Michelle Alexander

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Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander (October 7, 1967) is a writer, civil rights advocate, and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary.


  • 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…
  • 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…
  • 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…
  • 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…

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