In Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” book, Alexander challenges the belief that racism does not exist in America today. She instead, suggests that racism exists today but in a different, more subtle, way. She explores America’s history and key points the significant movements our country has gone through in regards to racial discrimination. In doing this, she offers her point of view in how those movements are still represented in our government and society today. She especially, emphasizes the idea that Jim Crow is prominent in America, just how it was in centuries before.
Alexander is a professor of law at Ohio State University and also teaches at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. As can be seen, her specialties include social justice issues making her a credible author to speak about the notion of colorblindness in the 21st century. She was the former director of the ACLU’S Racial Justice Project in Northern California. As if this weren’t outstanding enough, she also served as law clerk for U. S. Supremes Court Justice Harry. A Blackman. (Alexander, The New Jim Crow).
The term Jim Crow originated in the 1830’s and 1840’s, as a character in a show called “Jump Jim Crow” created by Thomas “Daddy” Rice. Rice was a white performer, who for the show, covered his face with charcoal to presumably appear as a black person. With his face blackened, he mocked black people and labeled them a subordinate race. The original Jim Crow Era became most known as a way to degrade the African American race in the late nineteenth century. Despite there being controversy about the exact years the original Jim Crow Era ended, it is understood that the death of Jim Crow occurred approximately during Brown v.
Board of Education (Alexander 35). Though there is obvious debate on the time period in which it ended, by 1945 whites had concluded that the system would have to be “modified, if not entirely overthrown” (Alexander 35). The purpose of the original Jim Crow Era was intended to discriminate and segregate the black community. Alexander says that “segregation laws were proposed as part of the deliberate effort to drive a wedge between poor whites and African Americans” (34).
As slavery came to an end and black people became citizens, white people made it their priority to ensure that white power was still praised and practiced by minorities. With an upset white population, segregation seemed to be the outlet to preserving white power against a potential rise in black power. Extreme measures were taken to prevent black people of any possible success in America. Jim Crow laws made it difficult for blacks to vote, share public spaces, and ultimately, the laws “disenfranchised blacks and discriminated against them in virtually every sphere of life,” and segregation thereafter, was enacted (Alexander 35).
To institute the original Jim Crow, southern whites made it nearly impossible for African Americans to be successful in the States. For example, though black men could vote, they were given tests that were nearly impossible to pass such as literacy tests, they were given the grandfather clause, and incarcerated for “mischief” and “insulting gestures” (31) whose only real escape was to be leased by white people and forced to do free labor as a way to pardon their behavior.
One way or another, southern whites were determined not to break the new laws that favored African Americans but simply, “bend” them enough so it they are still in control of them. Whites also, disenfranchised blacks by discriminating them in their own homes, schools, churches, restaurants and other public places on a daily basis. Alexander suggests that the new Jim Crow era began during 1982, when president Ronald Reagan announced his administration’s War on Drugs: “THE DRUG WAR IS THE NEW JIM CROW” (3).
Judging by its title, the war was based on the so-called drug issues the nation was faced with during the time. This initiated the commence of the era and the government found a loophole to make minorities the “lesser” people. In other words, the focus of the War on Drugs was solely based on the disapproval of the African American race. This new form of Jim Crow still exists in today’s society. The purpose of the new Jim Crow era according to Alexander, is to target people of color and is a “genocidal plan by the government to destroy black people in the United States” (5).
This new version of Jim Crow is as a confirmation to the stereotypical beliefs of minority groups. She believes that new Jim Crow era is a well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner similar to the original Jim Crow (Alexander 3). Similar to the original Jim Crow, the new Jim Crow serves as a way to prohibit the African American race from voting since their criminal background follows them even after their release. In addition, they are excluded from participating in activities or events that other citizens have the opportunity to do.
Incarceration comes with a lot of baggage and consequences of “poverty, racial segregation, unequal educational opportunities, and the presumed realities of the drug market,” all of which Alexander believes to be the justification behind the new Jim Crow (191). Many disagreed with Reagan who believed that drugs were the main concern of the nation and on the same hand believed, as Alexander suggests, that the drug war had little to do with drugs and more to do with concerns about race (49). The possession of drugs and/or drug dealing, led the black population to face petty criminal charges.
Incarceration of minority groups filled up jail cells in large amounts. Consequently, jails became more prone to housing black people than white people. Whites were the main support system to Reagan’s War on Drugs since it underlined that African American men were “under the control of the criminal justice system” (Alexander 56). This new Jim Crow era is best understood as racial discrimination, opposed to the “adaptation to the needs and demands of current political climate,” as it was explained when the War on Drugs began.
Incarcerating primarily within blacks and latinos and putting them under government control is what led Alexander to believe that this is the purpose of the drug war for non-whites.. To support her claim that the War on Drugs is really designed to rob non-whites of the ability to vote, she says that “one in seven black men nationally had lost the right to vote” (193). This is in part because of the felony charges that black men leave jail with. A felony suspends anyone of the right to vote or participate in government elections or polls of any kind.
The statistical data may be alarming however, she also states that this may not be accurate considering the millions of ex-felons who are required to pay fines before gaining their voting rights back (193). Similar to the original Jim Crow era, newly freed slaves had to pay fees in order to vote; it is clear that the War on Drugs was created to redesign a new form of disenfranchisement. Even with this as proof, courts defend their case saying that these restrictions do not exemplify discriminatory behavior because they were enacted after the original Jim Crow era (191).
Although relatively similar, powdered cocaine and coagulated cocaine have differences in effect upon the central nervous system. Crack as explained by Alexander is “converted into a form that can be vaporized and inhaled for a faster, more intense (though shorter) high using less of the drug,” because of this it can be sold in smaller doses and for cheaper prices (page 51). Crack is was used more so like a scapegoat from the realities of the African American experience. It helped escaped from the social problems they faced during the late nineteenth century.
The social problems consisted of unemployment, poor education, lack of resources, violence and the most concurring one, discrimination. Because crack was more affordable, it was easy to get a hold of. Contrary to powdered cocaine that lasts longer, someone who smokes crack experiences a high much shorter but almost instantaneously. Crack is more likely to be addicting and is a stimulant to the nervous systems so it speeds you up. Crack was more often used amongst the African American race than that of powdered cocaine which was used by the white community.
As racism always seem to be the main contributor to the unjust treatment between minorities and the whites, it is no wonder that blacks were given “more severe punishment for distribution of crack” than “powdered cocaine, associated with with whites (Alexander 53). Per usual, crack being the “black drug” and cocaine being the “white drug,” more focus was placed on how crack was damaging society and a more lenient approach was placed on how cocaine could be equally as toxic. As a whole however, there were minimal jail sentences given to those who distributed cocaine.
In conclusion, Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow,” gives a detailed analysis on her findings of how Jim Crow laws still roam our society today. Incarceration has grown in outstanding numbers over the years, targeting minority races within the black and latino communities. The War on Drugs enacted by Ronald Reagan, gave birth to a new form of Jim Crow. With this, America experiences the kind of discrimination that has oppressed the African American culture in specific, and has risked their chances at becoming successful citizens. It is not the crime that is committed but the person who commits it.