Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is a text I’ve come across many times over the years. In fact, I don’t know if there is a single time I have walked into a major bookstore and have not seen the book displayed in prominence on an end cap or center aisle table. I’ve encountered all the arguments made within the text over the years in articles, during debates, and in university classrooms as an undergraduate. Perhaps the significance of Alexander’s work is best assessed in the foreword by Cornel West: “The New Jim Crow is the secular bible for a new social movement in the early twenty-first-century America.” Although the data and arguments found within have been seen both before and after Alexander’s work, this is perhaps the most definitive and comprehensive work on the topic of Black crime and mass incarceration in America, as seen from the left.
The overarching premise is that mass incarceration, Jim Crow laws, and slavery have been the three primary measures adopted as public policy in the U.S. as a means to control the Black population. Several of Alexander’s contentions jumped off the page at me from the very beginning of the introduction, where she states that an essential goal of the Founding Fathers was to ensure citizenship to Blacks would be denied. In a way, I was thoroughly impressed, aghast even. I hear noxious phrases like “we are a nation of immigrants,” “America is for everybody,” and “this is a homeland for all,” almost daily, be it on social media, from politicians, the press, or in the media. And to see an author who has declared her goal is an “egalitarian democracy,” to be so honest, so frank, and so correct, is in many ways to be welcomed. Alexander displays from page one that she has a grasp of historical racialism as it pertains to the foundation of the U.S. and the Founders’ intentions. She finds this to be an unacceptable position, of course, but her admission that the U.S. was founded as a White nation is exceedingly rare nonetheless. Read more