Jim Crow Laws: Not Such A Thing Of The Past

We have been held to think that racial discrimination is a distant issue. But in her new book, Michelle Alexander writes that it is something still relevant today. Alexander writes that more African-American men are in prison today than were enslaved in the 1800s, which is a staggering statistic.

In Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and her recent interview with Fresh Air, Alexander discusses the fact that although Jim Crow Laws no longer exist, many African-Americans still face the problems of the past.

Alexander states that many of the positive results from the civil rights movement have been damaged by the overwhelming number of black Americans who have been jailed in the so-called War on Drugs. More disturbing is that those who have been convicted on drug charges and served time in jail or prison will continue to see hardship after release, like trouble finding a job because of a criminal record.

Once an individual has been in prison, they're “relegated to a permanent second-class status.” The rights that were granted during the civil rights movement – voting, serving on juries – are stripped. Moreover, those with criminal records face discrimination in employment, access to education and public benefits.

Alexander writes that the War on Drugs caused federal money to flow to state and local law enforcement authorities for one purpose: to increase the amount of drug arrests. This, in turn, gave law enforcement officials an incentive to make those arrests, boosting their arrest numbers and ensuring more federal money. This, Alexander argues, gave rise to racial profiling.

Alexander's argument is backed up by the numbers: According to Alexander, there are more African-Americans in the correctional system than were enslaved in 1850, the decade before the Civil War. The numbers of African-American individuals now going in and out of prisons is in the millions, with more than half of African-American men at working age either serving time in the correctional system or otherwise labeled as “felons.”

There may no longer be “Jim Crow” laws, but there is still a pretty substantial impact on African-Americans in terms of incarceration – which has the effect of recreating those Jim Crow laws.

After all, a criminal record follows people throughout their lives.


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