The reading, The New Jim Crow (New Press, 2012) by Michelle Alexander, is a revealing look into the criminal justice system and how it reflects on African Americans. Michelle Alexander, who is an attorney specializing in civil rights, points out how unfair our legal system is against African Americans. Alexander states that “a criminal freed from prison has scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a freed slave or a black person living ‘free’ in Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow” (p. 141). Jim Crow is the series of laws that discriminate against African Americans. Alexander implies that this book was not written to provide answers for the problems at hand, but to spark conversation about them. She further states that “we need to talk about race openly and honestly. We must stop debating crime policy as though it were purely about crime” (p. 238).
One major problem that Alexander references in Chapter 4 is the fact that being labeled as a criminal stays with a person long after they leave jail. Upon release ex-inmates face a variety of challenges such as attempting to find employment, find housing, purchase food and necessities and attempt to get out of debt often caused by back child support. Another demoralizing factor is that 48 states as well as the District of Columbia do not allow people on parole to vote. It is no wonder that so many former inmates turn to illegal activities to make money, which inevitably is a direct path back to jail. If these offenders were offered rehabilitation services they would continue to be law abiding citizens that contribute to society. Even worse, “Black men convicted of felonies are the least likely to receive job offers of any demographic group, and suburban employers are the most unwilling to hire them” (p. 151). It is no wonder that black men participate in “gangsta culture” (p. 171). It is a way for African Americans, who are constantly being followed or harassed by law enforcement, to act rebellious and embrace stigma. These people, as well as their families, are living in shame. Alexander states that “today’s lynching is a felony charge. Today’s lynching is incarceration” (p. 164).
In current day there are millions of African Americans in and out of jail. This is demoralizing to them, as well as their families, and causes history to repeat itself throughout generations. One example of this is when President Barack Obama gave a speech begging African American men to be better fathers. This portrayed that black men are bad dads, which is not the case. President Obama, our nation’s leader, did not point out that they were bad dads by choice but instead that they were not physically able to be present. These men are incarcerated, which leaves a void in the children’s lives. Colorblindness also hinders any change for African Americans. “Our collective colorblindness prevents us from seeing the basic fact. Our blindness also prevents us from seeing the racial and structural divisions that persist in society: the segregation, unequal school,” (p. 241). This is not just inconvenient, but prevents society from understanding the importance of the role of race in and, therefore, prevents a change. However, avoiding the issue does not solve the problems.
The New Jim Crow revealed how much work is still necessary to combat racism in America. Not the type in sense of name calling or segregation, but by colorblindness. The first step is to admit there is an obvious problem. The second is that law enforcement agencies need to be discouraged from pulling over cars driven by African Americans and searching African Americans for no other reason than to increase funding into their department, for minor drug infractions. Further, when a person is released from jail, society certainly does not seem to care that they are immediately entering a harsh world. They do not qualify for public housing, cannot vote, do not qualify for food stamps and most have trouble finding a job. As obvious as this problem is, more Americans should be troubled by what is happening. Unfortunately we prefer to bury our heads in the sand since it is easier. Changing things would be extremely difficult and colorblindness makes people believe that is not really a serious problem. I believe that most African Americans try to do the right thing, but are met with almost impossible standards set by white Americans. We need to be more compassionate in the way we treat our fellow Americans.