The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
I had a student write about pop culture depictions of African Americans in my spring Composition course for online studies, and she used Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow as one of her sources. I was intrigued. I’ve done a bit of reading in African American studies, history and literary, and this was a good sociological balance to the knowledge base I’ve tried to create.
Alexander specifically examines mass incarceration of black individuals for nonviolent crimes. She further examines the way that nonviolent drug offenders are treated in the United States if they are individuals of color. It’s shocking, really. The things that “good white kids” get probation or no charge for, black offenders often get sent away for years at a time and then denied public aid when they re-emerge into society. This is something that Orange is the New Black has brought up, too. Seriously, if you get three meals and a bed in prison, how can you cope in a real world if you are forced to crash on someone’s couch and find yourself unable to get a job if you have a criminal record? It’s horrible. Alexander documents the political history of the “War on Drugs,” which was more rhetorical fearmongering than anything, and the presidential history of “cracking down” on drugs while not making families’ lives better.
There were instances of weak writing that made me wish Alexander had had a better editor, but it’s a strong and shocking book. I’m glad I read it, although its focus is much more academic. If you’re expecting a light and conversational tone, you will likely be disappointed, though if you like sociological books, you might appreciate it.