You need to answer ALL of the questions. Consider these questions an opportunity to start working on your essay. Feel free to respond to your classmates’ posts as well.
Note that in this section you are beginning to tackle the SOAPSTone of this book. You will need to address questions of who the speaker is, what has occasioned the writing of this book, who the audience is, what purpose the speaker has, what the subject is, and what tone the speaker takes.
What is the significance of the title and subtitle?
What textual apparatus signals that this is a scholarly book instead of fiction or creative non-fiction?
Who is Michelle Alexander’s intended audience (Read the Preface).
What is Alexander’s goal or purpose with this book (see page 19)?
What techniques does Alexander use to make her ideas accessible to non-specialists?
What is the value of Cornel West’s Foreword?
Why does Alexander begin her book with the story of Jarvious Cotton (page 1)? Put another way what is the relationship between this anecdote and the rest of the book?
In the first two pages, Alexander describes the consequences of incarceration. She revisits some of these consequences on pages 15 and 16. What are the consequences? List them. If you had to describe the consequences of incarceration in ONE sentence, what would that sentence be?
How does the U.S. judicial and penal systems compare to international standards? It might help to review the bottom of page 9.
In your opinion, what should be the function of prisons? In other words, if you had the power to send somebody to prison, what would you want to be the consequence of that decision? What might be other consequences, intended or unintended, of imprisoning individuals? What, according to Alexander, are the actual consequences of incarceration in America (see page 10)?
What, according to Alexander, is black exceptionalism (see pages 16-17 and 26)?
How, according to Alexander, has the racial caste system evolved (see page 27)?
Read the ruling in this 1871 case, Ruffin v. Commonwealth:
“For a time, during his service in the penitentiary, he is in a state of penal servitude to the state. He has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him. He is, for the time being, a slave of the state. He is civiliter mortuus; and his estate, if he has any, is administered like that of a dead man.” (The New Jim Crow, page 39)
Is there any justification in comparing prisoners now to slaves? Does the above argument appear to be in accord with the U.S. Constitution as quoted below?
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, §1
What role does economics play in incarceration and in racial divisions?
According to Alexander, what factors might play a role in incentivizing police prosecution of the war on drugs (see pp. 91-106)?
Alexander argues that the war on drugs and mass incarceration has taken a devastating toll on minority communities. In what ways do these policies hurt minority communities?
Of course, while some individuals and communities have suffered disproportionately because of the war on drugs, other individuals and communities have actually benefitted from these policies. Who are these beneficiaries, and how have they benefitted? Why might they have a vested interest in maintaining not only the war on drugs but also in maintaining a thriving drug trade?
Alexander points out that while violent crime is on the decline, the inmate population has grown at an astounding rate. How is this possible? Also, if, as Alexander notes, young white men are more likely to use drugs and sell drugs than any other demographic, then how can we explain the racial discrepancy in prison populations?
On page 249, Alexander argues that “At its core, then, mass incarceration, like Jim Crow, is a ‘race-making institution.’ It serves to define the meaning and significance of race in America.” Is she right and, if so, how precisely does mass incarceration play a role in “the symbolic production of race”?
At various points in her book, Alexander argues that black exceptionalism (i.e. President Obama, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Mia Love and Ben Carson) and white exceptionalism (white victims of the war on drugs) are absolutely necessary to the continued functioning of the new caste system. How so?
A Marxist interpretation of the war on drugs would probably suggest that the war on drugs is really a façade for class warfare. Is this a justifiable way of interpreting the war on drugs?
Although The New Jim Crow was published in 2012, it may already be out of date in regards to Supreme Court rulings and public (lack of) awareness of police tactics. Any thoughts?
What other choices might the United States have made regarding crime and incarceration instead of the choices it did make?
Was the issue of incarceration fully and fairly dealt with in The New Jim Crow?
As a reader did you find Alexander’s ideas easy to understand? Were there sections that needed more clarification?
Was the book an enjoyable read? Were there issues with style that needed to be addressed?
How do you think this book will stand the test of time? What is its relevance now, and will it prove to be, in the words of Cornell West, “the secular bible of a new social movement?”
Who, if anybody, should be reading this book, and why?
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