The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander begins with the contrast amongst an imprisoned African-American of two generations, the modern and ancient generations. The comparison concludes that both parties are victims of slavery characterized by blatant violation of fundamental rights. The legal scholar and civil rights litigator write about the plight of the African American and the mass incarceration that was witnessed in the United States (“The New Jim Crow Summary From Litcharts | The Creators Of Sparknotes”). Alexander notes that the discrimination of the African American male was common among the socio-economically disadvantaged minority of America. Alexander’s book leads the reader to the revelation of mass incarceration as the new Jim Crow.
In the first chapter, Alexander introduces the history of racial castes in the American system. The author posits that various methods of racist control have indicated that racism is adaptable to the conditions of a specified period. During the colonial era, black populations endured slavery and occupied the lowest caste. Africans provided cheap labor on the plantations of white settlers. Following the emergence of civil rights movements that brought down Jim Crow, another racial control system emerged hidden in the War on Drugs. Alexander explains how the police have been militarized to carry oppression African Americans. The War on Drugs became the scapegoat for cruelty and incarceration of poor people of color.
The second chapter describes the criminal justice system and procedures from the time of arrest, charging in court, and incarceration for drug offenses. The most intriguing aspect of the war on drugs is how the police operate without oversight. The judicial system has empowered the police to stop people at random, including risk and frisk orders. The police in the American system has been allowed to carry out operations on drug channels, and in some federal states, specialized forces, for instance, the SWAT team operate in full military clad, (Schuessler). Additional activities of the specific groups include seizing the property of people engaging in drug crime. These liberties have enhanced the operations to execute the war on drugs. Moreover, many police departments across America run affairs through money raised from seized assets. Alexander explains the injustices that have clogged the judicial system since the onset of the war on drugs witnessed in the numerous instances of people being pressured to accept plea bargains without a full understanding of their rights and consequences of such decisions.
In chapter three, Alexander explores the extent of racial discrimination and prejudice in the criminal justice system. She cites instances when majority of the arrests for drug offenses were of African Americans. The significant variance cannot be attributed to the inferior black culture or deliberate racism. However, racial injustices exhibited by the mass incarceration emerge from unconscious bias (Atchison). The seemingly race-neutral laws from the surface but condoned deep racial injustices further compound the issue of racial inequities. Of the two forms of cocaine, crack and powder cocaine, the black population was largely associated with crack which accompanied by punitive sentences compared to the sentences for white powder that was associated with the wealthy whites.
In the fourth chapter, the author describes the stigma associated with conviction with a felony in the modern world. She explains that convicts often do not understand the threats associated with plea deals without prison time. Mostly the defendants do not understand the impacts of being classified as criminals and be relegated to the lowest caste of American societies. Felons are often discriminated against in the community and regarded as not belonging in the mainstream. These impressions require them to navigate and path of complexities.
In most cases, felons are denied the right to receive public assistance and may not be considered for many state jobs because of their criminal records. The injustices are further expressed in the treatment of former detainees if they are lucky to secure employment. Mostly, they owe hefty state fees, and their entire paychecks are used to clear the debts. Consequently, many of the recently incarcerated have to endure poor living conditions or fall back to crime. Alexander insist the desires of black poor populations to enjoy ordinary and healthy lives which is inhibited by the lack of opportunities and resources. On the other hand, critics blame the gangsta rap culture that was common among African Americans for increased violence and drug use.
Chapter five expresses the level of disregard and inequality that characterize American society. Alexander faults the American leadership when some leaders pose the question; “where have all the black men gone?” it seems absurd that besides the ambiguity of this question, no one offers an honest response knowing that the majority of blacks are in prisons (“The New Jim Crow Summary From Litcharts | The Creators Of Sparknotes”). Alexander feels that addressing the issue of mass incarceration requires a more realistic approach and recognizing that it is happening. Alexander’s book highlights the common aspects of Jim Crow and mass incarceration. Both systems exhibit massive segregation of the society and serve to divert the frustration of the working class from economic factors and use people of color as a scapegoat. More significantly, both systems reside in race and criminality issues. Besides she explores the variances in both systems and reveals that the Jim Crow system was overtly racist while mass incarceration appeared race-neutral on the surface but inspired hidden racism.
In the final chapter, Alexander faults the society for living in a collective denial about mass incarceration. She expresses her disgust with the silence of civil rights lawyers who have greater access and awareness that the public (Barrow). She further challenges the view of mass incarceration as racial justice issues, which lawyers have come together to challenge.
The author is adamant that she lacks a concrete vision of solving mass incarceration but expresses hope that this will serve as a motivation for others to devise detailed plans to address it. She challenges the society to shift from focusing on smaller units of personal reforms to the greater context of undoing the entire system. Additionally, she presents her argument for demilitarizing the police force, legalizing marijuana and maybe other substances, ending racial profiling, and winning in the court of public opinion.
Atchison, Samuel K. “Review: ‘The New Jim Crow’ By Michelle Alexander.” Evangelicals For Social Action, 2018, https://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/resources/book-reviews/the-new-jim-crow-by-michelle-alexander/. Accessed 16 Apr 2019.
Barrow, Gahji. “The New Jim Crow | New Orleans Review.” Neworleansreview.Org, 2010, http://www.neworleansreview.org/the-new-jim-crow/. Accessed 16 Apr 2019.
Schuessler, Jennifer. “Michelle Alexander’S ‘New Jim Crow’ Raises Drug Law Debates.” Nytimes.Com, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/07/books/michelle-alexanders-new-jim-crow-raises-drug-law-debates.html.
“The New Jim Crow Summary From Litcharts | The Creators Of Sparknotes.” Litcharts, 2019, https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-new-jim-crow/summary. Accessed 16 Apr 2019.