. Michelle Alexander places an emphasis on the way in both systems were formed to racially discriminate and control society.
This book really addresses the issues of racism and racial insubordination in today’s society. As discussed during class discussions, Black Americans, in particular, Black men, are incarcerated at higher levels than white Americans. During the course of our class, we addressed some of the factors that have led to these high percentages of incarcerated Black men including issues related to a lack of resources in Black communities, disparities in the American Education system for minority youth, and institutionalized racism. In this book, Michelle Alexander is addressing the issue of racial discrimination in the context of institutionalized racism.
Michelle Alexander really explored the impact of the criminal justice system on an individual’s life. Once a person is convicted of a crime in the criminal justice system, their life is changed forever. As a result of a person being a convicted felon, they are no longer able to legally obtain government housing, they struggle with securing employment, and they are denied benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.
Convicted felons are also prohibited from voting until they pay all of the necessary fines, which is often nearly impossible for many individuals because of the difficulty they find in obtaining employment. Likewise, convicted felons and people with criminal records are often negatively categorized as a result of the stigmas that convicted felons are associated with in society. Michelle Alexander was speaking to all of these known issues for people with criminal records in The New Jim Crow, and she was speaking specifically about the impact mass incarceration and the War on Drugs has had in the African American community.
In this book, Michelle Alexander wanted people to understand that racism still exists in America today, and it’s just as significant as it was during slavery and the years of Jim Crow laws. She wanted readers to understand how racial control is just being perpetuated through our criminal justice system. She wanted people to understand why race matters by discussing the way in which our criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates African Americans and the impact that incarceration has on the African American community as a result of that incarceration. Essentially, she introduced America to an issue that has oppressed and deprived many Black Americans for decades. This book is a must read. It exposes many truths about the criminal justice system, and it really exposes America’s intentional colorblindness to racial issues that are negatively affecting minorities in America.
Please comment and let me know if you’ve read this book already. I’m also open to hear opinions both in favor and against! I hope you all check it out!
*Please note that all of the quotes in this blog are from The New Jim Crow.