“The New Jim Crow” (2010), by American civil rights lawyer and law professor Michelle Alexander, lays out how the fall of the old Jim Crow led to the rise of the New Jim Crow: the War on Drugs and its mass incarceration. Black men in the US are put in prison at a rate unheard of elsewhere in the world, even in totalitarian regimes, even in the US before 1970. Because it is not about fighting drugs or crime: it is about screwing up Blacks so they remain at the bottom of US society.
The civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s overthrew Jim Crow laws, but it made two huge, huge mistakes:
- It left White racism itself untouched.
- It gave the White working class no stake in the new order.
Black slavery, Jim Crow and the War on Drugs are not about Black people: they are about White people, in particular the White working class. By keeping Blacks at the bottom, the White working class has a stake in the social order, a reason not to vote their class interests, a reason not to rise up against the rich. No matter now bad it gets, they can always tell themselves: “At least I’m not a nigger.”
The civil rights movement took that away from them and gave them nothing in return. That left them wide open to racist dog whistles from people like Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Clinton who promised “law and order” and getting “tough on crime”. That led to the War on Drugs, military-style policing, draconian drug laws and the consequent mass incarceration.
Going to prison is not even the worst of it: it is being branded a felon for life. You are damaged goods. Even churches and civil rights lawyers will want little to do with you, much less employers. Most professional licences are out. So is public housing for five years and food stamps for ever. Etc. You are never allowed to get a fresh start. In most cases you are back in prison within five years. You have fallen into an underclass designed by White-backlash lawmakers. Welcome to the New Jim Crow.
Even Blacks who never go to prison, or never have anyone in their family who did, are affected. Blacks are locked up at such high rates that all Blacks fall under suspicion of being possible criminals. So much so that a White felon has a better chance of getting a job than an equally qualified Black non-felon.
Even though drug laws are completely colour-blind and even though Whites and Blacks use drugs at about the same rate, Blacks are still way more likely to be stopped, to be searched, to be arrested, to be found guilty and to be sent to prison for a long time. That is because the Supreme Court has made it nearly impossible to prove that the police or the courts are racist. So the racism of prosecutors, judges and police officers runs wild.
– Abagond, 2016.
- American Violet – the movie version, pretty much
- mass incarceration
- Jim Crow
- colour-blind racism
- race and the White working class:
- The N-word
- The three pillars of American White supremacy