BOOK REVIEW: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness*
The New Press, NY, 2010
By Dr. Eugene Stovall
In her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander describes the “white backlash” against the black civil rights movement and the reestablishment of white privilege as a dominant feature of American life. The process of the mass incarceration, according to Alexander, is the culmination of fifty-years of white backlash against black civil rights viewed by whites as threats to white privileges. America’s ‘concentration camp’ policy taught by the Nazi scientists welcomed into academia by American universities after their war incarcerates Black people at a rate that exceeds every other white country in the world, including South Africa in the heyday of its apartheid regime. Alexander describes how the criminal justice system of the United States ‘morphed’ into a system of laws, policies, customs, institutions and criminal conspiracies. Other authors confirm that elements of theUnited States government have engaged foreign governments partly for the purpose of depriving Black people their civil rights as citizens and their constitutional rights as human beings.
The “white backlash” now uses the social stigma of being a convicted offender into a code word meaning “Black person” which re-focuses the criminal justice system on the task of depriving Black people of their political, economic and legal rights as Americans citizens. The only Blacks exempt from the fury of the “white backlash” are those with the good taste, good sense or the good fortune to be members of the Black or perhaps not so Black ‘talented tenth’.
The ‘new jim crow’ stigmatizes millions of black people a year as legally-designated criminals. This racist policy subjects black people to arbitrary surveillance, proscribes racially biased controls and denies them their basic rights all of which is coordinated through the mechanism of the American criminal justice system .
The tool that the “white backlash” uses to impose Michelle Alexander’s ‘new jim crow’ is America’s War on Drugs. She says that “… enormous financial incentives have been granted to law enforcement to engage in mass drug arrests through military style tactics. Once swept into the system, one’s chances of every truly being free are slim [since most accused offenders] pressured by the threat of lengthy sentences … plea bargain themselves [into] prison or jail on probation or parole …”. America’s War on Drugs targets Black youth, kids thirteen, fourteen and fifteen years old and legally consigns them to a permanent underclass within the American society.
Professor Alexander who teaches atOhioState’s Moritz School of Law recounts many stories of victims of “white backlash”. Here is one of them:
“Imagine you are Emma Faye Stewart, a thirty –year-old, single African-American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas. All but one of the people arrested were African-American. You are innocent. After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to get home. Your court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse steadfastly proclaiming your innocence. Finally, after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children. … you are sentenced to ten years probation and ordered to pay $1000 in fines as well as court and probation costs. You are also now branded a drug felon. You are no longer eligible for food stamps, you may be discriminated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless, your children will be taken from you and put into foster care.
A judge eventually dismisses all cases against defendants who did not plead guilty … the sweep was based upon the testimony of a single informant who lied to the prosecutor. You, however, are still a drug felon, homeless and desperate to regain custody of your children.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness makes it possible to understand why some Blacks are now impatient with the mouthings of self-serving Black political pundits. Their high minded pronouncements in the white media only say one thing: “we can’t allow those darkies to take away everything the white folks have given us.” They feed us lies about being political in the “age of colorblindness”. Those of us whose children can’t read, can’t get a job and are behind bars know very well that the white folks are not colorblind; they see our black faces very well and they hate us.
The notion of a colorblind America, feeds the media’s need for pictures of pampered ‘Blacks’ doing well in a white supremacist society, a society engaged in illegal wars, atrocities against civilians and the use of nuclear weapons against non-white people all over the world. Ninety percent of Blacks are victims of the American age of “The New Jim Crow”. Ninety percent of Black people– those not dribbling basketballs, telling filthy jokes or betraying Black people’s interests to white politicians– are victims of a “white backslash” that has been flailing away at our civil rights since the ‘sixties’. Members of the ‘talented tenth’, political commentators, religious and political leaders and entertainers of every type seem to be quite unfamiliar with ‘the new jim crow’. For them, the mass incarceration of Black people is not as important as getting a front row seat at the presidential inauguration or getting invited to a presidential birthday bash. Possibly these Black spokesmen will become more engaged in the problem when mass incarceration becomes mass extermination –or perhaps not.
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