Give thoughtful responses (8 or more sentences) to the following questions for each film/reading selection. For each question, bring in analysis Also provide where you find the answer (example: p.15 paragraph 2)The Day the Purpose of College Changed1. Why might Reagan have said that taxpayers shouldnt be subsidizing intellectual curiosity? What is that he speaks of? What is your opinion on that?2. Why did most college students pick their college campus in the 80s? How did that differ from the previous reason?3. Nurses should know what of their patients, and why? The New Jim Crow4. Once prisoners are released, what are they denied?5. What did the media do with the images surrounding crack cocaine?6. What do racial caste systems need to survive?7. What does Alexander say will end mass incarceration?Ivory Tower8. What has college been sold as? What is going wrong with it?9. What type of education does Harvard value most? Why?10. How has the competition for prestige impacted American colleges? Students?11. Explain the importance of the out-of-state student for college campuses12. If the college classroom is an example of real world democracy, what would make Deer Springs College unique?13. Why does the Cooper Union offer free tuition for all enrolled students? Who did they want to include?14. Higher Education Act of 1965 and its modern day contradictions15. What are the goals of unlearning as an alternative to traditional education16. How is technology widening access to college courses?Inequality for All17. What are the similarities between the market crashes after 1928 and 2007?18. Consumer spending is ________% of the American economy. How do they keep it going? Who keeps it going?19. How does the government define middle class?20. What is the problem with the spending of the richer class?21. Is there a such thing as a completely free market? Why or why not?22. What happened in the late 1970s?23. Where do your dollars go when you buy an iPhone? How does it relate to globalization?24. Globalization and technology have done what to the incomes of Americans?25. What is the virtuous cycle”?**************************************************************************************************************************************************************
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The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the
Age of Colorblindness
© 2010 by Michelle Alexander
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, in any form,
without written permission from the publisher.
Request for permission to reproduce selections from this book should be mailed to:
Permissions Department, The New Press, 38 Greene Street, NewYork, NY 10013.
Published in the United States by The New Press, NewYork, 2010
Distributed by Perseus Distribution
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness 1 Michelle Alexander.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-59558-103-7 (hc. : alk. paper) 1. Criminal justice, Administration of
United States. 2. African American prisonersUnited States. 3. Race discrimination
United States. 4. United StatesRace relations. I. Title.
The NewPress was established in 1990 as a not-for-profit alternative to the large,
commerical publishing houses currently dominating the book publishing industry.
The New Press operates in the public interest rather than for private gain, and
is committed to publishing, in innovative ways, works of educational, cultural,
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Composition by NK Graphics
This book was set in Fairfield LH Light
Printed in the United States of America
For Nicole, Jonathan, and Corinne
J arvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather,
and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in
our electoral democracy. Cottons family tree tells the story of several gener
ations of black men who were born in the United States but who were de
nied the most basic freedom that democracy promisesthe freedom to vote
for those who will make the rules and laws that govern ones life. Cottons
great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was
beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather
was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from
voting by poii taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon
and is currently on parole.
Cottons story illustrates, in many respects, the old adage The more things
change, the more they remain the same. In each generation, new tactics
have been used for achieving the same goalsgoals shared by the Founding
Fathers. DenyingAfrican Americans citizenship was deemed essential to the
formation of the original union. Hundreds of years later, America is still not
an egalitarian democracy. The arguments and rationalizations that have been
trotted out in support of racial exclusion and discrimination in its various
forms have changed and evolved, but the outcome has remained largely the
same. An extraordinary percentage of black men in the United States are
legally barred from voting today, just as they have been throughout most
of American history They are also subject to legalized discrimination in
THE NEW JIM CROW
employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service, just as
their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents once were.
What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the
basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In
the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, ex
plicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt.
So we dont. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to
label people of color criminals and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals
in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African
Americans. Once youre labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination
employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to
vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury serviceare suddenly legal. As a crimi
nal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black
man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial
caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.
I reached the conclusions presented in this book reluctantly. Ten years ago,
I would have argued strenuously against the central claim made here
namely, that something akin to a racial caste system currently exists in the
United States. Indeed, if Barack Obama had been elected president back
then, I would have argued that his election marked the nations triumph over
racial castethe final nail in the coffin ofJim Crow. My elation would have
been tempered by the distance yet to be traveled to reach the promised land
of racial justice in America, but my conviction that nothing remotely similar
to Jim Crow exists in this country would have been steadfast.
Today my elation over Obamas election is tempered by a far more sobering awareness. As an African American woman, with three young children
who will never know a world in which a black man could not be president of
the United States, I was beyond thrilled on election night. Yet when I walked
out of the election night party, full of hope and enthusiasm, I was immedi
ately reminded of the harsh realities of the New Jim Crow. A black man was
on his knees in the gutter, hands cuffed behind his back, as several police
officers stood around him talking, joking, and ignoring his human existence.
People poured out of the building; many stared for a moment at the black
man cowering in the street, and then averted their gaze. What did the elec
tion of Barack Obama mean for him?
Like many civil rights lawyers, I was inspired to attend law school by the
civil rights victories of the 1950s and 96Os. Even in the face of growing social and political opposition to remedial policies such as affirmative action,
I clung to the notion that the evils ofJim Crow are behind us and that, while
we have a long way to go to fulfill the dream of an ega1itarian multiracial
democracy, we have made real progress and are now struggling to hold on to
the gains of the past. I thought myjob as a civil rights lawyer was to join with
the allies of racial progress to resist attacks on affirmative action and to
eliminate the vestiges of Jim Crow segregation, including our still separate
and unequal system of education. I understood the problems plaguing poor
communities of color, including problems associated with crime and rising
incarceration rates, to be a function of poverty and lack of access to quality
educationthe continuing legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Never did I seri
ously consider the possibility that a new racial caste system was operating in
this country. The new system had been developed and implemented swiftly,
and it was largely invisible, even to people, like me, who spent most of their
waking hours fighting for justice.
I first encountered the idea of a new racial caste system more than a de
cade ago, when a bright orange poster caught my eye. I was rushing to catch
the bus, and I noticed a sign stapled to a telephone pole that screamed in
large bold print: THE DRUG WAR Is THE NEw JIM CROW. I paused for a mo
ment and skimmed the text of the flyer. Some radical group was holding a
community meeting about police brutality, the new three-strikes law in Cali
fornia, and the expansion of Americas prison system. The meeting was being held at a small community church a few blocks away; it had seating
capacity for no more than fifty people. I sighed, and muttered to myself
something like, Yeah, the criminal justice system is racist in many ways, but
it really doesnt help to make such an absurd comparison. People will just
think youre crazy. I then crossed the street and hopped on the bus. I was
headed to my new job, director of the Racial Justice Project of the American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Northern California.
When I began my work at the ACLU, I assumed that the criminal justice
system had problems of racial bias, much in the same way that all major institutions in our society are plagued with problems associated with conscious
THE NEW JIM CROW
and unconscious bias. As a lawyer who had litigated numerous class-action
employment-discrimination cases, I understood well the many ways in
which racial stereotyping can permeate subjective decision-making processes at all levels of an organization, with devastating consequences. I was
familiar with the challenges associated with reforming institutions in which
racial stratification is thought to be normalthe natural consequence of
differences in education, culture, motivation, and, some still believe, innate
ability. While at the ACLU, I shifted my focus from employment discrimina
tion to criminal justice reform and dedicated myself to the task of working
with others to identify and eliminate racial bias whenever and wherever it
reared its ugly head.
By the time I left the ACLU, I had come to suspect that I was wrong
about the criminal justice system. It was not just another institution infected with racial bias but rather a different beast entirely. The activists who
posted the sign on the telephone pole were not crazy; nor were the smattering of lawyers and advocates around the country who were beginning to
connect the dots between our current system of mass incarceration and earher forms of social control. Quite belatedly, I came to see that mass incar
ceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly
comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that
functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.
In my experience, people who have been incarcerated rarely have diffi
culty identifying the parallels between these systems of social control. Once
they are released, they are often denied the right to vote, excluded from
juries, and relegated to a racially segregated and subordinated existence.
Through a web of laws, regulations, and informal rules, all of which are
powerfully reinforced by social stigma, they are confined to the margins of
mainstream society and denied access to the mainstream economy. They
are legally denied the ability to obtain employment, housing, and public
benefitsmuch as African Americans were once forced into a segregated,
second-class citizenship in the Jim Crow era.
Those of us who have viewed that world from a comfortable distanceyet
sympathize with the plight of the so-called underclasstend to interpret the
experience of those caught up in the criminal justice system primarily
through the lens of popularized social science, attributing the staggering increase in incarceration rates in communities of color to the predictable,
though unfortunate, consequences of poverty, racial segregation, unequal
educational opportunities, and the presumed realities of the drug market,
including the mistaken belief that most drug dealers are black or brown.
Occasionally, in the course of my work, someone would make a remark
suggesting that perhaps the War on Drugs is a racist conspiracy to put
blacks back in their place. This type of.remark was invariably accompanied
by nervous laughter, intended to convey the impression that although the
idea had crossed their minds, it was not an idea a reasonable person would
Most people assume the War on Drugs was launched in response to the
crisis caused by crack cocaine in inner-city neighborhoods. This view holds
that the racial disparities in drug convictions and sentences, as well as the
rapid explosion of the prison population, reflect nothing more than the
governments zealousbut benignefforts to address rampant drug crime
in poor, minority neighborhoods. This view, while understandable, given the
sensational media coverage of crack in the 1 980s and 1 990s, is simply wrong.
While it is true that the publicity surrounding crack cocaine led to a dra
matic increase in funding for the drug war (as well as to sentencing policies
that greatly exacerbated racial disparities in incarceration rates), there is no
truth to the notion that the War on Drugs was launched in response to crack
cocaine. President Ronald Reagan officially announced the current drug war
in 1 982, before crack became an issue in the media or a crisis in poor black
neighborhoods. A few years after the drug war was declared, crack began to
spread rapidly in the poor black neighborhoods of Los Angeles and later
emerged in cities across the country.
2 The Reagan administration hired staff
to publicize the emergence of crack cocaine in 1985 as part of a strategic ef
fort to build public and legislative support for the war.
3 The media campaign
was an extraordinary success. Almost overnight, the media was saturated
with images of black crack whores, crack dealers, and crack babies
images that seemed to confirm the worst negative racial stereotypes about
impoverished inner-city residents. The media bonanza surrounding the new
demon drug helped to catapult the War on Drugs from an ambitious federal
policy to an actual war.
The timing of the crack crisis helped to fuel conspiracy theories and gen
eral speculation in poor black communities that the War on Drugs was part
of a genocidal plan by the government to destroy black people in the United
States. From the outset, stories circulated on the street that crack and other
drugs were being brought into black neighborhoods by the CIA. Eventually,
THE NEW JIM CROW
even the Urban League came to take the claims of genocide seriously. In its
1990 report The State of Black America, it stated: There is at least one
concept that must be recognized if one is to see the pervasive and insidious
nature of the drug problem for the African American community. Though
difficult to accept, that is the concept of genocide.
4 While the conspiracy
theories were initially dismissed as far-fetched, if not downright loony, the
word on the street turned out to be right, at least to a point. The CIA admitted in 1998 that guerilla armies it actively supported in Nicaragua were
smuggling illegal drugs into the United Statesdrugs that were making
their way onto the streets of inner-city black neighborhoods in the form of
crack cocaine. The CIA also admitted that, in the midst of the War on Drugs,
it blocked law enforcement efforts to investigate illegal drug networks that
were helping to fund its covert war in Nicaragua.
It bears emphasis that the CIA never admitted (nor has any evidence
been revealed to support the claim) that it intentionally sought the destruc
tion of the black community by allowing illegal drugs to be smuggled into
the United States. Nonetheless, conspiracy theorists surely must be forgiven for their bold accusation of genocide, in light of the devastation
wrought by crack cocaine and the drug war, and the odd coincidence that
an illegal drug crisis suddenly appeared in the black community afternot
beforea drug war had been declared. In fact, the War on Drugs began at a
time when illegal drug use was on the decline.
6 During this same time pe
nod, however, a war was declared, causing arrests and convictions for drug
offenses to skyrocket, especially among people of color.
The impact of the drug war has been astounding. In less than thirty years,
the U.S penal population exploded from around 300,000 to more than
2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase.
The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world,
dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country, even surpassing those
in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran. In Germany, 93
people are in prison for every 100,000 adults and children. In the United
States, the rate is roughly eight times that, or 750 per 100,000.8
The racial dimension of mass incarceration is its most striking feature. No
other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minori
ties. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population
than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington, D.C., our
nations capitol, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and
nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in
9 Similar rates of incarceration can be found in black communities
These stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime.
Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably
If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found,
they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely
to engage in drug crime than people of color. That is not what one would
guess, however, when entering our nations prisons and jails, which are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, black men
have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times
greater than those of white
And in major cities wracked by the drug
war, as many as 80 percent of young African American men now have crimi
nal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of
3 These young men are part of a growing undercaste, perma
nently locked up and locked out of mainstream society.
It may be surprising to some that drug crime was declining, not rising, when
a drug war was declared. From a historical perspective, however, the lack of
correlation between crime and punishment is nothing new. Sociologists
have frequently observed that governments use punishment primarily as a
tool of social control, and thus the extent or severity of punishment is often
unrelated to actual crime patterns. Michael Tonry explains in Thinking
About Crime: Governments decide how much punishment they want, and
these decisions are in no simple way related to crime rates. This fact, he
points out, can be seen most clearly by putting crime and punishment in
comparative perspective. Although crime rates in the United States have
not been markedly higher than those of other Western countries, the rate
of incarceration has soared in the United States while it has remained
stable or declined in other countries. Between 1 960 and 1 990, for example,
official crime rates in Finland, Germany, and the United States were close
to identical. Yet the U.S. incarceration rate quadrupled, the Finnish rate
fell by 60 percent, and the German rate was stable in that period. De
spite similar crime rates, each government chose to impose different levels
Today, due to recent declines, U.S. crime rates have dipped below the
international norm. Nevertheless, the United States now boasts an incar
THE NEW JIM CROW
ceration rate that is six to ten times greater than that of other industrialized
a development directly traceable to the drug war. The only coun
try in the world that even comes close to the American rate of incarceration
is Russia, and no other country in the world incarcerates such an astonishing percentage of its racial or ethnic minorities.
The stark and sobering reality is that, for reasons largely unrelated to ac
tual crime trends, the American penal system has emerged as a system of
social control unparalleled in world histoiy And while the size of the system
alone might suggest that it would touch the lives of most Americans, the pri
mary targets of its control can be defin …
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