The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness written by Michele Alexander reveals the U.S. criminal justice system oppressing Black people. Interestingly, Jim Crow is the name of the fictional character, which is typically associated with negative stereotypes imposed on Black people. Later “Jim Crow” became a name of the chain of laws regarding racial discrimination, segregation, and refusal of equal opportunities. Therefore, the book explores how Black inhabitants are discriminated against and oppressed by means of the War on Drugs. According to history, the pressure was established a long time ago: the U.S. always had oppressed Black people, starting with slavery and finishing with various actions against them, including mass incarceration.
In fact, the War on Drugs resulted in the uncontrollable prisoning of Black people. The intent which was meant by it was clearly stated by Vice-President Richard Nixon: “the whole problem is really the blacks” (Alexander, 2010, p. 43). Such kind of discrimination on the governmental level led to irreversible consequences; the rate of imprisonment became enormously high. Moreover, even after release people had to face oppression. Alexander wrote: “They are often denied the right to vote, excluded from juries, and relegated to a racially segregated and subordinated existence” (Alexander, 2010, p. 4). This is an argument that proves that Black people cannot renounce their status of “second-class” personas, they are not able to start (or at least continue) their ordinary life.
This is worth noting that the purposes for the imprisonment of Black citizens are not concealed, but claimed directly. For instance, Jerome Miller, the former executive director of the National Center for Institutions and Alternatives, openly states that more and more black men need to be locked up (Alexander, 2010). However, the book shows that white and black men tend to use drugs equally, as the users appear worldwide, and white people are reported to comprise even the majority of the drug users (Alexander, 2010). Despite this fact, black men find themselves imprisoned thirteen times more often than white men according to statistics.
The reasons for this could be the following: first of all, the governmental propaganda. As Alexander writes in her book, one of the possible premises might be the genocidal plan. Concerning this plan, the War on Drugs started in order to decline the number of Black people on the territory of the U.S. Black citizens who were accused of crimes were not able to receive the help of a lawyer. People turned out to be indigent, that was why they were not provided with any help standing in a court. What is more, the rate of incarceration in the U.S. reached a huge level for the imprisoned Black people. As the author repeatedly states that Black people tend to end up behind bars more often than white criminals, this can be explained by prejudices: “the primary targets of its control can be defined largely by race” (Alexander, 2010, p. 8).
Many incarcerated people who were finally released simply did not have money to pay off the governmental fees. Besides the inability to find a job, the system of mass incarceration makes it impossible to continue an ordinary existence for those who are released. In reality, there is no matter how long the person is imprisoned, as the mass incarceration does not give an opportunity to interact with other people, to find a decent job even though the penalty was not long. Moreover, the government taxes their wages in addition to the fact that released people are not able to find a job because of their criminal records. The label of the “second-class” person is already stamped. That is how the vicious circle is created, and there is almost zero chance to live normally.
One more proof of Alexander’s point of view is reflected in stereotypical thinking. For instance, black men are perceived as villains, dangerous creatures who can aggressively attack white men and rape white women (Alexander, 2010). They are seen as “predators” composed of the hazardous group of criminals. The criminal justice system made a huge number of Black people disappear. Even in “black media” that aimed to uncover all the disturbing issues, there was silence, and nobody could say where the people were (Alexander, 2010). The fact that Black people were put and sent to prisons and jails without any rational explanation seems to be suspicious. This reminds me of slavery, which was defined by Jim Crow – to be a slave means to be black (Alexander, 2010). It can be a possible explanation for imprisoning Black people; slavery is not died yet (Alexander, 2010).
The criminal justice system established the destabilizing understanding of race. Throughout history, Black people were seen as perfect candidates for enslavement (Alexander, 2010). The institution of slavery brought the idea of “white supremacy”, the notion of the inferiority of the Black people in contrast to the belief of white superiority. This belief affected all spheres of life, including cultural, political, and economical sectors. People pronounced as superiors decided that the usage of “inferior” people for their own purposes and benefits is reasonable. These ingrained prejudices still have an impact on the lives of Black people; they have to overcome discrimination, face racist issues and obstacles, and some of them have to survive with the label of crime.
Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (1st ed.). The New Press.