Book Review: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess by Michelle Alexander (Revised edition)

For the past 6 weeks, I have been participating in a series of facilitated community discussions in Charlotte, North Carolina, about the book The New Jim Crow. To say it was an enlightening experience would be an understatement.

I have spent quite a bit of time studying the issue of race in America. I also grew up in the suburbs during the foundation and escalation of the War on Drugs. The infamous commercial, This is your brain on drugs, will forever be etched into my memory.

I have always been strongly against capital punishment, and its disproportionate use amongst people of color. I also believe that the increasingly privatized prison system in America targets people of color at alarmingly high rates, which is one of the reasons why I was motivated to pick up this book. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander provides an unparalleled look into the system of mass incarceration, and how our entire criminal justice system has been turned into a new racial caste system that manages to flourish in an era of colorblindness, primarily enacted through the War on Drugs.

The New Jim Crow is provocative. It is gut-wrenching. It is intelligent. It is at times deeply uncomfortable. It challenges you to break your silence on the topic. It is also extremely well-researched, filled with pages and pages of endnotes. It is a book that I believe all Americans should read and discuss with each other.

“The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that’s why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.” (p.215)

“Seeing race is not the problem. Refusing to care for the people we see is the problem. The fact that the meaning of race may evolve over time or lose much of its significance is hardly a reason to be struck blind. We should hope not for a colorblind society but instead for a world in which we can see each other fully, learn from each other, adn do what we can to respond to each other with love. That was King’s dream–a society that is capable of seeing each of us, as we are, with love. That is a goal worth fighting for.” (p.244)

Rating: 4.5/5 stars