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

4.41 of 5 stars 4.41  ·  rating details  ·  13,171 ratings  ·  1,798 reviews
Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar ...more
Paperback, 312 pages
Published January 16th 2012 by The New Press (first published 2009)
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Jacqueline Hendricks Crimes for which others are not charged. Public interference by standing on a sidewalk. Supreme Court Judge Robert Jackson said in 1940: Federal Laws…moreCrimes for which others are not charged. Public interference by standing on a sidewalk. Supreme Court Judge Robert Jackson said in 1940: Federal Laws are so voluminous and unfathomable that prosecutors can easily pick the man and find the crime rather than vice versa. And so they do until we have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Driving while black is another.(less)

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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander will pick up your everyday white liberal guilt, tie it in knots, and leave you wondering how you could have ever been so simple-minded as to think colorblindness was benign, let alone desirable. While the “War on Drugs,” hopped up on federal funds and confiscated property, is systematically exploiting African American neighborhoods to supply the ever-growing prison industry with human beings to incarcerate, t ...more
Lumumba Shakur
It is Michelle Alexander's experience as a lawyer which makes this such a successful piece. It is not novelty that makes this book so profound, but the authority upon which the argument is made: simple statistics and inarguable facts. In the very beginning, Mrs. Alexander states for whom this book was written: people who have a hard time convincing friends, neighbors and others that there is something oddly familiar with the current order. She has done this perfectly and thus I highly recommend ...more
When the United States now has a prison population of nearly the same size and proportion as Stalinist Russia during the Great Purges, you know there's something deeply wrong with this country. (We have 760 per 100,000, the Soviets had ~800.) 1.6 million people out of 300 million are in prison today in America (The Gulag held 1.7 million in 1953). That's more than all of Hawaii. This population includes almost 100,000 minors, and even an increasing proportion of the elderly.

How did this happen?
1988. English 201. I was a college freshman, required to write a paper about fads vs. trends. For reasons I cannot recall, I chose to write about the War on Drugs. I can’t recall anything about the paper, either, though I can still see the “This Is Your Brain On Drugs” commercial that was rolled out in 1987 by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Washington D. C. was embroiled in the Iran-Contra Affair. It was an election year. Perestroika had just begun rolling off western tongues. Benazir ...more
Lady Jane
The content of this book is so disturbing that I had to take a break from reading it for a week or so. I am still trying to absorb and synthesize the information. I will return later to re-read the last chapter. It is a powerful read, well worth the time and emotional energy.
I live in a city where I can bike a few miles, cross a few neighborhoods and see the divides between the rich, middle-class and poor. I live in a city with a stop-and-frisk policy that unfairly targets African-Americans. I
T Hamboyan Harrison
No, black people aren't the majority in our American prisons because they're more likely to commit crimes. They're there because the "War on Drugs" has been applied to them more frequently than any other racial group.

Give a damn, people. Read this book and stop lying to yourselves.
I don't even know where to start. I'm not a political type of guy. I generally strive to avoid any political discourse with friends, family, or strangers. I've never picketed or protested or sat in. I mostly want to mind my own business.

But every now and then a portrayal of injustice smacks me upside the head, rattles by brains around a bit, and I'm shaken out of my apathy. I realize that not everyone was born with a shiny, silver spoon in his mouth like me. No, no, in fact, I'm among the most
Vannessagrace Vannessagrace
"... I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow."

"… Once they are released, they are often denied the right to vote, excluded from juries, and relegated to a racially segregated and subordinated existence. Through a web of laws, regulations, and informal rules, all of which are powerfully reinforced by social stigma,
I've worked in the violence prevention sector for 12 years now, and I've recently started learning about the prison industrial complex. As someone who focuses on systems of oppression, I tend to self-righteously roll my eyes when other white people are "shocked" at blatant cases of discrimination or violence in their community.

So I have to say, while reading this book I WAS SHOCKED. I had no idea how far down the rabbit hole mass incarceration actually went. It has also made me question my assum
Larry Bassett
I have included gobs of this book in status updates and other quotes so will probably not do my usual inclusion of material from the text within this review. But let me say first that I was immediately captivated by this book and soon adopted the feeling of some other reviewers that everyone should read and take this book to heart. I had the e-book from my local online library source but soon found that I had purchased two hardback copies with the idea of distributing them to people whom I could ...more
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it's a well researched compilation of the history of mass incarceration (it's swelling size in particular) and race in all aspects of the criminal justice system. On another hand, if you're at all familiar with things like mandatory drug sentencing laws, racial profiling and the Supreme Court's rejection of disparate impact in criminal procedure cases, it's really nothing new. It does a great job of shining a light on the dangers of colorblindn ...more
Mal Warwick
One of the Most Important Books Published in the English Language So Far This Century

Settle down now, class! It’s time for your pop quiz:

1. The number of Americans with criminal records is approximately: (a) 21.3 million, (b) 9 million, (c) 4.5 million, (d) 65 million

2. The highest incidence of the use and sale of illegal drugs is found in communities characterized as: (a) Asian, (b) African-American, (c) Latino, (d) White

3. The percentage of federal prisoners convicted of violent crimes is (a)
Clif Hostetler
This is not the sort of American exceptionalism to be proud of. The United States has the highest per capita rate of incarceration of any country in the world.
That means one of two possibilities. Either we're a country of criminals, or our law makers have an inexplicable fascination with defining crime and punishment in a way that artificially creates criminals. This books says it's the latter.

What do you suppose is so unique about American culture that
Christine Theberge Rafal
The issues this book lays out are horrifying. Did you know the "home of the free" incarcerates a larger percentage of its population than any other country? And that the increase in our prison population since 1980 can be traced not to rising crime rates but to changes in policies, especially to unusually harsh sentencing, supported by race-based surveillance, in the so-called war on drugs. Once someone is caught in the system, the history of a felony relegates them to underclass status forever. ...more
Feb 07, 2014 Sera rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sera by: Indie Press
Wow, this book is important on many different levels, but most importantly, it describes how the war on drugs (and the war on crime) under Ronald Reagan kicked off a series of events that has resulted in in the majority of the black male population in the United States to be either behind bars or suffering with the criminal stigma associated with post-release. Alexander does a great job of taking us through how modern day America resembled America during Reconstruction. It's clear that her legal ...more
This Isn't Simply a Drug Issue or a Black/Brown Thing.

I appreciate the history detailed this book, i.e., slavery to reconstruction to Jim Crow to the 60s. I also came to the text expecting to agree fully with the concept, having seen far too many black men claimed by the prison system and left with virtually no means to contribute to society once released.

I read this book with increasing skepticism, however, because the author cherry-picked facts. Framing this state of affairs as largely the re
This book pretty much blew me away. I'd have finished it a lot more quickly if it weren't for the fact that every time I picked it up, it gave me a colossal stomach ache.

The basic premise sounds like a conspiracy. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control in this country. It has the scent of the stuff you see from Marxist presses. It's the sort of theory of society that appears to require much greater orchestration than is even po
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Actually, the most depressing book I ever read. If you're anything like me, then you notice inequality in your everyday life. Why is it that a certain segment of society is always being hauled away in cuffs on the nightly news? Why are so many black and brown men run through the cycle of incarceration-as-career? Where ARE all the young black men? What has the War on Drugs actually achieved?

Alexander uses every tool in her box to rip the veil from the issue. Using historic examples, modern statis
Mike Vogler
The one piece of advice I can offer to the potential reader of this book is to read it with a both a critical eye and an open-mind. "The New Jim Crow" is a very provocative book that squarely confronts the negative effects of the "War on Drugs" and the American criminal justice system.

I could not help but thinking however, that the title, which references the Jim Crow Laws of the Southern United States is a bit mis-leading. It implies that the War on Drugs and subsequent structural laws; such a
David Smith
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this book. I had a vague idea that the criminal justice system was messed up, but Michelle uses numbers and powerful language to do the issue justice.

Mass incarceration has ruined about 30 million lives directly. 30. MILLION. Take a moment to absorb the truly staggering scope of that number. The charge is most commonly nonviolent marijuana possession. The victims are overwhelmingly black, despite using drugs at slightly lower rates than whites. It'
This is, without a doubt, one of the best legal books I’ve ever read. Ms. Alexander takes an admittedly controversial thesis – that the U.S.’s current criminal laws (especially those involving the War on Drugs) are a new version of the pre-Civil Rights Jim Crow laws – and delivers a balanced analysis that is brilliantly executed. This could have easily been a bad book with either scattered research or ham-handed analysis. Instead this book is the sort of well-researched and well-written scholars ...more
Without a doubt this is the most revolutionary text I have read thus far this year. To evoke a biblical allusion the scales have fallen from my eyes and I see the "war on drugs" for what it really is: a means of racial social control as repressive as Apartheid in South Africa.

The author, a former supreme court justice aid, meticulously describes and delineates the "War on Drugs" as being a system designed to 1) repress inner city lower income communities and effectively turn them into red zones,
Honestly there are few books that have changed my perception of the world more than this book has. I consider myself a liberal and a progressive but having lived my entire life in a place of privlage growing up in middle class suburia in a two parent household that strived to give me every social and educational advantage that was possible, my knowledge of the underclass and the challenges that faced them was at best superficial and more often than not completely non existant or erronious.

this is a remarkable book. michelle alexander's writing should be a model to legal scholars: she has a clear and compelling thesis, which she lays out succinctly and argues for in full throughout the main chapters of the book. briefly: mass incarceration works in similar ways as Jim Crow by creating a caste system, supported by poor whites encouraged to vote against their class interest. alexander works step by step through the history of the war on drugs, the rolling back of 4th amendment restr ...more
This book has been on my radar for a couple years, and I was finally induced to read it by my race & ethnic relations class. And I am glad, because it is pretty great. I want to get a copy of this book for basically everyone I know.

I’m actually on my second read through it right now, reading it aloud to Peter. This book has a lot going for it. For one thing, it is a very smooth read. It flows well. Unlike many authors who tackle complex subjects in an academic or “elevated” way, Michelle Ale
Michelle Alexander's thesis is basically that the overwhelmingly disproportionate incarceration of African Americans constitutes a "new Jim Crow era" that singles out people of color and relegates them to second class citizenship status. Through extensive documentation Alexander shows that Reagan's "War on Drugs" was developed at a time before Crack cocaine hit urban streets, and was used to whip up political support from Southern whites who resented the advances made by blacks. She shows how pe ...more
Apr 01, 2012 Bill added it
I've been itching to read this book since I first heard about it, and now I'm itching to talk about it having read it. A bit about where I came to this book from: I grew up in suburban Mississippi, in a private school that I believed for a long time was founded to teach phonics. I looked on the racial discrimination of the Jim Crow era in my state with horror, as did many of classmates. I didn't think it unusual, nor did I even process the fact that I could count on one hand the number of black ...more
What a stunningly poignant book. Michelle Alexander does not hold anything back. Her rhetoric and research are pitch-perfect throughout the whole work. This is a very important book, I think, for everyone. Even people who, like me, think they have a basic understanding of social issues. I was wrong. I didn't know the half of it.

Alexander chooses her examples carefully, you get a sense of just how much work needs to be done to end mass incarceration. Despite that, it doesn't feel hopeless. It's
Not an easy book to read on your own, but definitely a perspective changer.

"All of the financial incentives granted to law enforcement to arrest poor black and brown people for drug offenses must be revoked. Federal grant money for drug enforcement must end; drug forfeiture laws must be stripped from the books; racial profiling must be eradicated; the concentration of drug busts in poor communities of color must cease; and the transfer of military equipment and aid to local law enforcement agenc
Chris Kaiser
Fantastic first few chapters. People need to read Alexander's recounting of American racial history from slavery through Reagan. The later parts get redundant, though, especially if you're somebody who already has considered the possibility that cops might act upon unconscious prejudices even though they aren't overtly racist. Probably could be shorter, but definitely essential reading for a lot of folks.
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  • Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice
  • Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class
  • Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California
  • The Possessive Investment In Whiteness
  • Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
  • Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis
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  • Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty
  • Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? What it Means to Be Black Now
  • The History of White People
Michelle Alexander is an associate professor of law at Ohio State University, a civil rights advocate and a writer.
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“The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that's why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.” 40 likes
“The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.” 31 likes
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