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

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4.37 of 5 stars 4.37  ·  rating details  ·  5,387 ratings  ·  865 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, 336 pages
Published January 16th 2012 by New Press, The (first published 2009)
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Judith
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
Hadrian
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?...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
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...more
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,
...more
Karen
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...more
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. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...
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...more
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
Tania HH
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.
Christopher
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...more
Alexander
The preface of The New Jim Crow is telling. In it, Michelle Alexander describes her intended audience: essentially, people who are already sympathetic to the book's thesis. I credit her for her honesty, but, unfortunately, that's exactly how the book reads. If you already believe that the American justice system is fraught with racial bias and you're simply looking to have your views affirmed, then I suppose that The New Jim Crow is an excellent read. More open-minded readers can expect to get a...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)...more
Anthony
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
Bill
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
Drick
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
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'...more
Matt
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...more
Lauren
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
Sera
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
Anusooya
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.

Despit...more
Rejena
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
Sarah
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...more
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.
Lynetta
I have not liked Ronald Reagan and now REALLY don't like him. This book explains when he began the war on drugs few people perceived drugs as a major problem. He began giving money and equipment to police departments based on their arrests, as well as letting them confiscate cars, homes. About this time manufacturing jobs ended and black men specifically became targets. Now we have the highest rate of humans in a cage of any country, and the majority are black. It is a big business. On page 218...more
Rachel
This was an eye-opening book. I found it difficult to read on one level; my personal belief that "if drugs were not used in the first place mass incarceration would come to a screeching halt." This one thought was consistently invading my reading of Alexander's premises and arguments of the many problems of mass incarceration and the new Jim Crow. I think if she would have addressed this basic issue at the beginning of the book I wouldn't have had to fight it so much as I was reading her premise...more
Sheri
The drug war in this country -- given its name by Nixon, but initiated by Reagan with vigor in the mid-1980s, and prosecuted with unparalleled effort by Clinton -- has led to mass incarceration of black males and felony records that result in LEGAL discrimination that bars voting, access to public benefits such as student loans, food stamps, welfare for dependent children, public housing subsidies, etc. No state can legally bar blacks from voting, but if the federal government enacts ridiculousl...more
Laura
A hard book to read. I want to believe in the redemptive story of America. That whatever nastiness lurks in our origins, whatever brutal things we were willing to do or live with, we’re getting better. Expanding the franchise. Treating everyone as if they are more than a means to an end. Building a better world where all god’s children can live. Offering freedom and dignity to everyone. Not going into the dark. Not continuing to bridge the gap between our ideal that everyone is endowed with alie...more
Adam
Terrifying, eye opening, shocking, not-that-shocking, brilliantly written, thought provoking, anger invoking. . .yeah, you get the picture!

Michelle Alexander holds no bars, excuse me, bars no holds in setting out to inform readers how mass incarceration has acted as a form of social control to create, and maintain, an undercaste of racial minorities in a similar fashion to the Jim Crow laws of the mid 20th century.

From slavery to reconstruction, Jim Crow to the 'age of mass incarceration,' Alexa...more
Sylvia
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
...more
D'Anne
One day while I was in high school yearbook class, a group of my friends (all white) were pouring over a yearbook from a local elementary school. They were oohing and ahhing over how cute these kids were imaging futures for them, saying things like, "Oh, this kid is going to be a linebacker" or "This little girl is going to be class president" (I can't remember exactly the kinds of things they were saying, but you get the idea). I (also white), wanting to highlight the pointlessness of such an e...more
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  • Are Prisons Obsolete?
  • When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
  • Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice
  • At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power
  • But Some Of Us Are Brave: All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: Black Women's Studies
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  • Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis
  • Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide
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“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.” 15 likes
“The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.” 11 likes
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