One day at West Roxbury Academy, a book screamed out at me in large, bold print: “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander. It stopped me from rushing down the stairs during class transition. The paperback sat in the student teacher’s palm as if it were on display. The subtitle read: “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” The cover photo was of an African-American behind bars. I thought to myself, “What in the world does this mean?”
I remembered the term “Jim Crow” thanks to freshman year in history class. The Jim Crow era involved the official separation of blacks and whites in the late 1800s to mid 1900s in the US.
The book seemed interesting. So I bought it.
The first few pages exposed the main idea that African-Americans are imprisoned in massive numbers in this country. In fact, this means that an extraordinary percentage of black men in the US are banned from voting today -- depending on the state.
I thought the civil rights movement changed things for us.
But Alexander argues that the historic racial caste system never ended. If anything, she says, Uncle Sam merely redesigned it by keeping blacks down through the criminal justice system.
Many of the blacks in jail, Alexander says, are by-products of the War on Drugs.
According to the NAACP’s criminal justice fact sheet, five times as many whites use drugs as do African-Americans, yet African-Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.
Once these African-Americans join the felon class, Alexander says, many can’t get the money for an education. They can’t find good jobs. They end up stuck on food stamps and relegated to a subordinated existence.
“If current trends continue,” says the NAACP, “one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.”
One in three. That’s messed up.
I’ve talked to friends about this. They’re aware of the continuing injustice but feel they can’t do anything about it.
Every time we try to improve conditions, they say, something seems to get in the way.