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The New Jim Crow

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Press,

15 min read
9 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

An acclaimed legal scholar probes America’s criminalization of people of color.

Editorial Rating



  • Eye Opening
  • Engaging


Michelle Alexander’s 2010 indictment of America’s penal system helped spark a new generation of civil rights and prison reform/abolition activism including the Black Lives Matter movement. It influenced the work of countless racial justice activists and educators. Alexander, a civil rights attorney and legal scholar, makes a compelling case that, far from having transcended race, the US criminal justice system has deliberately consigned millions of people of color to a new form of discrimination, disenfranchisement and stigma. 


Racial caste in the United States didn’t end after Jim Crow – it just took a new form: the penal system.

Even before America became a country in 1776, its elites depended on the concept of race as a tool to divide poor people and keep them from uniting in revolt. Near the end of the 17th century, wealthy planters introduced racial caste by offering poor whites a “racial bribe”: giving poor whites privileges withheld from black slaves. The bribes included certain measures that gave poor white servants direct power over black slaves.

Race-based division and control persists today, but the system has transformed to adapt to social changes. After the abolition of slavery, the caste system re-formed into Jim Crow: the system of laws and practices that ensured racial segregation and discrimination throughout the American South, disenfranchisement of black people, and the continuance of the divide between poor whites and blacks.

Jim Crow gradually collapsed over the course of the 20th century. The 1960s saw poor whites and blacks begin to converge as the Civil Rights Movement gave birth to a Poor People’s Movement. By that time, however, a new racial order had begun...

About the Author

Michelle Alexander is a civil rights lawyer, advocate and legal scholar. A graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University, she teaches at Union Theological Seminary and writes for The New York Times.

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    M. S. 1 year ago
    I appreciate the synopsis. I would like to read this book to get a better handle on the idea of a Justice System entirely aligned with the purpose of creating the felon underclass of Black people. I do think this may be a simplified way of framing the issue of Black incarceration, which no doubt, has many factors. I can definitely believe that people with the most money have the best chance at a legal defense. And this goes for any race. I also can agree that penal institutions are BUSINESSES which aim to make as much money as possible. What's more, the comparison of where drugs are being used and by whom is not clear to me in the above review, especially since that's also a complex issue. Lots of drugs are being used by all the people living on the streets in San Francisco...and lots of drugs are being used in inner city Chicago...which one is notoriously more well known for gang violence? Are those communities the same or different? I'm asking because I haven't studied these things in great academic depth before and by asking, I'm trying to be open minded and learn, even as I'm skeptical in some aspects of what is being taught. I'm not skeptical about Black History as much, but about modern Black Studies. This is especially so when or if they inspire our collegiate youth towards Un-American Marxist (=> Communist) Movements using the Black Community as pawns in politics, and in political maneuvering, fomenting racial division and tension to divide and conquer the citizenry. I don't see the constant bell-ringing for racial division as particularly helpful or healthy for communities. Who do I look to as thought leaders on these things? Booker T. Washington, Thomas Sowell, Morgan Freeman, Larry Elder, Jesse Lee Peterson, Professor Carol Swain, Col. Allen West, and in in the most current sense, Chad O. Jackson, who's films "Uncle Tom," and "Uncle Tom II," have THUNDEROUSLY landed on scene to break down some stark realities affecting Black lives today. I love his movies, especially as they show a relationship between successful Black Families and Industry as a direct result of the philosophy and education of Booker T. Washington....right on up to the infamous "Black Wall Street." What his movies also show is a direct, very real relationship between W.B. Dubois' philosophy, and later Martin Luther King, Jr., with his "Poor People's Campaign" which influenced President L. Johnson to create the Welfare system. (THE "UNCLE TOM" MOVIE DESCRIBES HOW) The Welfare system paid more money to single mothers than married ones, and to mothers with more children than fewer, incentivizing many of the conditions which fostered such an unfortunate situation as we have with a larger percent of Black America behind bars....which brings us back to this book review. Insomuch as we can endeavor not to overgeneralize we might avoid fanning racial tension and distraction from the things we ought to be working together on as a Nation. What can you think of that deserves our focus and energy more? Thank you for reading this far if you made it to the end, and for your patience while reading, since I'm no PhD in AA Studies. REWARD: For a bit of fun, I leave you with a juxtaposition of Chad O. Johnson's movie, produced by Larry Elder, "Uncle Tom" versus "Making Black America," with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.