Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”

For generations, black people were not allowed to vote in the United States. Various tactics were used to prevent them from doing so such as laws that prevented slaves from voting, retaliatory attacks by white racist groups, a requirement to pay poll taxes and pass a literacy test. Although these tactics are not common practice today, voting rights are stripped disproportionately from black americans as a consequence of the law that revokes voting rights from convicted felons. The majority of these felons are in fact black males. Their right to vote is denied upon release, a denial similar to those of their ancestors that were denied the right to vote by other various tactics. Mass incarceration of black males are the Jim Crow laws of the 21st Century.

The new Jim Crow laws are not overtly racist, however they are ostensibly racist for the mere fact that African Americans are arrested at far higher rates for the same crimes that their white counterparts commit who actually escape arrest. Since the enactment of the war on drugs in America in the 1980s, and the three strike law and enacted in California in 1990s, the prison system seems to have taken on the role that the fields once occupied in the era of slavery, the role of containing the black race. This form of social control while not blatantly racist, perpetuates a well disguised form of racial discrimination. The US, more than any other nation in history, has developed a large penal system for the primary method of social control. Alexander reported that in the 1970s many expert criminologists expected the prison system to shrink in size and eventually disappear because they were not that effective in deterring crime and in fact helped to create crime.

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The war on drugs began in response to the crack epidemic that began in 1980s and was purported to be an epidemic in the black community. The stereotypical crack addict was portrayed as poor black people living in the seedy urban districts. The focus on black people during this crack epidemic made people believe that the government had a conspiratorial agenda to eliminate the black race. I was  astounded to read that the number of imprisoned people rose from 300,000 to over 2 million in less than 30 years. Many of these related to drug offenses. The US now has the highest incarceration rate in the world and the highest rate of imprisoned ethnic minorities. Additional incarceration statistics can be found in the NAACP CRIMINAL JUSTICE FACT SHEET.

Being released from prison is not the end of the journey for these ex-cons because the stigma associated with being an ex convict follows released prisoners the rest of their lives, hindering them from freedoms that most Americans have access to including jobs, the right to vote, and public benefits. This racial caste system that Alexander postis is prevalent in today’s US society, a byproduct as a result of mass incarceration, continues to relegate black prisoners to the lower rungs of society as the Jim Crow laws once did.

 

One thought on “Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”

  • December 5, 2015 at 12:56 pm
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    Sam,

    I highly recommend you read Alexander’s book in it’s entirety as it is a great analysis of the Criminal Justice system in America.

    The author notes that more black men are currently under the control of the criminal justice system than were enslave in 1828. The “War on Drugs” was a mechanism used by the more powerful to ensure that black males are taken out of the competitive labor market due to now being convicted felons, which also takes away their right to vote, funding for post-secondary education, etc. The author also notes that while the NAACP has been focused on Affirmative Action they have ignored the very systematic way blacks have been put under another form of social control, incarceration.

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