"The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" by Michelle Alexander (2011)

AlexanderNewJimCrowA very difficult book for a white progressive freethinker to read, but an important one. The author very convincingly makes the case that the war on drugs and the mass incarceration that has been its result are, quite intentionally, the modern equivalent of the Jim Crow laws in the south. For one thing, I’m a life-long northerner; I live in Missouri now, but I moved here after Jim Crow laws were sufficiently history that it was only during the Ferguson crisis that someone had to tell me what a “Sunset Town” was: Ferguson had been such a town within living memory, and the white population seems to act as though it still is.

We all know the facts of life for a young black man who is arrested for even a single joint or a handful of stolen cigars. If he survives the initial arrest, there is very little good that can come to him from that point on. Unfortunately, almost all of the relief that may be available will come with religious strings attached.  We also know that white young men use drugs at about the same rates as black ones, they are a very small percentage of those arrested and incarcerated.

As I read this book, I got more and more discouraged, since almost everything I might have proposed to fight the problem was systematically debunked as either ineffective or a source of still more discrimination and abuse. Hopelessness seemed the primary message. But the very last chapter makes the point that our point of view needs to be not civil rights, but human rights. Or, to put it more bluntly, Humanism must prevail if we are to survive as a nation, as a civilization.

Statements in this review do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.