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290 pages, Hardcover
First published January 5, 2010
This, in brief, is how the system works: The War on Drugs is the vehicle through which extraordinary numbers of black men are forced into the cage. The entrapment occurs in three distinct phases . . . The first stage is the roundup. Vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice system by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color. … The conviction marks the beginning of the second phase: the period of formal control. Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty whether they are or not. …The final stage has been dubbed by some advocates as the period of invisible punishment. … a form of punishment that operates largely outside of public view and takes effect outside the traditional sentencing framework. . . and collectively ensures that the offenders will never integrate into mainstream, white society.One of the most thought-provoking issues raised in The New Jim Crow is the concept of colorblindness, and how Martin Luther King’s call to create a society where people are not "judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" has been badly distorted by politicians in their attempts to dismantle affirmative action and anti-poverty programs. Recognition of this distortion is not new, of course, but it’s been skillfully employed in the mass incarceration movement by those who don’t want to appear racist. As Alexander states:
“In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”Martin Luther King, Jr fought for a society where people were not judged by the color of their skin. He never called for the color of their skin to be ignored.
This book is not for everyone. I have a specific audience in mind—people who care deeply about racial justice but who, for any number of reasons, do not yet appreciate the magnitude faced by communities of color as a result of mass incarceration…(and) those who have been struggling to persuade their friends, neighbors, relatives, teachers, co-workers, or political representatives . . . but who have lacked the facts and data to back up their claims. Last, but definitely not least, I am writing this book for all those trapped within America’s latest caste system. You may be locked up our lock out of mainstream society, but you are not forgotten.So it’s natural to end such a bleak assessment of race in America with the question, what can be done? Michelle Alexander addresses this extensively, including taking the traditional civil rights organizations to task for turning their backs on the long-standing issue of mass incarceration of black and brown Americans.
A new social consensus must be forged about race and the role of race in defining the basic structure of our society, if we ever hope to abolish the New Jim Crow. The new consensus must begin with dialogue, a conversation that fosters critical consciousness, a key prerequisite to effective social action.After Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, MO last August, and the Black Lives Matter campaign spread across social media, I vowed to listen, read, and better educate myself about racial injustices, as well as hold myself accountable for on my own assumptions and prejudices. The New Jim Crow makes me uncomfortable; it makes me angry, ashamed, fearful, and determined. Determined never to be so blind again.
A war has been declared against poor communities of color, and police are expected to wage it.