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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - Michelle Alexander This is not the sort of American exceptionalism to be proud of. The United States has the highest per capita rate of incarceration of any country in the world. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate
That means one of two possibilities. Either we're a country of criminals, or our law makers have an inexplicable fascination with defining crime and punishment in a way that artificially creates criminals. This books says it's the latter.

What do you suppose is so unique about American culture that we would want to create a large prison and ex-con population? Could continuation of a racial cast system left over from our slavery heritage be a possible cause? The author of this book believes that to be the case.

As recently as 1970 there were criminologists who predicted dramatic reductions in future prison populations because there were more effective ways of dealing with criminal behavior. Instead rates of incarceration increased fourfold since then.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:U.S._incarceration_rates_1925_onwards.png

How could the academics be so completely off on their predictions? Politics has a lot to do with it. We have just passed though three decades where any politician who didn't claim to be tougher on crime than his/her opponent had no chance of surviving the next election.

Various survey's show that illegal drug usage rates are roughly equal throughout American society (white youth drug use is actually higher than for black youth). Yet the focus of enforcement of drug laws is almost exclusively aimed at inner city ghettos. Furthermore, American courts have given law enforcement broad arbitrary freedom to search pedestrians and motorists on the slimiest of suspicions. Also, mandatory sentencing guidelines cause punishment of drug offences to exceed that of violent crime in many cases. There's no logic to the situation we're in, and someday Americans will look back on this present era and be as ashamed as we now are for our past slave and Jim Crow eras.

Near the end of the book the author makes some startling statements. I have provided some below. (Some of the following are my paraphrase as I remember them since I'm too lazy to go find the exact quotations.)
1. Racial colorblindness is the problem, not the solution.
2. Affirmative action is a racial bribe.
3. Barack Obama becoming president has done more harm than good to the cause of civil rights.
4. America's institutions continue to create nearly as much racial inequality as existed during Jim Crow.
The above statements may at first appear to be outrageous. However, in the context of the observations and facts presented in this book they can be supported with logical reasoning. I don't have time or space to defend the statements in this review. Only reading the book can do that.

Some of the comments that the author makes near the end of the book reinforce the class divide issues that are described in the book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. LINK TO MY REVIEW

A 1.5 hour lecture by Michelle Alexander can be viewed on line at this llink.

I heard the author of this book, Michelle Alexander, speak in Kansas City on April 25, 2013 at St. Paul School of Theology.