The New Jim Crow (Alexander)

I made a mistake. I heard Alexander speak. She didn’t have her notes or slides (lost luggage); she was still amazing. She’s definitely one of the most impressive speakers I’ve ever heard. Between that and reading a summary of this book, I thought I got it; I understood her argument and agreed with it. So why I read the book?

But it nagged at me. And when it came out in paperback, I got it. And, like others, I struggled with what happened to Trayvon Martin, both in life and death. I needed to do something. I needed to better educate myself. So the book came off the shelf.

And I was and am absolutely floored. In 6 compactly written chapters, Alexander makes the case that the so-called War on Drugs is in fact a deliberate method of social control akin to the Jim Crow laws. And she has me absolutely persuaded. (Has anyone written a response?) She proceeds step-by-step from the beginnings of the War on Drugs to the election of Barack Obama to show how King was right – that we need a Poor People’s Movement, that what needs to change is not political or social (things aren’t so clear anymore) – but systemic. And she challenges us to do it and, in Chapter 6, raises questions and ideas that merit serious consideration.

Alexander is careful, too careful at times, to be sure we know that she doesn’t condone crime. One blanket disclaimer would have done it for me. And I could have used a specific example to support her point about re-districting. But these are minor quibbles.

There are no sacred cows here. Alexander criticizes Obama (and says why others are reluctant to and how that’s a problem), affirmative action and civil rights organizations.

Alexander knows you can’t read this book without wanting to do something. So she provides suggestions on her website —

Read this. The world won’t ever look the same again.


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