"As the United States celebrates the nation's "triumph over race" with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status - much like their grandparents before them." In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community - and all of us - to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.
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 Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as "a system of social control" ("More African Americans are under correctional control today...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.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/2009
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The New Press
January 16, 2012
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