The Age of Mass Incarceration

“Few Americans today recognize mass incarceration for what it is: a new caste system thinly veiled by the cloak of colorblindness.” “One day, civil rights organizations may be embarrassed by how long it took them to move out of denial and do the hard work necessary to end mass incarceration.” (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow)

When first presented with this idea of a ‘new Jim Crow’, I was of course a bit skeptical. The thought that there may be a cyclical caste system that presents itself in many different ways, but ultimately has the same outcome. I had never before thought of mass incarceration as one of these many systems of injustice, meant to destabilize and disassemble black communities. But despite this fact I took it upon myself to begin reading, with an open mind and it didn’t take very long for me to get on board. I will say that my previous skepticism was rooted for a place of ignorance and maybe even a little bit of denial. But as I read I couldn’t help but draw similarities between my own life and the system and the many systemic ways that it disassembles our communities, with us being none the wiser.

Throughout the course of the book Michelle Alexander raises many important points and issues, that I for one had never before thought of. But it is not until the end of the book that she then gives possible solutions to these issues. She discusses mass incarceration and the way that it is deeply woven into our society, and how much work will have to be done if we ever hope to put an end to this. She also brings up today’s civil rights groups and the fact that they are doing little to help the cause, she states that this may be due to the fact that they are still in denial. This is a scary fact but it would not surprise me, considering that before reading this I was in the same position. But if real progress is to be done then we need to rally together to educate our peers, and to right the wrongs that have been done and that are still being committed.

After this reading I feel that my eyes have been opened, I’ve learned a lot which I believe is the first step. So when presented with a critique of this book I expected the author to have had a similar reaction. And although that is not the truth of the matter, I can understand some of the views held by this author. Michelle Alexander while giving a very detailed overview of the history behind and many examples found in today’s society, there are of course somethings over-looked. James Foreman discusses the fact that she tends to avoid any evidence that does not support this idea of mass incarceration being a new reiteration of Jim Crow, and that can be problematic. But all in all I have learned a lot, and education I believe is the first step to creating change.