Book Review

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow is a book written by a civil rights attorney by the name of Michelle Alexander.  In this book, Michelle discusses the history racism in America and how it has evolved into different forms of systemic oppression and abuse as it pertains to our modern day state.  She equates this evolution to an updated modification of the Jim Crow era, where blacks were unfairly segregated and mistreated because of their color.  Interestingly enough, Michelle attributes the current state of the African American population, with regards to areas such as incarceration, education, and the lack of financial success, in part, due to the prolonged negative mental effects that arose because of historical racism and prejudice.  She addresses past events in history such as the enactment of the Jim Crow Laws after the Civil War and the War on Drugs by President Nixon as a means to inhibit the progress of the black community.  After slavery, the Jim Crow laws were used to stifle blacks in their quest to use their recently given freedoms.  For example, black people were no longer considered property; however, they were labeled as second class citizens who were not able to eat, do business, or learn in the same establishments as their white counterparts.  Similarly, the War on Drugs initiated in the 1970’s, targeted the lower black socioeconomic class.  It reinforced separatists beliefs by exploiting the black population through massive incarceration and harsh mandatory minimums for minor offenses.  During this period, crack cocaine exploded on the street scene in urban communities nationwide.  This new illicit drug reeked havoc in these areas with the majority of users being black.  Unfortunately, the legal ramifications of being caught with this drug by law enforcement exceeded that of its precursor, powdered cocaine.  Michelle Alexander also talks about several court cases that have supported the aforementioned ideologies.  Contributing to this legacy of oppression is the the lack of rehabilitation of prisoners within the prison system, the ghastly conditions, and additional obstacles preventing their reentry into society after incarceration.  Some of these hindrances currently include fines and fees that newly released individuals cannot pay, the inability to find employment because of a criminal past, mental issues or psychological problems and the inability to be treated for these conditions.  Not only that, the prison system works on a for profit basis.  Privately run penitentiaries use every ploy possible to cash in on dire situations and impoverishment.  Moreover, prisoners are paid cents to the dollar for products made while carrying out a prison term.  Most recently, Governor Kay Ivey announced plans to build three new prisons in our state, while education and supporting programs in poorer areas lag behind in national rankings.  Statistics have proven that the lack of education is associated with incarceration.  This begs the question who exactly are we trying to rehabilitate?  Do we even care as a society or are we more interested in making sure we maintain the same principles of the past?  The New Jim Crow was published in 2012 and is still relevant in 2019.