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

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

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by Michelle Alexander

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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,


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 Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a "call to action."

Called "stunning" by Pulitzer Prize–winning historian David Levering Lewis, "invaluable" by the Daily Kos, "explosive" by Kirkus, and "profoundly necessary" by the Miami Herald, this updated and revised paperback edition of The New Jim Crow, now with a foreword by Cornel West, is a must-read for all people of conscience.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that “[w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as “a system of social control” (“More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850”). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the “war on drugs.” She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates “who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.” Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: “most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration”—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
A civil-rights lawyer's disturbing view of why young black men make up the majority of the more than two million people now in America's prisons. In this explosive debut, Alexander (Law/Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity) argues that the imprisonment of unusually large numbers of young blacks and Latinos-most harshly sentenced for possession or sale of illegal drugs, mainly marijuana-constitutes "a stunningly comprehensive and well-designed system of racialized social control." The "warehousing" of inner-city youths, she writes, is a new form of Jim Crow under which drug offenders-in jail or prison, on probation or parole-are denied employment, housing, education and public benefits; face a lifetime of shame; and rarely successfully integrate into mainstream society. The author blames the situation mainly on the War on Drugs, begun by Ronald Reagan in 1982, which grew out of demands for "law and order" that were actually a racially coded backlash to the civil-rights movement. The situation continues because of racial indifference, not racial bias, she writes. Many will dismiss the author's assertions; others will find her observations persuasive enough to give pause. Most people who use or sell illegal drugs are white, but in many states 90 percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses are black or Latino. Police departments, given financial incentives-cash grants and the right to keep confiscated cash and assets from drug raids-to focus on drug enforcement, find it easier to send SWAT teams into poor neighborhoods, where they will face less political backlash, than into gated communities and college frat houses. Also, most people donot care what happens to drug criminals, feeling that "they get what they deserve." So what's to be done? Alexander writes that civil-rights leaders, reluctant to advocate for criminals, remain quiet on the issue; President Obama, an admitted former user of illegal drugs, is not in a position to offer leadership; and policymakers offer only piecemeal reforms. She hopes a new grassroots movement will foster frank discussion about race, cultivate an ethic of compassion for all and end the drug war and mass incarceration. Alarming, provocative and convincing.
From the Publisher

Devastating. . . . Alexander does a fine job of truth-telling, pointing a finger where it rightly should be pointed: at all of us, liberal and conservative, white and black.

Alexander is absolutely right to fight for what she describes as a “much-needed conversation” about the wide-ranging social costs and divisive racial impact of our
criminal-justice policies.

Invaluable . . . a timely and stunning guide to the labyrinth of propaganda, discrimination, and racist policies masquerading under other names that comprises what we call justice in America.
Daily Kos

Many critics have cast doubt on the proclamations of racism’s erasure in the Obama era, but few have presented a case as powerful as Alexander’s.
In These Times

Carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable.
Publishers Weekly

[Written] with rare clarity, depth, and candor.

A call to action for everyone concerned with racial justice and an important tool for anyone concerned with understanding and dismantling this oppressive system.

Undoubtedly the most important book published in this century about the U.S.
Birmingham News

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“Explosive debut…alarming, provocative and convincing.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Michelle Alexander’s brave and bold new book paints a haunting picture in which dreary felon garb, post-prison joblessness, and loss of voting rights now do the stigmatizing work once done by colored-only water fountains and legally segregated schools. With dazzling candor, Alexander argues that we all pay the cost of the new Jim Crow.“
—Lani Guinier, professor at Harvard Law School and author of Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice and The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy

“For every century there is a crisis in our democracy, the response to which defines how future generations view those who were alive at the time. In the 18th century it was the transatlantic slave trade, in the 19th century it was slavery, in the 20th century it was Jim Crow. Today it is mass incarceration. Alexander's book offers a timely and original framework for understanding mass incarceration, its roots to Jim Crow, our modern caste system, and what must be done to eliminate it. This book is a call to action.”
—Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP

“With imprisonment now the principal instrument of our social policy directed toward poorly educated black men, Michelle Alexander argues convincingly that the huge racial disparity of punishment in America is not the mere result of neutral state action. She sees the rise of mass incarceration as opening up a new front in the historic struggle for racial justice. And, she’s right. If you care about justice in America, you need to read this book!”
—Glenn C. Loury, economist at Brown University and author of The Anatomy of Racial Inequality and Race, Incarceration and American Values

“After reading The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander's stunning work of scholarship, one gains the terrible realization that, for people of color, the American criminal justice system resembles the Soviet Union's gulag—-the latter punished ideas, the former punishes a condition.”
—David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer-prize winning historian at NYU and author of W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963

"We need to pay attention to Michelle Alexander's contention that mass imprisonment in the U.S. constitutes a racial caste system. Her analysis reflects the passion of an advocate and the intellect of a scholar."
—Marc Mauer, Executive Director, The Sentencing Project, author of Race to Incarcerate

“A powerful analysis of why and how mass incarceration is happening in America, The New Jim Crow should be required reading for anyone working for real change in the criminal justice system.”
—Ronald E. Hampton, Executive Director, National Black Police Association

Meet the Author

Michelle Alexander is an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Formerly the director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project in Northern California, Alexander served as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun. Cornel West is the Class of 1943 University Professor, emeritus, at Princeton University and is currently Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary.

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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 110 reviews.
quarisphere More than 1 year ago
this book is absolutely brilliant. Alexander writes very well, so it's an easy read despite its heavy content. This book provides a compelling case for her assertion that the criminal justice system's overtly discriminatory practices have successfully contributed to undercaste in today's society. It starts a bit slow as I was wondering how she was going to prove her claims, but once you get a little farther in you're hooked! The evidence is APPALLING! It felt like I was reading about the USSR's justice system rather than America's! If white Americans were treated in this insane way, these policies would've been reversed years ago. It is an eye-opening read, especially for someone who is white and not intimately knowledgeable about the US criminal justice system. Highly recommended!!!
EDashwood More than 1 year ago
While any thoughtful person will admit that racism exists in the USA, most still will be shocked by the extent that it's supported, spread and encouraged by government agencies at all levels. This is primarily through the official justice system and enhanced by federal funding and the media, over the past few decades manipulated and fused to a non-issue made into a bugaboo for political ends, the War on Drugs. The author has thoroughly researched and makes a titanium-strength case about this indefensible condition, supported at nearly every turn by the legal system and ignored by our elected and appointed officials. This book should serve as a call to arms for all people who despise the waste of human skills and potential or who have a repugnance against injustice.
EGHunter01 More than 1 year ago
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (2010) *Thought provoking. *Informative. *Well-developed. *Enlightening & educational. *Well researched with plenty of references. *Gives the reader a history of the "criminal justice system" as a way to control certain ethnic and cultural groups. *The 4th amendment right is explained. *Offers insight to a system that affects and effects each and every person living in America. *Well worth reading to make you knowledgeable about the topic discussed.
Darin Paul More than 1 year ago
Alexander does a masterful job at taking the reader through the history of caste in the US. She then offers a plausible solution, although certanly not an easy one, to the problem. This book should be read by anyone currently affected by drugs and incarceration and by politicans seeking a solution to the problem of exploding deficits and the expense of mass incarceration.
Katie_Randolph More than 1 year ago
I wish this book were required reading in every high school, college, and university across the country. Only by educating the American public about the way its criminal justice system has been weaponized against people of color will we be able to bring about change. Mass incarceration is just the latest method of perpetuating our country's long and sordid history of racial segregation, exclusion, subjugation, and brutality. Thank you to Michelle Alexander for her cogent analysis of this insidious perversion of "justice" that for far too long has been hidden in plain sight.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books that I've read in over a decade. This book tells it like it is and the "is" ain't pretty. Michelle does a wonderful job explaining in layman's terms how racial control systems are still very much a part of our society today.
jamirie More than 1 year ago
I can't believe someone was brave enough to write this. The only problem is with the title. The word Genoicide should be in there somewhere. Call it what it REALLY is.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Everyone should read this book. She did the hard work to understand the reasons why so many people of color are incarcerated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Alexander makes a great argument here about the criminal justice system perpetuating a new caste system with criminals at the bottom. She does make repeat some points over and again, could have been shorter. Overall recommend it.
scoopywells More than 1 year ago
I was moved to tears and called to act. Thanks Michelle for uncovering what's been a devastating truth. Justice isn't just!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought provoking read.
mc76NYC More than 1 year ago
This book by Michelle Alexander is an informative and good read about an often neglected subject in the larger realms of social discourse, the large incarceration rates of minority men, most notably those of African heritage. It is particularly helpful for those who wish to learn more about the intersection of the criminal justice system and social justice. For example, how does such an issue affect family life in the Black community? How does the stigma of having a criminal record affect the person when he (or she) is released from prison? This book helps to address these kinds of concerns.
JD4short More than 1 year ago
...Alexander's analysis promises to bring into focus the phenomena taking place around us and, finally, separate America's consciousness from the well-intentioned but bleary narratives perpetuated in our news media. Alexander's well researched tour of segregation, the 'war' on drugs, and the frightening course of Supreme Court precedent is guaranteed to keep readers curious, so long as they are willing to dive into the murky waters of race in democracy and wrestle with their previous assumptions. Certainly, the book doesn't lay blame on a concerted conspiracy theory to suppress black people but rather reveals that intertwining agendas of greed, power, fear, and (most of all) convenience combined to create a system that truly does disadvantage the nation's black inhabitants, as a group, in order to feed the system that benefits the prison industry, militarizing police departments, fear-monger politicians, and probably drug dealers themselves, so long as they are either white or can pay enough. If that sounds ridiculous, then read the book and offer counter-arguments. Regardless of the reader's politics, this piece is well-written and tightly researched. Excellent.
ryeLee More than 1 year ago
Most important book I've ever read! When it comes to race and opportunity in America, the 3 strikes and you're out rule should apply, but not to the individual. It should apply to the Federal Government and its devastating policies. Slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration due to the war on drugs are the proof that evil exists in America. I challenge all Americans to read this book and make their own judgment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Michelle Alexander delivers a scathing critique and fascinating untold history of mass incarceration. This book makes a strong case for massive reformation to the US criminal justice system and an end to (or, at a minimum, a redirection of) the war on drugs.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Alexander singlehandedly changed my opinion about race in America. I have been misled and confused about the common fallacies perpetuated by the media, but no more
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very enlightening book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bursting with intelligence and insight, and utterly compelling, this book should be required for every US citizen so they can truly understand the history of race relations in this country and what is going on with race right now. When you read it, you have the sense of a blindfold being pulled off your eyes. It is painful and heartbreaking to read because it all makes so much sense. I would highly recommend reading it in conjunction with The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabelle Wilkerson's Pulitzer Prize winning account of The Old Jim Crow. The terrible, shocking news of both books is that nothing has really changed much since the days of slavery in the way our systems of government control the lives of most African Americans
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We see what we want to see. This books shows us a different view. I'm not sure I buy into all of her concepts but it is definitely food for thought. This would be a great book for a book club.
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GTreader More than 1 year ago
A lucid take on the criminal justice system. Michelle clearly shows the tactics, behaviour and collusion taking place. Very frightening and very informational.