Michelle Alexander author of “The New Jim Crow” argues that Mass Incarceration has regenerated laws similar to Jim Crow; Alexander believes these caste systems such as Jim Crow and slavery are similar to the existing system of mass incarceration. In addition, Alexander alleges the U. S. criminal justice system created laws that mainly target African Americans through the War on Drugs.
In comparing mass incarceration with Jim Crow, Alexander points to compelling parallels regarding political disenfranchisement and legalized discrimination, but her comparison regarding the symbolic production of a race weakens her argument. Alexander, moreover, effectively offers a rebuttal to the counterargument that the New Jim Crow does not carry the same level of racial hostility as the Old Jim Crow.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander is a book that discusses racially related issues in the United States, Alexander relies on the fact that a high percentage of African Americans are being excluded and discriminated in society. She believes that the U. S. Criminal Justice System through the War On Drugs is used to label African-Americans as criminals as well as is use to discriminate, since after being labeled as a felon you are excluded from public benefits such as employment, housing, voting and other benefits.
This brings her to the conclusion that mass incarceration has regenerated laws similar to the Old Jim Crow and argues that the U. S. Criminal Justice System is now operating under, what she calls a new racial caste system. First of all, Alexander effectively points to a parallel between Jim Crow and mass incarceration regarding political disenfranchisement, she discusses that as the Old Jim Crow laws denied African-Americans the right to vote; mass incarceration targets African Americans with criminal records and deprives them of the opportunity to vote.
For instance, Alexander supports her argument by telling the story of Jarvious Cotton, his father could not vote because of the voting poll taxes and literacy test back in the Jim Crow era, and now as a felon and currently on parole, he is being denied the right to vote (alexander 1). Alexander, using this story as an example perfectly fulfills and persuades the reader into her argument, that even through time, the similarity of discrimination is the same between mass incarceration and Jim Crow, where the U. S. criminal justice system deprives them of the right to vote.
Therefore, Alexander also mentions an example about mass incarceration. For instance, the story of Drake, a Vietnam veteran, who spend five years in jail and as 2004 elections arrived, his voting rights were under a $900 dollar fine (Alexander 159). This example successfully convinces the reader, as mentioned the obstacles an ex-felon like drake encounters in order to have the right to vote such as paying a high-priced fine, is compared to Jim Crow and it’s poll taxes. Alexander did not only gave an example where the Jim Crow law took place, but also included a recent a like situation where the similarities are not quite different.
In addition, Alexander mentions Legalized discrimination another parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow, Alexander talks about the life of a black man after being incarcerated, which basically categorizes them as criminals and excludes them from regenerating a successful life by not being able to find where to live or even find a job, in comparison to Jim Crow that limited people of color to a second-class social status. Consequently, Alexander successfully persuades the reader into believing her argument, as she mentions that after being in jail, ex-felons lose some of the public benefits that the government offers.
For instance, she mentions a story of a man with a felony conviction, denied to even try to fill in an application for section 8 (Alexander 144). This is a good example that subjects legalized discrimination; ex-felons are being excluded and denied the chance to regenerate their lives and start moving towards a better future, in this case, the man is denied the opportunity to find a place to live just as Jim Crow deprived African Americans of the right of housing.
Another example that perfectly supports her argument is when she talks about the difficulty for someone with a criminal background to find a job, for a fact, when you fill in a job application they ask about your criminal background. For example, Alexander mentions, “a 2002 survey of 122 California employers revealed that although most employers would consider hiring someone convicted of a misdemeanor offense, the number dropped dramatically for those convicted of felonies.
Less than a quarter of employers were willing to consider hiring someone convicted… (Alexander 149). This is a good example, showing statistics that prove her point about the discrimination that mass incarceration creates in society, the exclusion of an individual looking for a job to work for a living, even though it is not legal for employers to deny these applicants a chance for even an interview, yet employers tend to just ignore individuals with criminal background; just as mentioned before Jim Crow limited black people to living a second-class social status, if kept in mind without a chance to work you cannot make a living.
Last but no least, Alexander points to a parallel between Jim Crow and mass incarceration, she discusses the symbolic production of race. Alexander believes that both of these caste systems label African Americans in a demeaning way. Moreover, Jim Crow labels African Americans as second-class citizens, while mass incarceration labels African Americans as criminals. For instance, Alexander adequately proves the similarity of the way today’s society recognizes African Americans, linking mass incarceration and the War on drugs.
A declaration by a minister in Waterloo, Mississippi states, “Felony is the new N-word. They don’t have to call you a nigger anymore. They just say you’re a felon ” (Alexander 164) This example is effective, as a minister, his reliability, and background provides credibility while affirming what he is able to notice every day, the statement mentioned is an insight of what is currently happening in society today, the way mass incarceration profiles African Americans based on their race, immediately identifies them as criminals with no doubt.
Granted that Alexander’s lack of evidence to her comparison of Jim Crow classifying African Americans as secondclass individuals, her point on the way mass incarceration defines African Americans as criminals fulfill reader’s expectations. Conversely, James Forman, Jr. critique “Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow,” argues that while Alexander focuses on the injustice of mass incarceration, she is ignoring the history of Jim Crow putting aside the violence African Americans lived in the past.
For instance, Forman, Jr. hares a touching story, this story involves him and his father, back in 1984, he mentions they had a trip to San Francisco to attend the Democratic National Convention, while approaching Louisiana, on their way back to Atlanta where he lived with his mother, he noticed his father’s mood begin to change and seemed tense and quiet. Afterward, he decided to call his mom so he turned to an exit in Mississippi and pulled over at a gas station, the lights went out and his father panicked as he turned on the car and screamed, “Get in the car! Now! ” Subsequently, Forman, Jr. mentions feeling ashamed to see his father in that condition.
To conclude, he mentioned his understanding, there was no better explanation of his father reaction than The Old Jim Crow, where it was permissible for white men to torture and kill a black man on a regular day basis. Seeing that Forman, Jr. experience perfectly fulfills his argument as his father reaction to the situation mentioned before is an example of the trauma created among African Americans that lived in The Old Jim Crow era. Moreover, Alexander explains her stand regarding the absence of racial hostility.
Subsequently, she argues that racial hostility and violence still exist and manifest through ccusations of police brutality comparing the fear of African Americans to the police and the fear of older relatives to the Ku Klux Klan. However, she points out that racial hostility does not necessarily defines racism neither suggest violence against individuals of different race, yet implies racial indifference. For Instance, she mentions, “Most Plantation owners supported the institution of black slavery not because of a sadistic desire to harm blacks, but instead because they wanted to get rich, and black slavery was the most efficient means to that end.
By and large, plantation owners were indifferent to the suffering caused by slavery; they were motivated by greed”(Alexander 204). Alexander explains the way racial hostility is misinterpreted for racism and using this example, she is trying to make people understand that in the past people did not care about hurting others, not only in time of slavery, she believes all caste systems are based on racial indifference.
From a reader’s perspective, it is to believe that mass incarceration cannot compare to the Jim Crow, Alexander still focuses mainly on mass incarceration, while Forman, Jr. proves that in the past African Americans were brutally harassed for no reason, time or place did not matter and through time it is to believe that some still have hurtful memories of the Old Jim Crow.
In Conclusion, Alexander’s parallels between mass incarceration and Jim Crow regarding political disenfranchisement and legalized discrimination are quite convincing. However, her attempt to discuss the symbolic production of race weakens her argument due to the lack of evidence in relation to the Old Jim Crow. In addition, it is important to understand and explore topics like mass incarceration, it is to believe that mass incarceration is a relevant issue that people constantly see and even live.