A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
This book should appear at some point on the syllabus of a required course in every college or university in America. Portions of it could be taught in our high schools. Adult reading groups of all stripes should read it. The book is that important. It is that good. “In 1972, fewer than 350,000 people were being held in prisons and jails nationwide, compared with more than 2 million people today” (10), states Alexander.
The New Jim Crow, however, is not only about numbers. It is about an entire philosophy in which White people can no longer discriminate outwardly (at the end of the old Jim Crow era) so in an era of colorblindness (“I don’t mind if she’s Black.”), they resort to setting up a new form of discrimination through mass incarceration. How does it work? It begins with the War on Drugs, in 1980, with the Reagan administration. It gains momentum with Bush Senior and gains real traction with Bill Clinton and Bush Junior. Alexander claims that even some of Obama’s policies contribute harm (though he does speak out against mass incarceration). With this new policy young Black and Brown men are given long sentences for minor drug infractions. Then when they finally return to their homes (uneducated and no longer young), they are marked as felons, so for the rest of their lives they cannot vote, cannot get jobs, and wind up in a constant loop of being prisoner or permanent criminal—all for a minor drug offense. And how do White men who commit the same offenses fare? Much better, because, one learns, all these cases are adjudicated by the police, who ignore White drug crime but not Black or Brown.
An excellent writer, Michelle Alexander makes her case in not only a lawyerly manner (perfect syllogisms) with logic and facts but also with heavy but artful doses of thinking from the greatest African-American scholars: Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, and Martin Luther King, Junior. She is rough on every one of us but in the best Tough Love tradition. There is enough blame for us all but also enough room to turn this around. It won’t be easy, she declares, but by looking at the concept of Race squarely in the eye, we can do it. And I believe her.
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