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The New Jim Crow was initially published with a modest first printing and reasonable expectations for a hard-hitting book on a tough topic. Now, ten-plus printings later, the long-awaited paperback version of the book Lani Guinier calls "brave and bold," and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Levering Lewis calls "stunning," will at last be available. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. Yet, as legal star Michelle Alexander reveals, today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against convicted 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. Featured on The Tavis Smiley Show, Bill Moyers Journal, Democracy Now, and C-Span's Washington Journal, The New Jim Crow has become an overnight phenomenon, sparking a much-needed conversation-including a recent mention by Cornel West on Real Time with Bill Maher -about ways in which our system of mass incarceration has come to resemble systems of racial control from a different era.
"We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it," declares Alexander (of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law, both at Ohio State U.) as she sets forth the case that the old functions of Jim Crow--the legal exclusion of African Americans from civil rights to voting, housing, equal employment opportunities, etc.--are now accomplished through the mass incarceration and subsequent stripping of legal rights of black and brown people at rates that are far disproportionate to their participation in criminal activity. Mass incarceration, in its essence, creates and maintains racial hierarchy much as earlier systems of social control through "a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race." She describes how the so-called "War on Drugs" operates to strip people of rights, shows how racial disparities in criminal justice outcomes are not explainable in terms of crime rates, demonstrates the systems of discrimination that face those released from prison, examines parallels between this system and the old Jim Crow system of legal discrimination, and challenges those who care about civil rights to come to grips with the implications of this new caste system. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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