Book 13: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Disclaimer: I have the revised edition of The New Jim Crow, any differences between the pre-revision copy and what I mention in this post is due to a difference in materials.

I picked up this book in late December, knowing that I definitely needed the credible scholarly information that Alexander intended for us to use in our arguments. Reading the introduction, I found that this makes me a member of one of her target audiences. If you choose to read this blog post, there’s a good chance you are as well.

Mass incarceration is an issue that I feel strongly about; I am very sternly against the ‘war on drugs,’ and I believe that the prison industrial complex is a means for corporate America to make a profit on cheap labor. I do not believe in the subhuman treatment of prisoners. I do believe that the criminal justice system targets people of color at alarmingly high rates, especially African American men and women. Those beliefs are quite difficult to argue without decent evidence to back it up, and that’s why I picked up this book.

The foreword by Cornel West contains a quote that I felt was extremely telling of the state of race relations in our nation today; “Martin Luther King Jr. called for us to be lovestruck with each other, not colorblind toward each other. To be lovestruck is to care, to have deep compassion, and to be concerned for each and every individual, including the poor and vulnerable.” In this quote West breaches the concept f race and the concept of class in an eloquent and easily understood manner.

Something that stands out to me as impressive is the fact that Alexander wrote this book with three young children in the house. I am grateful for the people who helped her to accomplish such a feat, and even more grateful to her for following through with such a stunning work.

This book has been highly lauded and has won the NAACP Image Award and the Constitutional Commentary Award, and I can definitely see why. Alexander had me gripped within the first few paragraphs of the introduction. Every word she wrote is pointed, useful, and fair. As with any scholarly text, The New Jim Crow is a dense read, but it is well worth the time and focus that it requires.

Book 3

Image credit: Amazon.com

In the Introduction Alexander gives us the rundown on the terminology that is key to understanding the book. Mass incarceration, racial caste system versus social class system, and much more. She also gives the readers a short summary of what each chapter will address along the way, something that gives the reader more background on how the chapters will flow together.

Chapter 1, The Rebirth of Caste, “briefly reviews the history of racialized social control in the United States,”  like slavery and Jim Crow. This builds up historical background for the concept, showing readers the patterns of the birth and death of such racialized social control mechanisms. I learned quite a lot about slavery in this chapter, specifically about the premeditated intent to create a racial divide. Bacon’s rebellion led to a fear of A multi-racial allegiance against the planter elite, leading to a decline in demand for white indentured servants, and an increase in demand for African slaves. The planter elite needed people who lacked the social power that white indentured servants held. They also extended more rights to white indentured servants in an effort to forge more of a racial divide, an effort that was unfortunately successful.

I’ll avoid summarizing the entire text in hopes that you, my audience, will feel more compelled to pick this stunning work of research up and learn for yourselves.

In Chapter 6, The Fire This Time, we see Alexander calling this generation of activists to action. A social movement is key to breaking down this pattern and keeping a new form of socialized racial control from springing up later.

In turn, I would like to call white allies and activists to action; Sociologically, it is proven that poor whites and poor people of color are often pitted against each other by society; racial privilege is hard to understand when you grow up and live without the financial benefit, without the class benefit, etc. that wealthy white people benefit from. I especially appreciated Alexander’s choice to mention this early on, as it is a crucial key to understanding why social interactions between poor whites and POC have remained so tense throughout history. Keeping in mind the poor white folks who lived behind Maya Angelou’s grandmother’s house and various other narratives, we see multiple instances of that form of animosity throughout history, and I see similar examples today. As someone who grew up in the south, I’ve seen time and time again. Poor whites often through people of color under the bus, striving to remain in a social caste higher than someone, in this case POC. I’d like to specifically call to action poor white activists (or white activists who interact with poor white communities); explain to your family, your friends, and the people around you that racial privilege is not simple, but complex. Teach more white people to understand and reject their privilege. Strive to educate the people around you and make changes where they are desperately needed.

In conclusion, I am entirely pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review this book. It is one of the best purchases I have made as of late, a book that will truly stand out throughout history for its honesty and power.  

I give this book a 10/10.

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

I would recommend that everyone pick up this book. Cover price is $19.99 but Amazon lists it for $12.80 (with renting options and cheaper used options) and EBay has copies as low as $7.55. If you have the financial resources to pick up a copy, I would (again) recommend that you do. Share it, pass it on, inform the people around you of this critical issue in American society today.

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