Monday, January 17, 2011

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is one of the recommended books on the Library's APL Recommends 2010 Nonfiction list (formerly Good Reads).

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, it's sobering to read in this book that the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status - much like their grandparents before them. In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The author believes that the The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

1 comment:

Alex Shrugged said...

Well... I volunteer as a chaplain at the county jail. Certainly there are an inordinate number of black men in jail as compared to their representation in the population. I wonder if this book takes into account the drugs that are pushed in black neighborhoods as a factor.

"Makes Me Wanna Holler" by Nathan McCall does not contradict anything but rather describes in naked detail the environment and attitudes prevalent in black neighborhoods. It might provide an alternative explanation for why so many black men are in jail. It is available at the Austin Library.

A more general book is by George F. Gilder entitled, "Men and Marriage". It discusses what causes men to go wrong in a sociological sense, destroying themselves and society in general. (I read it in the 1970's when the book was called "Sexual Suicide".)

Finally, two less cerebral books but still relevant to what happens in poor neighborhoods are Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. They explain how a kid working at McDonald's makes more money than your average drug dealer, why that is true, and why drug dealers pursue dealing drugs nevertheless (beyond addition).