The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness2010
In The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander states that the War on Drugs and the subsequent mass incarceration is, as the title states, a revived version of Jim Crow. She does have some good arguments. Ultimately, his system is racist but it is not the new Jim Crow.The New Jim Crow starts by diving into the history of the War on Drugs and civil rights movements. In the two decades following the civil rights movement of the Sixties presidential races still featured racism. Reagan made quasi racist comments to prospective voters in Mississippi and Nixon targeted his campaign towards racists and called civil rights movements “a disruption of order.”
This book argues that racism has become more understated and subtle in leaders of the day but still prevalent. Then (not unrelated) the Reagan administration made crack cocaine a national phenomenon. He stated that it is one of the worst issues facing America. The book states that crack usage rates jumped after this proclamation. Then came along the prison system we know today.America’s prison population is by far the largest in the world. As incarceration rates skyrocketed in the drug war crime rates stayed about the same. The system is flooded with first time drug offenders, a lot of which are black. Police officers have been granted permission by the supreme court to flirt with violating the fourth amendment in their pursuit of drugs. They use a excuse like a failing to signal or looking suspicious (or being black) to search someone. While this occasionally yields results it mostly just causes unwarranted distress and shame. If you find yourself within the system you are in for life. If and when you leave prison you have to check that box that asks if you have ever committed a felony.
Now you are automatically disqualified from a wide range of jobs and any meaningful one. You can not find good housing. You are kicked out of social welfare programs including food stamps and public housing. You are not allowed to vote. You are a second class citizen. This is wrong and, it disproportionally affects black people. It’s not a question that the drug war was a failure, and that it disproportionately affects black people The argument that this is a outright racist program has some flaws tough. It is completely colorblind at the surface, but the book argues that poll taxes and literacy tests were as well. The main difference is that there was no way to escape the limits of Jim Crow, but you can stay out of the prison system.
The author states that racism against blacks in America is a near-omnipresent thing that will always manifest itself whether through slavery, Jim Crow, or the War on Drugs. An argument can be made that this is false. Plantation owners wanted to get rich, so they got slaves. Racism was a byproduct. Racism has evolved since that time though. It is much more ingrained and often subconscious. People of the Jim Crow era weren’t inherently racist, they just weren’t inherently un-racist and was enough to let it continue. It is doubtful when Nixon declared and when Reagan ramped up the drug war they planned out that this is how we can oppress people of color for a new era. They might have thought in color blindness, but they created racism. Now when you think drug addict you think of a young black man. When cops see a black man driving they stop and search for drugs. These stereotypes are ingrained in our minds to a point where we see them as facts and not even realise they are built on racism.
The War on Drugs is racist, but the goal isn’t to suppress black people like Jim Crow before it.America’s prison system needs to be revamped. Times are changing and it is a relic of the past. The book states that we need another civil rights movement per se to end it. This is not the way to go. When new legislation was passed it took decades for opinions to change (some remain the same today.) The American prison system is a disaster that transcends race and its common sense (to me, at least) to change it. After that these racist views will fade away as a new generation comes. Again, it is no question that America’s prison system is harsher against black people. It needs to change. However, It’s not a new Jim Crow. People can completely avoid this system if they try hard enough. All of this is based on what we know now however. Perhaps forty years from now we’ll look at this as the new Jim Crow. I’m not convinced today though.
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