Racism is a hot topic in America for many different reasons. It does not matter that slavery was abolished more than a century ago. It does not matter that over fifty years ago segregation laws were made illegal to enforce. Racial tension has remained at the forefront. It seem we are seeing more racial tension now than we have in many years.
MIchelle Alexander a scholar and civil rights lawyer addresses these issues in her writing of “The New Jim Crow”. She as been an advocate on the race front. She has campaigned on behalf of the Racial Justice Project, and movements towards ending mass incarceration.
In an age where we are supposed to be a colorblind nation, black males an females are being incarcerated at alarming rates. A war on drugs sees thousands of blacks incarcerated. She says that our American’s leadership do not care about the poor of any race. This is a statement that is overwhelmingly evident in today’s society.
There are arguments on every side of the issue about why, how, or even if it we need to address the race issue. No matter which side of the issue you fall on this book is still worth the read. There is a lot of information that can be garnered in one place. Even if you don’t agree with the issue, it is an opportunity to see it from the other side of the equation. That being said, we should always take the opportunity to see a problem from someone else’s point of view. It may not change your mind, but maybe it will help you to at least understand where they are coming from.
In the opening pages there is a compelling comparison of a young black man today to one of his predecessors during the times of segregation. It compares the lack of rights from long ago to the lack of respect and privilege today. Michelle Alexander explains that through her work with a civil liberties union(pg3) she came to see that there was not a racial bias issue in our courts, but an issue of racial social control. It this new colorblind time it isn’t permissible to use race to discriminate.
Through the criminal justice system we create criminals of color.
Today it is ok to discriminate against criminals in the way we once discriminated against blacks. On page two she goes on to elaborate that we haven’t done away with racial status in America, only redesigned it. It may seem a little far fetched to say the drug war is racially motivated. According to Alexander there was conspiracy afoot from the onset beginning with the fact that it was started when drug crime was at an all time low. She also argues that shortly after the war on drugs began there was an influx of crack into poor black areas of Los Angeles and other cities. The media was a big catalyst in sending it from policy to war.(pg5) The theories and conspiracies went as far as to suggest that the war on drugs was a genocide carried out by the government.
Alexander continues on to explain the injustice in the courts, including following a case from arrest through each step of the process. She expels on the many injustices that are faced from never meeting a lawyer through to not even fulling understanding a plea deal or their rights. (85) The forfeiture of assets on raids and use of SWAT for these raids was also a big proponet that was focused on.
Alexander goes on to look at the stigmatism associated with a drug charge of crack versus the powder form of cocaine. Crack is more prevalent in black areas while cocaine is a predominately rich white drug. Crack carries a sentence one hundred times longer than does cocaine (112). Thereby meaning a white man and black man who committed the same crime serve very different sentences. She also argues that plea deals offered are often misleading, because they fail to realize the implications of being classified a felon. They are at the least given the impression they are unwelcome in regular society. This therefore starts a cycle of joblessness, homelessness and repeat offending.
Alexander says that when comparing Jim Crow to mass incarceration both are a way for white middle class Americans to direct their annoyance at people of color. Mass incarceration appears to be race neutral, when in fact it is not. She also says that people are in a state of denial over mass incarceration. She is very pointed in the fact that she thinks more civil justice lawyers should be fighting this battle. It is a different issue than the racial issues that have previously plagued us. There is more of a focus on affirmative action and wealthy middle class “innocent” blacks.
Alexander acknowledges that she doesn’t have an answer to this pressing dilemma but knows that we may have to do away with affirmative action to end racial injustice. She also says that we need to deconstruct the entire system not just pieces of it in order to correct the problem. She invokes Martin Luther King’s dream. She says the superficial racial diversity has got to end in order for us to move forward and be a unified nation. She said that we will never be a fair or equal country until all poor people of any race cease to be oppressed.