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- I think it is precisely the existence of a relative few wealthy, successful African Americans like Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Colin Powell, and even Herman Cain, that creates this mirage of great racial progress even as a system like mass incarceration exists in which millions of poor folks of color are trapped in a permanent undercaste. I think that the existence of Black folks who can be offered as proof that “if you just try hard enough you can make it,” really creates, helps to immunize a system of mass incarceration from serious critique. The appearance that if you try hard enough you can make it, makes it difficult even for many Black folks to view our nation as one that would readily create and sustain a caste-like system again…
- On how the presence of successful Black people may distract from the problem of mass incarceration in “The struggle for racial justice has a long way to go” in the International Socialist Review (May 2012)
- When we look back over the course of our nation’s history, what we see again and again almost like clockwork are these predictable efforts by the wealthy elite to use race as a wedge. To pit poor whites against poor people of color for the benefit of the ruling elite. Many people don’t realize that even slavery as an institution—the emergence of an all-Black system of slavery—was to a large extent the result of plantation owners deliberately trying to pit poor whites against poor Blacks. And ensure that poor whites would not join in any kind of resistance, movement, struggle, or revolt with poor Blacks…
- On the elite’s influence on the poor in in “The struggle for racial justice has a long way to go” in the International Socialist Review (May 2012)
- For children, the era of mass incarceration has meant a tremendous amount of family separation, broken homes, poverty, and a far, far greater level of hopelessness as they see so many of their loved ones cycling in and out of prison. Children who have incarcerated parents are far more likely themselves to be incarcerated…
- On the effect mass incarceration has on children in “Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander” in Truthout (2013 Jun 4)
- Certainly youth of color, particularly those in ghetto communities, find themselves born into the cage. They are born into a community in which the rules, laws, policies, structures of their lives virtually guarantee that they will remain trapped for life.
- “Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander” in Truthout (2013 Jun 4)
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010)
- Page numbers refer to the tenth anniversary edition (2020)
- The political strategy of divide, demonize and conquer has worked for centuries in the United States — since the days of slavery — to keep poor and working people angry at (and fearful of) one another rather than uniting to challenge unjust political and economic systems.
- p. xiv
- 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. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.
- p. 2
Quotes about Michelle Alexander
- The shift that's occurred this time around "wasn't by happenstance," Brittany Packnett Cunningham, an activist and a writer, told me, nor is it only the product of video evidence. "It has been the work of generations of Black activists, Black thinkers, and Black scholars"-people like Angela Davis, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Michelle Alexander, and others-"that has gotten us here. Six years ago, people were not using the phrase 'systemic racism' beyond activist circles and academic circles. And now we are in a place where it is readily on people's lips, where folks from CEOs to grandmothers up the street are talking about it, reading about it, researching on it, listening to conversations about it."
- Adam Serwer, The Cruelty is the Point (2021)