As the United States celebrates the nations’ “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or labeled felons for life. Jim Crow laws were wiped off the books decades ago, but today an astounding percentage of the African –American community is warehoused in prisons or trapped in a permanent, second-class status – much like their grandparents before them, who lived under an explicit system of control.
In this stunning and incisive critique, civil rights lawyer –turned- legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating black communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary of racial control. In the current era, it is no longer permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. Yet it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. The old forms of discrimination — discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public benefits; denial of the right to vote, and exclusion from jury service –are suddenly legal once you are labeled a felon.