Abolishing the Jim Crow laws was central to the successful change brought on by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. However, as the U.S. learned in the 2016 election cycle, we are far from a post-racial society. Long before that, back in 2010, Michelle Alexander published this seminal book about how the U.S. came to have “half a million people in prison or jail for a drug offense today.” Mass incarceration of primarily black and brown people, she posits, is a new racial caste system succeeding slavery and Jim Crow.
I thought Alexander made a strong case. Her writing is professorial but she’s a professor at Ohio State, so I can’t fault her for that. For me the first five chapters were informative, had good flow, and read very easily. And they made me angry at the injustices perpetrated by the system!
Reagan was elected and started the Drug War when I was in my late teens. As a white kid from a sheltered, suburban home, I didn’t think much about it because I was busy launching. But here’s the rub, there are millions of black kids who haven’t had that privilege. They didn’t choose to be born where they were born. They didn’t choose to have the police target them and their communities more than the white kids in my neighborhood.
I’ve always bought into the perspective that drug-related offenses are committed by more black people than white people. Turns out I was wrong, and I have Michelle Alexander to thank for clearing that up. In actuality, white people are rarely targeted or caught for drug offenses. So we can launch our post-high school or college lives, while the black kids end up in jail or prison. It’s truly horrible.
The New Jim Crow doesn’t end there. After that kid is released from prison, he is deeply disenfranchised. He’s not eligible for the privileges most white men his age take for granted – like safe affordable housing, jobs with decent pay, and things like car loans. This starts the vicious circle, and is one more step in the racial caste system in the United States.
Another subject Alexander discusses is what colorblindness means in today’s reality. I appreciated her explanation of the downsides of being colorblind. It all comes down to compassion for everyone, no matter what.
The book’s last chapter contains more of Alexander’s opinions than the facts of the case. The change in style threw me a bit, but her voice is still clear and her ideas strong. It wouldn’t make sense to educate the reader without a chapter that critiques and looks towards the future. As a reader, I want to take the anger and do something to resist the racism and status quo. This chapter analyzes what is being done, and how it could be improved. That helps me!
I can’t say it strongly enough. Please read this book, and then find a way to put its ideas into action. #readersresist