Book Review – The New Jim Crow

I have too many books that I want to read and not enough time. But with certain books, I will make a special effort to carve out time to read them, and that is the case with The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. I had wanted to read this for the past couple of years and I picked up the audiobook edition, narrated by Karen Chilton.

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Here is the blurb:

“Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.”

As the United States celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status–much like their grandparents before them.

In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community–and all of us–to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

I remember learning about the “War on Drugs” since I grew up primarily in the 1980’s. Living near Washington, D.C., I saw local news coverage of the crack epidemic there, and I remember how it was all portrayed in a rather sensationalized manner. In The New Jim Crow, the author relates the history of drug policy and how the creation of laws that were not inherently racist allowed police and prosecutors to use them in a biased fashion that ultimately led to the mass incarceration of disproportionate numbers of black men in America.

The author makes many valid points and it was easy to follow the logic of her argument. However, I feel like the book belabors the point and that some of her conclusions could have been made more concisely. Overall, for a book on a similar topic, I found Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson to be a better read.

The audiobook narration was effective. I often turn to audiobooks when I read non-fiction because I have an easier time keeping up my reading momentum in this genre. The recording was clear and I listened to it at a normal speed.

Have you read The New Jim Crow? Let me know in the comments above. Do you have any suggestions for what should I read next on this subject?

Find more of my book reviews here.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. William Edinger
    Jan 13, 2023 @ 07:31:21

    When I bought this book, I assumed it would be simple to read and something I could finish before moving on to the next book on my list. The book is extremely enlightening, intelligent, and fascinating. In order to be sure I am quoting a statistic Ms. Alexander has brought up that I believe someone needs to be aware of, I make notes in the margin, underline passages, and highlight data. Although reading this book has taken longer than I had anticipated due to my eccentricities, I am enjoying it. I consider it to be a textbook, but one that I want to read, discuss, and tell others about. then for me


  2. Amber Andrew
    Aug 08, 2023 @ 17:24:30

    I cannot say I “enjoyed” this book. But I can say I am grateful it was recommended to me and that I read it.

    My eyes were opened to how little I understand about an enormous problem that is right in front of me. Reading this book made me feel depressed and overwhelmed at times. But achieving awareness is a critical first step in being able to make decisions that help to move things in a more positive direction.

    The book is well written. There are many legal references to back up statements made. Several perspectives are offered in many areas.

    The bottom line is that a messed up focus on Mass Incarceration has become embedded in our “justice” system, creating much greater harm than good. Many of us don’t even realize this. And once we do, where do we go from there?


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