What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt.
-Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
We are now in the time period of what Michelle Alexander labels “The New Jim Crow,” which encompasses mass incarceration, institutional and systematic racism, and a racial cast system. During this era we have witnessed things from police shootings based on suspicion and fear, to mass incarceration of blacks and minorities.
The previous era of Jim Crow laws existed to keep blacks oppressed in order to “keep them in their place” post-slavery. The actions that were taken to enforce this racial caste system included violence and sometimes murder. The idea of racial caste is important because it highlights the difference between the class system and the caste system, but also compares the two on the basis of race. In the US, class consists of economic standing, and can be achieved over time. Some people are mobile within the classes, meaning they move from one class to another due to their economic standing, their wealth accumulation, and value of possessions. The caste system, however, is a system of ascribed status. Within the caste system, people are born into the status they have for the rest of their lives. The caste system parallel with the race system we’ve constructed in the US is an idea that highlights a lot of the issues within the conversation about racial tension in the US. Since slavery, race has been a mark of the status a person has in society. One of my favorite things the famous rapper Kanye West has ever said in his music is, “Even if you in a Benz, you still a ni**a, in a coup (Kanye West, All Falls Down).” The system that has been created in this country tells blacks that no matter what they have achieved, there is still something negative about being black. And this is what Michelle Alexander is talking about when talking about the New Jim Crow.
Mass incarceration has created a new mentality that has simply just tipped off the effects of slavery. If a black child is born into poverty and hopelessness, that is all they know until they are old enough to know beyond the limits of this environment. A young mind affected by such tragic struggle can turn a young heart cold, causing youth to resort to violence and crime as a means to providing for themselves and their family. Faced with a choice between an education and fast money from distributing illicit or illegal drugs, it is rare that any young man put in this position will pick education. With no one enforcing the importance of education, the only idea of education he has is that he isn’t good enough to make it to college. In his mind, why should he go into debt getting an education he cant afford when money is right in front of him? His dad did it, his brother did it, his uncle did, why can’t he? In this scenario, the youth is arrested, and is labeled as a felon. Once released, still labeled as felon, the newly learned black man is released back into society without his right to vote or his right to compete within the job sphere. Some argue that the idea of taking away the Constitutional right to vote from a felon goes hand in hand with the mass incarceration of black men. The coincidence of the correspondence makes this idea seem all too real. This is the vicious cycle of the New Jim Crow.
This cycle has to be infiltrated, and politicians have yet to show that they care about this system. Racial profiling and the rumors spread about it by the media cause greater tension between the black community and law enforcement, which in turn gives those law officials with any bit of racial prejudice an upper hand. The portrayal of blacks in the media has become so negative that the fact that we have black president means absolutely nothing. The so called “War on Drugs” has just made it worse, creating a stereotype for black men that police and law officials have turned to for an excuse of racial profiling and prejudice. A lot of times, this excuse gets an unjustified act by law enforcement brushed over instead of being eligible for an indictment. Black youth are still being beaten, murdered, and oppressed. Until education is fairly spread out to such under-attack communities, the cycle will continue, and more youth will be exposed to a life of imprisonment both mentally and physically.