In the book “The new Jim Crow” author Michelle Alexander goes in great about a race-related social, political, and legal phenomena, which is mass incarceration. Mass incarceration is the new form of Jim Crow laws because of its effects are not only similar but in its new form more effective. Mass Incarceration causes racial segregation, racial discrimination, and hinders the advancement of a people 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.” In the following paragraphs you will learn of the origins of these inhibitory laws as well as how these laws affect African Americans socially, politically, and economically. Black Codes were the beginning of legal oppression. These codes were designed to restrict freed blacks’ activity and ensure their availability as a labor force now that slavery had been abolished. For instance, many states required blacks to sign yearly labor contracts; if they refused, they risked being arrested as vagrants and fined and forced into unpaid labor. This was due to one of the defining features of the Black Codes, which was vagrancy law which allowed local authorities to arrest freed blacks and commit them to involuntary labor through convict leasing. Land owners, corporations, and organizations would pay the inmates fines and in return inmates were supposed to work there debt off, a debt that was never ending for most blacks. Post emancipation proclamation African Americans again were in a place of servitude and sub-ordinate status, giving whites of that time a control over African Americans once again without it be called slavery. In 1866 this form of control was legally ended and African Americans were officially free from bondage, but how long would white supremacist let go of their grasp of control and superiority? Not for long following Black Codes were The Jim Crow laws, which were state and local laws in the United States, enacted between 1876 and 1965. The law made racial separation in all public facilities in Southern states of the former Confederacy legal. This began in 1890, a “separate but equal” status for African Americans. The separation led to conditions for African Americans that were inferior to those provided for white, organizing by law a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages. This form of segregation mainly applied to the Southern United States. Northern segregation was generally geared towards segregation in housing enforced by covenants, bank lending practices, and job discrimination, including discriminatory union practices for decades. This makes black advancement in social, economic, and political areas extremely difficult.
Once again putting white’s in a position of control as well as giving them advantages which would essentially advance their race while trying to impede the growth of the African American, creating that racial caste system because Jim Crow made race and class one. As a people how could we truly compete in society, in the work force, or in the political arena? Jim Crow was an effective form of control that not only separated blacks and whites but ensured blacks would stay in the middle or low class. Despite the restrictions Martin Luther King Jr and the civil rights movement efforts Jim Crow laws were brought to its end. After the elimination of the Jim Crow laws it seemed white supremacy was at its end and blacks were on the rise. From the looks of America today with a Black president you would think it would be next to impossible for racial oppression to occur. What “The New Jim Crow” explains is how the oppression of minorities still exists and how it’s going on right before our eyes, calling it “The New Jim Crow.” This new “Jim Crow” the book speaks of comes in the form of Mass incarceration. Currently America has the highest incarceration rate out of all the countries in the world. As of 2009 the incarceration rate was 743 per 100,000 people were being arrested and imprisoned an astonishing fact considering we’re entering the year 2014 and the numbers could have only increased. You may ask how mass incarceration could be the new “Jim Crow” when people of all creeds and colors are in prison. Well shockingly “The United States has imprisoned more African Americans then South Africa during the Apartheid.” Even then you might still be asking how a high rate of African Americans going to prison could be considered the new “Jim Crow” people commit crimes and they have to pay the consequence, but contrary to your belief our American judicial system as well as our American society is set it up so that high rates of African Americans are arrested to once again impede the advancement of the people. Once you’ve become a felon and released back into the real world you are a second class citizen. Socially your stigmatized, economic opportunity is scarce, and politically your voice and opinion doesn’t matter anymore. This is a form of control, which is why mass imprisonment is the new form of oppression to the African American community because it creates legal discrimination towards a certain racial group. Mass incarceration affects a majority of African Americans through the so called “war on drugs” or “war on crime.” This war on drugs and crime turns into the never ending cycle of oppression to African Americans that ensures a sub-ordinate status through where they live, American law, and customs. These wars are focused at the black community due to the stigmatisms put on African Americans and their communities by Nixon and other conservatives during his presidency.
Since then the focus of American police hasn’t left urban neighborhoods, most police drug operations are in “poor communities of color” along with this police are rewarded for the amount of people they can sweep into the criminal justice system, effectively ensuring those arrested are black and brown. This process marks the beginning of the cycle referred to as the “Round up.” Once arrested and convicted you are now under the control of the often used figurative term “The Man” which refers to whites in power. Your life is now under new rules and sanctions are put on your life to ensure your obedience to American law, which is why it’s said your life is still under just as much control out of prison as it is when you’re in prison. These sanctions are put on you by law instead of being put on criminals after evaluation of their crimes and the sentencing they received, so regardless of the severity a person who steals a candy bar and is convicted receives the same treatment as a killer. This shows how the law is made to ensure criminals, who are primarily black, does not enter mainstream society, which is primarily white. The restriction from mainstream society is what creates the racial caste system similar to Jim Crow because it effectively separates blacks and whites in many different ways. One way is through the sanctions put on a felon’s life. Ex-cons rarely advance in life after being released from prison to better neighborhoods and live better lives. This is through the legal discrimination allowed after becoming a felon a majority of high paying jobs in corporate America as well lower paying will not accept a felon. In result many blacks are stuck in these “ghettos” that are filled with majority minorities away from predominantly white neighborhoods with more resources and opportunity ensuring another generation of African Americans will be born and raised in that same environment as his father increasing the chances this same process to occur in another generation. Another way would be while incarcerated you are away from home and society in a cage away from any real population, this separation is harsher than that of the Jim Crow laws. Also once released that same separation is in place not only because of the sanctions put on a felon’s life but also by where a felon returns. Most ex-convicts live in impoverished urban areas where they return to. These “ghettos’ themselves are a form a control because they are areas that marginalize the people who inhabit through the lack of opportunity, employment, and lack luster education, which is a primary reason for kids involvement in drug activity because the most accomplished person in their neighborhood who isn’t struggling is a drug dealer. When returning to this type of environment improvement is difficult and return to prison is almost imminent, senior executive at Chicago Metropolis states “It’s hard for parolees to even walk to the corner store to get milk without being subject to a parole violation.” Meaning after leaving prison your chances of returning are likely. This segregation through felon disenfranchisement works exactly the same way as Jim Crow because it makes race in class one. Blacks our strategically kept at middle or lower class through these laws, there always a few success stories, but the majority are kept at these levels of class due to the effects of these laws on many minorities lives. This is the reason for many black stereotypes, blacks our always portrayed in the media as drug dealers, killers, and overall just unproductive citizen. Along with the statistics showing that majority of the jails prisoners are black coming from urban areas stigmas are easily placed upon the race.
All these factors work in combination with the pursuit of African Americans by law enforcement and the discrimination from some employers from these images alone regardless of the fact of being a felon, because once again like Jim Crow race is connected with a class as well as image, making black the color of the criminal in the eyes of mainstream society. Another form of discrimination is Political disenfranchisement. During the Jim Crow era African Americans were denied the right to vote through various racially discriminatory devices like poll tax, literacy test, and Father Clauses. Also blacks were excluded from jury taking away black’s rightful place in the legal system as American citizens. Today the device in use is the Felony Disenfranchisement laws, which acts as a combination of the previous devices having the same effect as Jim Crow. Felon disenfranchisement takes away your right to vote and excludes you from jury. Author Michelle Alexander says “Felon Disenfranchisement laws have been more effective in eliminating black voters in the age of mass incarceration then during the Jim Crow era,” While legal scholar Pamela Karan also states “felony disenfranchisement has decimated the potential black electorate.” Through felony disenfranchisement the new ‘Jim Crow” the book speaks of is in effect, the law of our land says felons aren’t allowed to vote despite the 15th amendment stating “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied . . . on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” An Amendment our country is built on is ignored because our government has made it a custom to deny these rights, which now appears to be law. Even poll taxes that were over with 100’s of years ago still exist secretly through our political system. Millions of ex-felons who would like to restore their voting rights cannot, why? Because of the fines and fees you have to pay for before restoration, which is our laws new form of poll tax. In the past African Americans couldn’t vote because they were too poor to pay poll tax ironically this happens today because of ex-felon discrimination in the working world that impedes his/her economic increase. How can you pay your outrageous fines and fees to restore your voting when your job less and can’t find a job because of your status as a prior felon. Placing becoming a voter again and having a voice financially out of reach for many African Americans.
Lastly is the jail system itself the two billion dollar industry in America. American prisons are the closest thing to slavery still remaining in America. As a prisoner you’re told when to wake up and sleep your entire life is under someone else’s control you no longer have freedom. You have no choice of meals your fed what is made and treated how guards and wardens see fit, which is reminiscent of times of slavery. Inmates in prison our leased out just like during the black codes working for next to nothing. Major corporations use prison as a form of outsourcing, billion dollar industries taking advantage of prison laborers only to make more money. So through mass incarnation many blacks’ lives are taken away and given to the state and corporations only for the profit of each industry. Author Michelle Alexander clearly explains how the African American is still under control under rules that were said to be abolished many years ago. Mass incarceration is a quiet epidemic that accurately mimics Jim Crow. Socially, politically, and economically African Americans are still being segregated from whites. Which makes it clear that through American laws, customs, and institutions Jim Crow exist and is effectively working together to ensure the sub-ordinate status in America.
Courtney from Study Moose
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