Leonard Pitts' writes, "The new Jim Crow alive and thriving," in his syndicted column. It's via his home paper, the Miami Herald.
In June of 2010, I wrote in this space about a book, The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, which I called a “troubling and profoundly necessary” work. Alexander promulgated an explosive argument. Namely, that the so-called “War on Drugs” amounts to a war on African-American men and, more to the point, to a racial caste system nearly as restrictive, oppressive and omnipresent as Jim Crow itself.
This because, although white Americans are far and away the nation’s biggest dealers and users of illegal drugs, African Americans are far and away the ones most likely to be jailed for drug crimes. And when they are set “free” after doing their time, black men enter a legal purgatory where the right to vote, work, go to school or rent an apartment can be legally denied. It’s as if George Wallace were still standing in the schoolhouse door.
The New Jim Crow won several awards, enjoyed significant media attention, and was an apparent catalyst in the NAACP’s decision last year to call for an end to the drug war. The book was a sensation, but we need it to be more. We need it to be a movement.
As it happens and not exactly by coincidence, Alexander’s book is being reissued in paperback this week as we mark the birthday of the man who led America’s greatest mass movement for social justice. In his battle against the original Jim Crow, Martin Luther King, in a sense, did what Alexander seeks to do: pour sunlight on an onerous condition that exists just beyond the periphery of most Americans’ sight.
On March 15, Alexander has agreed to appear with me at Books & Books in Coral Gables, where I will moderate a discussion with an audience. You’ll also be able to submit questions via Twitter @MiamiHeraldLive and Facebook. Video from the event will be posted on The Miami Herald’s website.
On Monday, Dave Davies interviewed Michelle Alexander on the WHYY-produced Fresh Air on National Public Radio, "Legal Scholar: Jim Crow Still Exists In America." There is audio at the link.
Under Jim Crow laws, black Americans were relegated to a subordinate status for decades. Things like literacy tests for voters and laws designed to prevent blacks from serving on juries were commonplace in nearly a dozen Southern states.
In her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes that many of the gains of the civil rights movement have been undermined by the mass incarceration of black Americans in the war on drugs. She says that although Jim Crow laws are now off the books, millions of blacks arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens.