Do you ever wonder if many of us have been brainwashed into believing that impoverished Blacks, men in particular, are solely to blame for much of the problems we face as a community? Civil rights lawyer and scholar Michelle Alexander’s tireless research indicated just that, as well as a heartbreaking ton of additional facts that are outlined in her latest book, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

In the midst of a thriving law career, Ms. Alexander described an awakening of sorts. Rather than remaining an agent of ‘the game,’ she followed her instinct which led her to detect a larger, more sinister modus operandi of the criminal justice system that looked a lot like Jim Crow for the new millennium. According to Alexander’s findings, many of the tenets of the Jim Crow regime of the not-so-distant past are now accepted as fully legal  – “felon disenfranchisement laws” as she coins it.

Last year we looked at the staggering statistic revealing that more African American adults are under correctional control (in prison, jail, probation or parole) today  than were enslaved in the 1850 – a decade before the Civil War began. Additionally, in 2004 more black men were disenfranchised than in the year 1870. Alexander explains with sobering clarity, that when it comes to the war on drugs & the mass incarceration of black men, the criminal “justice” system is creating an under caste – not to be mistaken with under class. A caste, as she illustrates, is defined as a group of people defined largely by race that are relegated to permanent second class status by law.

During a speech at Riverside Church in New York City, the civil rights activist exposed what she called the biggest myth about mass incarceration: It is not driven by crime rates. In her words, Our prison population quintupled in 30 yrs, from 350,000 to well over 2 mil for reasons that have little to do with crime or crime rates. Crime rates have fluctuated over the years while the prison population (especially African American) continues to soar… Crime and prison population rates move independently of each other.”

As a matter of fact, Alexander claimed emphatically that there are more people in prison today, just for drug convictions, than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980. Drug convictions have increased by more than 1000% since the war on drugs began. Incidentally, this battle has been disproportionately fought in poor communities of color – although it’s a proven fact that black and brown folks are no more likely to use or sell drugs than any other group.

Apparently there are many benefits arresting youth of color. For one, as Alexander explained, “federal funds flow to those state & local law enforcement agencies that boost dramatically the sheer number of people swept into the system.” The emphasis is does not lie with bringing to justice king pins or violent offenders (quantity not quality). The ‘war on drugs’ won public support in large part due to a massive propaganda effort kicked off by the Regan Administration which developed a ‘task force’ to publicize/demonize early victims of the crack era such as “inner city” crack babies, crack dealers, crack whores & crack related violence “in the hopes of making crack a media sensation.” This act, Ms. Alexander said, provided the rationale for these agencies to receive millions of taxpayer funds to carry out the fight.

As her findings indicate a collage of misery, an interesting fact is uncovered that paints black men of this caste in a positive light:

Although a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery she cited a study studies that have found that black fathers that have lived outside of the home (including formerly incarcerated dads), are more likely to be a part of their children’s lives more than any other group.

It’s not a new revelation. In fact, her claim (& that of Michael Eric Dyson) that contradicts the enduring stereotype of the absentee black father was published in the HuffPo 2 years ago – and expanded on in more than one of her enlightening lectures.

Bearing witness to endless debates on who’s to blame for the deterioration of the community, doesn’t it always seem to come down to black men (despite a national law enforcement presence which demonstrates a low regard for folks of color)? Can the work of scholars like Michelle Alexander have a positive effect how we perceive the most troubled in our community, or can we expect more of the same?

Dig Ms. Alexander at Harlem’s Riverside Church…

And on Democracy Now

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  • Great article! I agree wholeheartedly!!

  • L

    You know, because of alot of the experiences I have had with Black men, many of them strangers to me, rap and hip hop music, I can admit I am very biased against Black men and try to avoid them as much as possible. Some Black men may not understand or want to believe it, but you all are not women dealing with Black men- This is my experience. I know this about myself and so always have a running argument in my head when I encounter Black men or have to deal with any issue pertaining to them, i.e.am I being fair, objective,etc. I know my past experiences color how I feel about Black men and how I react to them, including how I react to this article.

    However, If a Black man treats me with respect and kindness I will do the same for him.

    Human nature is human nature…some will never go the criminal route no matter the circumstances and some will take the slightest excuse to rob, rape and murder. Black men are the same. Not excusing but Black people find themselves between a rock and a hard place alot of times….and with all of our myriad issues alot of us seem unable to get a grip on ourselves and our children.

    IMO,the fact is alot of Black people have abdicated their duty as Black people; Meaning, it seems like, no matter where in the world we are, LIFE just happens to us and we are blind sided and left with our mouths open yet again. Dont get me wrong-life is a crapshoot and no one knows what will happen in life and to their life but it seems Black people are always on the outside looking in, we have no safety nets.

    Whites have Europe and America to be powerful and their images are everywhere. Asians have Asia and alot of them who are not successful or feel stifled in America or Europe can go back to Asia and be powerful with their images everywhere in Asia. Indians the same. The difference between them and Blacks is theyve built their infrastructure. Their societies are not perfect and not everyone is happy but their infrastructure is built(they have a financial, mental,supportive,cosmology,etc infrastructure) and can expand and change to suit them. Africans from Africa have some of that but even there they seem to have no safety nets and seem to be on the outside looking in.

    This is magnified for Blacks here and because of our history we seem unable to get a grip. It seems Blacks have nowhere to be POWERFUL! and the good and bad that comes from that. We also seem to be content with that state….which in turn leads to alot of broken homes and communities and people, being prey to the prison industrial complex and crime. We cannot employ or feed ourselves and our people. We seem not to be able to educate, discipline, or have any sort of control over our children….but we can sit and complain and moan about not getting into the club, or not being on that tv show,not having our beauty acknowledged, being thrown in jail, and on and on.

    In short, we have abdicated our duty as Black people; As Africans. We have not built our financial, mental, educational,etc infrastructure; We have no place to be powerful…which leaves us and our children and people prey to everyone and everything.

    • Well said L.

      I think it’s important to note that many Blk people don’t really see themselves as part of “the Blk community”. They see themselves as Americans first then Blk second.

  • TheTuth

    “Although a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery she cited a study studies that have found that black fathers that have lived outside of the home (including formerly incarcerated dads), are more likely to be a part of their children’s lives more than any other group.”

    No matter how many times this fact is repeated women will always ignore it.

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  • marc

    the fact is, that culturally, both black men and women are involved in, as well as support and enable, some INCREDIBLY DUMB BEHAVIOR. for every weak-minded brother involved in selling drugs, you will find an equally weak-minded sister who will compromise their respect, dignity, and even physical safety, to support and enable this nonsense. lets face it, a young crack dealer in a late model car, will probably get a lot more attention from black women, than the brother who is riding the bus to and from a college campus. also too many black folk want to dress better, eat better, drive better, and live better, than a person who sacrificed 8 years in college, while these same folk, dropped out of high school, and treat any form of educational enhancement like the aids virus. i hear sisters complain like hell about black men, when these same sisters wont cook, wont clean, wont take care of their bodies, and cant keep their legs closed if their lives depended on it. brothers want to beef about black women, and yet, will chase booty calls even while engaged to get “married”. we as a people, have a true disrespect for doing things in a righteous, logical, and dignified manner. we are adults who function on the level of 8 year olds. a child does not always see the pitfalls, or dangers in what they want. they just know that THEY WANT WHAT THEY WANT, WHEN THEY WANT IT. I really don’t know the answer to these issues, but I know that it starts with keeping it REAL with ourselves in regards to our shortcomings.