Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The New Jim Crow - Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow
Title: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Author: Michelle Alexander
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 338
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've had this recommended to me through many avenues.
Date Completed: 9/21/17

Summary: Alexander explores the ways in which mass incarceration in the modern era is serving many of the same social and racial functions as slavery and the Jim Crow laws did in their eras. 

What I Thought: Wow. This book is powerful. I've seen it recommended on countless lists in the past couple years for those who want to become more educated on race in America. I get why. It deserves to be on every one of those lists.

The general thesis of the book is that the War on Drugs has been used (both intentionally and unintentionally) as a way to weaken populations of color in America, specifically the black community. Apparently, when we started the War on Drugs, less than 2% of Americans saw drug use as the most important issue facing the country. Yet, governments charged ahead with intense crackdowns on drug users and dealers.

Yet, the War on Drugs has been wildly disparaged as unsuccessful. Though it may seem a partisan issue, the modern take on this campaign is that it contributed to making the problem worse, rather than better. Alexander does not focus much on actual rates of drug usage in the country. She talks briefly about how the War on Drugs spent more time and resources on lower level offenders rather than going after the powerful drug lords. Mostly, though, she talks about the War on Drugs has continued the codification of racial bias in our justice system.

"Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino." That stat, though not surprising, was still very hard for me to read. Anyone paying attention can recognize that racial bias exists within our justice system, specifically in the South. Go read Just Mercy if you're not sure about that. Still, to see Alexander lay out the stark numbers is hard. 

The War on Drugs is, of course, not exclusively responsible for the problem of mass incarceration. Though it's where Alexander spends most of her time, she does recognize the cyclical nature of low-income communities. And, as she points out, "The white poor have a vastly different experience in American than do poor people of color."

There's so much to digest here. I'm really glad I read this book, although I would not categorize it as particularly enjoyable. Like eating vegetables as a kid, reading about the realities of racial injustice is hard, but necessary for growth. I believe the best ways to change the systemic racism in our culture is not by ignoring it. Rather, we need to dig in, listen to wise, experienced voices, ask lots of questions, and begin to advocate for change in big and small ways. Educating yourself with books like this one is a great beginning.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yes, probably
If You Liked This, Try: Just Mercy / White Trash / Tribe

A Reduced Review: A powerful look at how the American War on Drugs became a tool for racial injustice and social crisis. 

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