Michele Alexander’s The new Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness is one of the most important books I have read in a long time. Alexander demonstrates in revolting clarity how America has used the facially-neutral war on drugs as the current way of controlling and punishing black people, especially black men.
The new Jim Crow was a frustrating read. More than once, I had to stop reading to let the rage I was feeling settle. It’s one thing to know America’s law enforcement (from the Supreme Court through many cops on the street) discriminate based on race. It’s entirely another thing to have to confront how widespread, systematic, and targeted that racial discrimination has become. When you are forced to confront the systematic racism of a system that reports to be colorblind, the frustration is palpable.
As a lawyer, I was distressed by the number of abhorrent rulings made by the Supreme Court. Considering the cases Alexander highlighted in one package left me keenly aware of the problem of a judiciary that doesn’t reflect America. There is no way a court made up of a majority of people of color would have ever come to some of the nonsensical rulings made by the Supreme Court.
Alexander’s treatment of Barack Obama is another part of the book that stood out to me. I remembered his so-called Father’s Day speech given during the 2008 election, but I have to admit I didn’t ask myself why Obama failed to address the issue of mass incarceration. His focus on the failure of black families, even at the time, struck me as being what he wanted white people to hear him say. But reading about the speech in the context of The new Jim Crow left me feeling that Obama didn’t do enough. Alexander’s consideration of Obama’s record on criminal justice also left me feeling more disappointment in Obama than I usually feel.
It was interesting to read The new Jim Crow, which was published in 2012, today. I kept thinking about Trump’s recent attacks on Baltimore and politicians of color. It’s sad how little has changed since 2012. While many defended Baltimore, there was little discussion of the systemic discrimination chiefly waged through the war on drugs that has decimated black communities. Still, people are afraid to force white people to confront the racism that marks American society.
If you want to gain a great understanding of the racism behind the war on drugs and America’s criminal justice system, The new Jim Crow will be well worth your time. If you don’t believe America’s justice system is racist, read The new Jim Crow.