by Leslie Willis
Member, Kimball Avenue Church
REVIEW: The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
This book masterfully details the huge leap in the numbers of people, especially people of color, who have been jailed in the last few decades, mostly under the auspices of the war on drugs.
I think this book is also great in exposing the prison industry as a moneymaking industry and especially as a political tool to keep down the most oppressed section of our population. For these reasons alone, every person of conscience should read this book.
One thing I’d like to add is that although the author’s concentration is on showing how mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow for African Americans – what it ends up showing us is the danger to the whole society. An example is the case of the judges found guilty of selling kids for cash into juvenile detention centers. Petty events were characterized as crimes and juveniles received long sentences. Young lives were ruined, there was a suicide connected to this trauma and family traumas were rife. This case received so much attention (a book – a documentary – not to mention a court case with convictions) perhaps because it involved a lot of white teens in the community. (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 2011)
This book discusses the Civil War and in our discussion it became apparent to me that Slavery was a system that insured huge profits off of this labor during the developmental years of industrialization. Slave labor was free and the products it produced like cotton were the backbone of northern industry. Northern industry developed world trade with the commodities, it produced, turning the U.S. into a world power.
After the abolition of slavery, Jim Crow was a method of guaranteeing those profits and maintaining control of the descendants of slaves. In the South, social privileges given to whites were the price they paid for low wages for everyone. As industrialization continued Jim Crow had to go to make way for an integrated work force in the low wage factories that became based in the South.
Today, mass incarceration is happening as the electronic revolution is transforming our society. I believe this to be because the introduction of computers and robotics is causing unsolvable contradictions under the current system that we have for the distribution of goods and services. It is now possible to produce things faster, better and with little to no labor involved. If people are not employed then they have no wages to consume the huge amount of goods produced.
What becomes clear in this book is that profiteers along with the cooperation of our government are now warehousing people that they have no jobs for and by privatizing the prisons there’s a buck to be made during the process. These people, the new disposed of our society, come out of prison stripped of their rights and disenfranchised.
Finally, this book convinced me that it really is up to people of conscience, and one hopes that we are talking about the faith community, to become well informed so that we can speak out about this painful, unnecessary, inhuman practice of caging America’s young adults.
Leslie Willis is a member at Kimball Avenue Church. This review was prepared for a discussion of The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance member congregations.
[To learn more about this book, see An Introduction to Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" by Matthew T. Avery.]