Mar 8, 2015

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander

I dare you to find me a book that is more rage-inducing than Michelle Alexander's incredibly intelligent damnation of the United States criminal justice system. Even though after reading it I still hesitate to buy into her claim that the War on Drugs and the criminal code was created specifically to contain black and brown Americans in a racial undercaste, there is no doubt in my mind that that is exactly how the system is being used today. The mere fact that young white men are more likely to break drug laws but young African American men are incarcerated at several times the rate of white men proves that our system is not, in fact, colorblind at all.

The most infuriating chapter in Alexander's book shows how the Supreme Court, the designated last-ditch defender of minority rights, has actively made it nearly impossible to challenge these unfair practices. And while Alexander's assertion that colorblindness is actually harming race relations in America is not new to me - I have long argued that denying the existence of race does more harm than forcing ourselves to be aware of our conscious and unconscious biases - the extent of the damage this willful ignorance has caused is atrocious. There is no reason why young black men should be routinely searched while walking down the street in their neighborhoods, when it has been proven time and again that young white men are more likely to be using and dealing drugs. There is no reason why people convicted of first-time offenses involving crack cocaine should receive nearly twenty times the minimum prison sentence as people who are caught with powder cocaine. There is no reason why police departments all over the country should receive military gear from the army, nor any reason why they should be allowed to stop black motorists at alarmingly higher rates than whites with the express intention of searching their person and vehicle for drugs. Alexander's claim that our criminal justice system has created a new Jim Crow is very bold, but her meticulously researched and very well-written book proves that the American government and people are guilty of a grave injustice towards our black and brown neighbors. We need a mindset change, a system change, a government change, a priority change. All of us or none.

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