A Review of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
If I were asked to sum up Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness in one word, I would say it was haunting. A statement that we hear very often today is that we live in a post-racial era. Michelle Alexander, in less than 300 pages, shows us very clearly that we do not live in a post-racial era. Not only do we not live in a post-racial era, but we are living in an era that she has defined as “The New Jim Crow”.
Michelle Alexander argues that the system of mass incarceration, which has infamously swept up astonishingly large numbers of Black and brown people since the War on Drugs began, has created a racial undercaste, one that in some aspects is far worse than the Jim Crow laws of yesterday. She further argues that we live in an age of colorblindness. It is no longer legal to discriminate against people based on color. But what happens if we remove any inclination that race is a motivating factor when someone gets swept up in the criminal justice system? The answer is simple, we end up with a horrifying number of black and brown people who end up in the criminal justice system and upon their release are relegated to second-class citizenship.
Once you are labeled a felon, it is perfectly legal to be discriminated against for housing, government assistance, and employment, among other things. The amount of detail, statistics, independent studies, and overall information that Alexander includes to prove that we are in an age where the criminal justice system has been fabricated to ensure that people of color remain just as they were 50 years ago is staggering. While the statistics on the number of blacks versus whites that find themselves caught up in the criminal justice system is jarring and readily available, just seeing the numbers alone does not do one’s view of the system justice.
Michelle Alexander’s book is necessary and important. It sheds light on the fact that racism still exists in our country today, should there be anyone that doubts this. It shows that being colorblind, which many believe is the solution, is actually the problem. Alexander states, “Saying that one does not care about race is offered as an exculpatory virtue, when in fact it can be a form of cruelty. It is precisely because we, as a nation, have not cared much about African Americans that we have allowed our criminal justice system to create a new racial undercaste.” It is now up to us to challenge this system, to challenge those that believe in and support the system, in order to even attempt to reform it in a manner that does not allow people of color to fall victim to it.