Review: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

March 1, 2018
The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, Book Review, InToriLex
Published By: The New Press on January 5, 2010
Format Read: Hardcover Edition (290 pages)
Genre: Non-fiction/ Politics/ Race
Series:Stand Alone
Source: Purchased
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
"Jarvious Cotton's great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole."

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.


It took me two years to read this book. Learning how the US justice system unjustly and unfairly jails the  vulnerable people was hard to digest. I slowly read through the chapters because reading about it made me angry. This should be required reading for everyone that works in the criminal justice system. The well researched and engaging writing made this one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. The book goes through the history, racist reasons and malicious ways that the War on Drugs was created. 
Economist Glenn Loury once posed the question: "are we willing to cast ourselves as a society that creates crimogenic conditions for some of it's members, and then acts-out rituals of punishment against them as if engaged in some awful form of human sacrifice."
There are far too many people in America who believe black people experience poverty and commit crimes because they don't want to work hard enough. The over policing of marginalized communities and the harsh penalties people face for non-violent drug offenses maintains a racial caste system. One of the most important lessons I learned from this book is  the exceptional examples of black people succeeding are used to justify the many people who remain trapped in cycles of poverty. But progress begins when we realize no group of American's should be unjustly persecuted in the land of the free. 
Racial violence has been rationalized, legitimized and channeled through our criminal justice system; it is expressed as police brutality, solitary confinement, and the discriminatory and arbitrary imposition of the death penalty.
This book discusses the politics, reasons, and excuses that have resulted in mass incarceration. In my job, I help people to counter the collateral consequences of having a criminal record. Having a criminal record unfortunately means you won't be able to find a job, housing or receive public benefits. If you are able you should do what you can to fight mass incarceration. I donate books to my local books to prisoners program because prisons have very limited libraries. I encourage everyone who can to donate books to those who are being shuttered and offered few opportunities for rehabilitation. I recommend this to everyone who wants to think more deeply about how racism has created and maintains mass incarceration in America.


 Michelle Alexander is a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar. In recent years, she has taught at a number of universities, including Stanford Law School, where she was an associate professor of law and directed the Civil Rights Clinics. In 2005, she won a Soros Justice Fellowship, which supported the writing of The New Jim Crow, and that same year she accepted a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. Since its first publication,The New Jim Crow has received rave reviews and has been featured in national radio and television media outlets, including MSNBC, NPR, Bill Moyers Journal, Tavis Smiley, C-SPAN, and Washington Journal, among others. In March, the book won the 2011 NAACP Image Award for best nonfiction.

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