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The New Jim Crow
by Michelle Alexander

Published: 2012-01-16
Paperback : 336 pages
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Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the election of ...
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Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a "call to action."

Called "stunning" by Pulitzer Prize–winning historian David Levering Lewis, "invaluable" by the Daily Kos, "explosive" by Kirkus, and "profoundly necessary" by the Miami Herald, this updated and revised paperback edition of The New Jim Crow, now with a foreword by Cornel West, is a must-read for all people of conscience.

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Discussion Questions

Recommended by the author: This guide is written by The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow (CENJC), an organizing project of the Riverside Church Prison Ministry.

The questions are divided into questions that focus on the content of the book and discussion questions. Not all issues presented in the Introduction are followed up by questions because later chapters deal with the material in more depth. As you read, it may be helpful to keep a list of rights to which people convicted of drug and other crimes no longer have access.

Content Questions
1. What is Michelle Alexander’s main idea as expressed in the Introduction?
2. What is the rate of incarceration in the US and how does it compare to other countries?
3. What facts about drug use are important when assessing the timing of the War on Drugs?
4. What factors undermined the “Old” Jim Crow system?
5. How does Michelle Alexander assess the impact of the Clinton Presidency on African Americans?
6. What changes were taking place in the African American community and other communities of color that
made them particularly vulnerable to the War on Drugs?
Helpful Terms, Concepts to Know
1. Racialized Caste System
2. Racial Bribe
3. Reconstruction
Discussion Questions
1. What reasons would you have for deciding that the increase in the rate of incarceration reflects the racism in US society?
2. Why have Civil Rights organizations not focused on or have been slow to focus on the issue of racial justice?
3. What strategies have wealthier whites used to divide poor whites from African Americans in the past and in the present?
4. “The current system of control depends on black exceptionalism; it is not disproved or undermined by it.” (p. 14) Do you agree or disagree?

CHAPTERS 2 and 3:

Content Questions
1. What myths and assumptions does the general public believe about the criminal justice system?
2. How have the courts weakened the Fourth Amendment since 1982? Both chapters describe important
decisions. It would be a good idea to have a list of specific decisions. you might find them useful in future
3. What are the problems with pretextural traffic stops? Especially with regard to Operation Pipeline?
4. Why do police departments in the various states prioritize drug arrests?
5. Both the police and prosecutors have a great deal of discretion in their roles. How has this discretion been
6. In what ways is jury selection biased?
Helpful Terms/Concepts to Know
1. “War on Drugs”
2. 14th Amendment to the Constitution
3. Mandatory minimum sentence
4. Pretext stops
5. Consent searches
6. Racial profiling
7. McKlesky vs Kemp
8. Alexander vs Sandoval
9. Purkett vs Elm
Discussion Questions
1. What has been the role of the Supreme Court in addressing racial bias since the beginning of the Drug War?
2. Compare the “Old Jim Crow” system to the “New Jim Crow” system. What similarities? What differences? Purposes? Methods?
3. What do we feel is a reasonable response to those in possession of drugs currently defined as illegal? To those currently selling drugs that are currently defined as illegal?

CHAPTERS 4 and 5:
Content Questions
1. What rights may be taken away as a result of a felony conviction?
2. What are the effects of mass incarceration on the communities which have high incarceration rates?
3. How does Michelle Alexander interpret the development of “gangsta culture?”
Helpful Terms/Concepts to Know
1. Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988
2. Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1978
3. Housing & Urban Development’ “One Strike Guide.”
4. Debt bondage
5. Invisible punishment
6. Racial indifference
7. Political disenfranchisement
Discussion Questions
1. What are the similarities and differences between the “old” and “new” Jim Crow? What differences would be important to take into account when organizing a movement?
2. Alexander summarizes the social meaning of slavery as exploitation, Jim Crow as subordination and Mass Incarceration as marginalization. Does this seem to be an accurate summary and if so, how can marginalization be addressed?
3. How might the social silence around incarceration affect a movement for change? What factors does Alexander feel have caused Americans to deny the fact of mass incarceration of people of color? In what ways might a movement for change want to address them?

Content Questions
1. Why does the success in changing the charges against the Jena 6 not apply to the New Jim Crow?
2. Why have the civil rights organizations been slow to acknowledge the New Jim Crow?
3. What are the problems Michelle Alexander sees with the emphasis of the Civil Rights Movement on
affirmative action?
4. What aspects of the Drug War does Michelle Alexander say must be dismantled?
5. Why does Michelle Alexander believe that conventional strategies for change will not work?
Helpful Terms/Concepts to Know
1. Jena 6
2. Black Exceptionalism
3. Affirmative Action
Discussion Questions
1. Do we agree that that colorblindness is part of the problem? If so, how can this be addressed?
2. What are our thoughts about Alexander’s idea of no longer pursuing affirmative action?
3. Why does Alexander believe that when building a movement the focus should shift from Civil Rights to
Human Rights?
4. What kinds of strategies can be effective in including all, especially poor whites?
5. Is punishment the best or necessary response to crime?
6. How do we change the power structure?
7. What prevents justice from being administered equally and fairly in the United States?
8. How do we engage people in promoting change whose interests are not so immediately involved in
dismantling the system of mass incarceration?
9. In what ways may we help those who have been incarcerated reintegrate into our communities?
10. What next steps do we feel we should take?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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  "The New Jim Crow"by Dani J. (see profile) 05/29/14

This book is a heavy read but it is inspiring in that it opens the door for people to educate themselves on an incarceration caste system that operates in the same manner as Jim Crow. Along with the study... (read more)

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