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The New Jim Crow Shines Light on Mass Incarceration

Though it was published in 2010, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander provides insight into some of the social unrest that is so steeply dividing the country at present.  

The book explores how America has historically used the law to discriminate against African-Americans, especially in the post-emancipation era. From the enforcement of “black codes” in the south immediately after the Civil to the statistical realities of racial profiling, Alexander illustrates an America that has evolved from overt racism to a more implicit form of racism in the targeting of African-American communities throughout the country.  

Alexander backs up her claims with a great deal of focused research into the criminal justice system. Her research includes the prosecution rates of white suspects versus black suspects, racial statistics in plea-bargaining and racial tendencies in jury selection. She also examines the war on drugs and its tendency to have harsher penalties for drugs that are more predominate in black communities.   

This leads her to the startlingly high incarcerations rates for African-Americans, and she concludes that the focused effort on their communities in regards to prosecuting crime resulted in the massive disenfranchisement of African-Americans.   

My own exposure to this book came through a Professor at Collin College, TWU alumna Professor Sonia Iwanek. “I actually chose to use this book in my honors class because I don’t agree with some of the authors reasoning or support throughout the book. While I know there are many things within the book that are absolutely and undeniably true, . . . any time I see an opportunity for students to be pushed beyond a dichotomous approach that this country tends to force us into, I take it. I believe that The New Jim Crow gave me that space and helped facilitate more solution-based conversations,” said Iwanek.  

The New Jim Crow, by its very nature, is controversial in its accusations, but it provides a voice to those fighting against the racial inequality that seems inherent in our culture. 

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