Michelle Alexander wrote a thought provocative book “The New Jim Crow. This is documentation about race and incarceration. In this book, Michelle tries to challenge the civil rights community and the public to keep in mind mass incarceration as a transformation for racial justice in the entire country. The opening remarks of the book focus on her personal thought and desire for a change among Americans to attain racial justice. She says that just because nearly half of the young African American men all over the country are under the effect of the criminal justice system, it is not an indicator for poverty or irrational decisions. This is an indication of a new racial social order in place. In this discussion, I will carry out a critical analysis of Michelle’s thoughts (Alexander, 2010, p. 71).
To address his central theme, the author draws an example to her son. According to her, it was painful to see her son, with many achievements not only in education but also in sports, to appear before the court in chains from Illinois prison (Back & Solomos, 2000, p. 65). This was a true depiction of the African American people coming to the American continent from Africa in chains. The only relief that Michelle gets is when her son receives a four months sentence as opposed to the 30 years that he was supposed to serve in prison. This would not have been the case for most African American parents. However, there are yet traces of stigma and incarceration in Michelle’s son. This happens in spite of him getting good employment. The message driven home at this point is that most African American men faced a lot of discrimination and hardship in the event of law and justice. It would be imperative to look at Michelle’s assertions in a systematic manner.
Michelle passes a critical message in the introduction of her book. She acknowledges the fact that the book will face many criticisms because whatever she addressed existed, yet people buried their heads in the sand, as thought there was no incarceration and discrimination. According to her, some people would have diverse views about incarceration of the African Americans, as racial order would appear exaggerated. As a result, Michelle puts emphasis on the “Jim Crow and Slavery” as reflecting social order systems (Glasgow, 1981, p. 61).
From a critical point of view, the author provides a wide range of statistics to support her assertions. She stated that the United States of America had an elevated form of incarceration universally. The level was in fact the highest compared to many developed states, including the highly repressive regimes like China and Russia. It makes sense when she draws such comparisons to bring out the actual picture of how Americans having African descend faced social injustices in the event of justice. A good example in the comparison was Germany. She reveals that out of a hundred thousand adults in Germany, only 93 people are imprisoned. This is far much lower than the case in the USA (Bowling & Phillips, 2002, p. 34). The US statistics indicate that about 750 people out of 100,000 face years of imprisonment. The author of this book also unveils the dangers associated with discriminatory acts like charges for imprisonment. She says that a number of states in the United States of America charge higher rates on drugs for the black people as compared to the white people. The social order incarceration comes out in the research fields as well. At any moment, scholars write literature on the possibility of people engaging in drug and substance abuse, indicating high possibilities of blacks as opposed to the white youth. These figures, no matter how invalid they may appear, the mass embrace the figure without questioning.
Perhaps the most significant element in Michelle’s introduction of this book is in the assertion that mass incarceration functions as a closed network system of laws, regulations, conventions, and organizations. These factors work together to make sure that the subordinate condition of a group operates largely based on racial boundaries. According to her, the countries founders who are the African Americans constantly remain under the control of institutions like slavery and Jim Crow. These institutions though seem to die; they are reborn in other forms associated to the requirements and conflicts of the specific period (Bhattacharyya, Gabriel & Small, 2002, p. 99). For a better assessment of the book, and its propositions, understanding the history and idea of Jim Crow is critical.
Historically, Jim Crow was a name for the racial social order that operated between 1877 and the 1960s. This movement went beyond mere anti-black regulations. It formed part of people’s lives. During this movement, there was widespread relegation of the African American status to suit the second-class social order. This regime offered legitimization of such anti-black racism. This movement enabled the author to grow with a consideration of such terms stereotyped to African Americans. It was common for the blacks to be called names such as Dogs, Negros, and Mexicans and so on.
As the book progresses, the author embarks on more succinct ideas. She points out that the stigma associated with prison revolt is in many facets more traumatic to the Americans of African descends as compared to the shame and trauma that came about because of Jim Crow. In essence, the black community turns against itself following the impact of Jim Crow. Central to such moves of betrayal is the fact that there is widespread criminalization and demonization of the African American men (Alexander, 2010, p. 102). These people end up destabilizing social and family relationships. In addition, the society during Jim Crow decimated links of mutual support as they intensified that trauma and low self-esteem as seen in Pariah social order. This point is true because of the possibilities of a majority of Americans with African origin experienced more than one side of life. Some of the people as it is evident were born during the Jim Crow regime as well as attended to incarcerated inmates in states like Illinois. However, I believe that Jim Crow had much more adverse effects to the black Americans to compare to the incarceration stigma. This makes it hard to imagine the shame and stigma of the prison incarceration as having serious effects to the African American community than that linked to Jim Crow.
There were horrible legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. This legacy reveals numerous executions of African American men (Bonnett, 2000, p. 50). Therefore, Alexander Michelle’s book assesses and criticizes race. The work justifies a legal, economic and social disparity between the whites and the blacks. In chapter five of the book, there is an exploration of variations among Jim Crow, slavery and mass incarceration. It is evident that mass incarceration focuses on warehousing a people perceived disposable. These people according to the whites are unnecessary to the operation of the novel global economy. However, the initial systems of management focused on exploitation and control f the African American laborers.
A point of interest at this level is that the incarcerated black people in America have names and faces. Michelle talks about young people like Christopher Greene, a young African American man with the history of mental distortion. Others like Mustafa Abdullah recently left prison due to changes in the sentencing guidelines. In the book, the author achieves in exposing those people promoting exploitation of the incarcerated for personal economic gains. This happens within people’s social contexts, and gives reason as to why it is more harmful to the victims than exploitation emanating from outside (Bonnett, 2000, p. 53).
It is surprising that the author quotes Clinton, apart from any other president, as having pioneered the current low social class order. This is evident in Michelle’s statement, “To the contrary, in 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton vowed he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he (Back & Solomos, 2000, p. 77)” This appears like a joke but the president stood true to his word. A few weeks before the crucial New Hampshire Primary, the president decided to fly home so that he could oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector. This was a mentally retarded African American, who did not understand a single incident of what was about to happen to him during the execution. He in fact requested for a dessert from his last meal so that he could have nothing but dessert until the following morning. The president simply said that he could be blamed a lot. However, it was not within him to be associated with softness concerning crime (Auletta, 1982, p. 41).
Execution of this African American man finds relieve in what Michelle writes in her book. It is as if she admonishes this act as being a violation of human rights. According to her, mentally ill persons should have an opportunity lead a normal life. This can only happen through treatment in alternative facilities specifically designed for them instead of being subjected to imprisonment and execution (Bonilla-Sliva, 2006, pg 213). She argues that imprisonment of such people in society may alleviate their condition particularly keeping in mind the poor prison circumstances. Whereas some people may find Michelle’s position on crime as being soft, she makes sense in creating a difference between black and white prisoners as well as mentally retarded prisoners. A critical analysis of her point of view reveals that she might find resistance from her own household. She indicates that her own husband differs with her on such a controversial issue.
Michelle’s major concern is on the widespread prosecutorial misconduct when it comes to African American men being accused of crime (Barker, 1982, p. 168). This explains why there is a difference between the statistics mentioned earlier about blacks and whites in criminal records as well as incidences of incarceration. On the other hand, a clear argument can emanate against the propositions of Michelle. This has a bearing on the transformations realized in the legal system since the collapse of the Jim Crow. Failure of the system has very little in connection to the basic structure of the contemporary society. During colorblindness, it was not socially acceptable to use race, exclusively, as a rationale for discrimination. This affects exclusion and social contempt. As a result, the contemporary system of justice still labels people of color criminals and turn to activities that do not still stand the test of time.
The current legal system still has traces of legitimate segregation against criminals in nearly all spheres. This opposes the initial system of discrimination against African American men only. In the current legal system, any person labeled criminal faces discrimination. It would be difficult for such people to get employment opportunities, housing facilities, or even they may never get a chance to take part in voting activity. This implies that such people cannot exercise their civil rights based on their criminal records (Anthias & Lloyd, 2002, p. 214). Their interaction to the public is minimal for fear of corrupting the otherwise pure minds. An evaluation of the current legal system reveals that Michelle’s work favored one race in itself. Much of the focus was on African Americans leading to alteration of the constitution in legal justice matters to incline to African American populace. Currently, a criminal has scarcely any rights and as a result, there is little respect accorded to them. This is in fact worse when compared to the African American men living in Alabama in the advent of Jim Crow. It is not true that American is in racial caste. The reality is that there is a redesign of the entire system of discrimination. If a person read the book ten years earlier, it could be difficult to reach a reasonable conclusion. The author is to some level subjective and presenting the whites as inhumane and insensitive people.