Amber Stanley Sunday, November 19, 2017
The New Jim Crow
Alexander frames mass incarceration as a nationwide secret, which everyone from politicians to journalists to ordinary people refuse to acknowledge.
Tackling mass incarceration is difficult when most people fail to even recognize that it is a problem. The problem is exacerbated by myths that blame black men themselves for “abandoning” their families and communities.
Alexander suggests that in years to come, people will wonder why those living during our era simply let mass incarceration take place without intervening (or, in many cases, while continuing to vote for politicians who institute “tough on crime” policies).
Although the average person can hardly dismantle mass incarceration overnight, Alexander suggests that we all have a responsibility to do our part to end this system.
After all, without public support mass incarceration could not have become institutionalized in the first place.
“The New Jim Crow” is filled with statistical examples, legal cases, and personal anecdotes that serve to support Alexander’s overall arguments about mass incarceration.
None of these pieces of evidence could convince anyone of the racist injustice of mass incarceration on its own; rather, they need to be examined together.
For those who wish to deny that mass incarceration is unjust, it is all too easy to choose not to see the forest for the trees.
Alexander reminds the reader of the very different—yet equally harmful—stages of the incarceration process in order to emphasize how expansively cruel the system of mass incarceration is designed to be.
if someone has a relatively better experience at one stage—perhaps by encountering a compassionate police officer or receiving a relatively light sentence—their luck is almost guaranteed to run out at the other stages.
Alexander’s argument about the uniqueness of mass incarceration can be difficult to fully grasp, because she argues that mass incarceration is both new and not new at the same time.
On the one hand, mass incarceration is a type of systematic racialized social control that can be grouped in the same category as slavery and Jim Crow.
On the other hand, the current state of mass incarceration must be distinguished as unique within the history of incarceration in general, and viewed through the specific context of the War on Drugs.
Even if we acknowledge that there are a disproportionate amount of people of color in the prison population, is it fair to argue that taking away the rights of black people is the same as taking them away from criminals.
Alexander suggests that yes—both are equally unjust.
Alexander’s description of the symbolic production of race may seem confusingly abstract and thus not tied to the real, physical way in which mass incarceration functions.
The concept that she frames in theoretical terms here is in fact quite simple. By generating propaganda that created the stereotype of the black...