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Author Michelle Alexander shines a light on mass incarceration: “The New Jim Crow”

July 2020: A Note from Hope — Civil rights lawyer turned legal scholar Michelle Alexander is helping to fuel a nationwide social movement in June 2020 with the re-release of her 2010 tome,  The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Here’s why: “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it,” Alexander believes, explaining that by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.

Since its publication in 2010, the book has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year. It has also been dubbed the “secular bible of a new social movement” by numerous commentators, including Cornel West, and the book has led to consciousness-raising efforts in universities, churches, community centers, re-entry centers, and prisons nationwide. It also has been cited in judicial decisions and adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads, and has inspired a generation of racial justice activists.

The book has won numerous awards, including the 2011 NAACP Image Award for best nonfiction.  Alexander has been featured in national radio and television media outlets, including MSNBC, NPR, CNN, Bill Moyers Journal, The Colbert Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Tavis Smiley, Democracy Now!, and C-SPAN.

About Michelle Alexander: A professor at Stanford Law School, where she directed the Civil Rights Clinic, in 2005, Alexander won a Soros Justice Fellowship that supported the writing of The New Jim Crow. She accepted a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University.  She is a visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.

Prior to joining academia, Alexander engaged in civil rights litigation in both the private and nonprofit sector, ultimately serving as the director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, where she coordinated the Project’s media advocacy, grassroots organizing, and coalition building and launched a major campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement known as the “DWB Campaign” or “Driving While Black or Brown Campaign.”

Alexander is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. She has clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the U.S. Supreme Court and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

About The New Jim Crow: Since Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Michelle explains that we have had a rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States — one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status, and denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement.

“As the United States celebrates its ‘triumph over race’ with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of black men in major urban areas are under correctional control or saddled with criminal records for life,” she says. “Jim Crow laws were wiped off the books decades ago, but today an extraordinary percentage of the African American community is warehoused in prisons or trapped in a parallel social universe, denied basic civil and human rights—including the right to vote; the right to serve on juries; and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits.”

Michelle adds, “Today, it is no longer socially permissible to use race explicitly as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. It is perfectly legal to discriminate against convicted criminals in nearly all the ways in which it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once labeled a felon, even for a minor drug crime, the old forms of discrimination are suddenly legal again. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

What the critics are saying:

  • “Stunning!” — Pulitzer Prize–winning historian David Levering Lewis
  • “Invaluable.” — Daily Kos
  • “Explosive.” — Kirkus
  • “Profoundly necessary.” — The Miami Herald
  • “Brave and bold.” — Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier
  • “A call to action.” — Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP
  • In the fall of 2015, all freshmen enrolled at Brown University read The New Jim Crow as part of the campus’s First Readings Program initiated by the Office of the Dean of the College and voted on by the faculty.

Click here to learn more about Michelle Alexander and her book.

Click here to buy it.