PSYC 3005 University of South Florida Ch 5 The New Jim Crow Reflection Paper Write a critical 2-4pg reflection on Chapter 5 of The New Jim Crow (Critical r

PSYC 3005 University of South Florida Ch 5 The New Jim Crow Reflection Paper Write a critical 2-4pg reflection on Chapter 5 of The New Jim Crow (Critical reflation 5)

12 pt font, Times New Roman, Double-spaced (in a Word doc if possible)
Title (be creative, I really enjoyed the ones from last assignment)
2-4 pages
Be sure to identify and analyze the author’s major points (at least 2)
Why might the author call today’s criminal justice system “The New Jim Crow” considering what we learned in this class about the Jim Crow era
Do you agree? Why or why not? What are some similarities? What are the differences?
One academic outside source to back your claims or the author’s points (you may use the text book as a source) 5
The New Jim Crow
I
t was no ordinary Sunday morning when presidential candidate
Barack Obama stepped to the podium at the Apostolic Church of
God in Chicago. It was Father’s Day. Hundreds of enthusiastic con-
gregants packed the pews at the overwhelmingly black church eager
to hear what the first black Democratic nominee for president of the
United States had to say.
The message was a familiar one: black men should be better fathers.
Too many are absent from their homes. For those in the audience,
Obama’s speech was an old tune sung by an exciting new performCopyright © 2020. The New Press. All rights reserved.
er. His message of personal responsibility, particularly as it relates to
fatherhood, was anything but new; it had been delivered countless
times by black ministers in churches across America. The message had
also been delivered on a national stage by celebrities such as Bill Cosby
and Sidney Poitier. And the message had been delivered with great passion by Louis Farrakhan, who more than a decade earlier summoned
one million black men to Washington, DC, for a day of “atonement”
and recommitment to their families and communities.
The mainstream media, however, treated the event as big news, and
many pundits seemed surprised that the black congregants actually
applauded the message. For them, it was remarkable that black people
nodded in approval when Obama said: “If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that too many fathers are missing—missing from
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
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T HE N E W J IM CROW
too many lives and too many homes. Too many fathers are MIA. Too
many fathers are AWOL. They have abandoned their responsibilities.
They’re acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our
families are weaker because of it. You and I know this is true everywhere, but nowhere is this more true than in the African American
community.”
The media did not ask—and Obama did not tell—where the missing
fathers might be found.
The following day, social critic and sociologist Michael Eric Dyson
published a critique of Obama’s speech in Time magazine. He pointed
out that the stereotype of black men being poor fathers may well be
false. Research by Boston College social psychologist Rebekah Levine
Coley found that black fathers not living at home are more likely to
keep in contact with their children than fathers of any other ethnic
or racial group. Dyson chided Obama for evoking a black stereotype
for political gain, pointing out that “Obama’s words may have been
spoken to black folk, but they were aimed at those whites still on the
fence about whom to send to the White House.”1 Dyson’s critique was
a fair one, but like other media commentators, he remained silent
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about where all the absent black fathers could be found. He identified numerous social problems plaguing black families, such as high
levels of unemployment, discriminatory mortgage practices, and the
gutting of early-childhood learning programs. Not a word was said
about prisons.
The public discourse regarding “missing black fathers” closely parallels the debate about the lack of eligible black men for marriage. The
majority of black women are unmarried today, including 70 percent of
professional black women.2 “Where have all the black men gone?” is a
common refrain heard among black women frustrated in their efforts
to find life partners.
The sense that black men have disappeared is rooted in reality. The
U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2002 that there are nearly 3 million
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
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T HE N E W J IM CROW
223
more black adult women than men in black communities across the
United States, a gender gap of 26 percent.3 In many urban areas, the
gap is far worse, rising to more than 37 percent in places like New
York City. The comparable disparity for whites in the United States is
8 percent.4 Although a million black men can be found in prisons and
jails, public acknowledgment of the role of the criminal justice system
in “disappearing” black men is surprisingly rare. Even in the black
media—which is generally more willing to raise and tackle issues
related to criminal justice—an eerie silence can often be found.5
Ebony magazine, for example, ran an article in December 2006 entitled “Where Have the Black Men Gone?” The author posed the popular
question but never answered it.6 He suggested we will find our black
men when we rediscover God, family, and self-respect. A more cynical
approach was taken by Tyra Banks, the popular talk show host, who
devoted a show in May 2008 to the recurring question, “Where Have
All the Good Black Men Gone?” She wondered aloud whether black
women are unable to find “good black men” because too many of them
are gay or dating white women. No mention was made of the War on
Drugs or mass incarceration.
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The fact that Barack Obama can give a speech on Father’s Day dedicated to the subject of fathers who are “AWOL” without ever acknowledging that the majority of young black men in many large urban areas
are currently under the control of the criminal justice system is disturbing, to say the least. What is more problematic, though, is that
hardly anyone in the mainstream media noticed the oversight. One
might not expect serious analysis from Tyra Banks, but shouldn’t we
expect a bit more from The New York Times and CNN? Hundreds of
thousands of black men are unable to be good fathers for their children, not because of a lack of commitment or desire but because they
are warehoused in prisons, locked in cages. They did not walk out on
their families voluntarily; they were taken away in handcuffs, often
due to a massive federal program known as the War on Drugs.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
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T HE N E W J IM CROW
More African American adults are under correctional control
today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved
in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.7 The mass incarceration
of people of color is a big part of the reason that a black child born
today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child
born during slavery.8 The absence of black fathers from families across
America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much
time watching Sports Center. Thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are
largely ignored when committed by whites.
The clock has been turned back on racial progress in America,
though scarcely anyone seems to notice. All eyes are fixed on people
like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, who have defied the odds and
risen to power, fame, and fortune. For those left behind, especially
those within prison walls, the celebration of racial triumph in America
must seem a tad premature. More black men are imprisoned today
than at any other moment in our nation’s history. More are disenfranchised today than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis
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of race.9 Young black men today may be just as likely to suffer discrimination in employment, housing, public benefits, and jury service
as a black man in the Jim Crow era—discrimination that is perfectly
legal, because it is based on one’s criminal record.
This is the new normal, the new racial equilibrium.
The launching of the War on Drugs and the initial construction
of the new system required the expenditure of tremendous political
initiative and resources. Media campaigns were waged; politicians
blasted “soft” judges and enacted harsh sentencing laws; poor people
of color were vilified. The system now, however, requires very little
maintenance or justification. In fact, if you are white and middle class,
you might not even realize the drug war is still going on. Most high
school and college students today have no recollection of the political
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
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T HE N E W J IM CROW
225
and media frenzy surrounding the drug war in the early years. They
were young children when the war was declared, or not even born yet.
Crack is out; terrorism is in.
Today, the political fanfare and the vehement, racialized rhetoric
regarding crime and drugs are no longer necessary. Mass incarceration
has been normalized, and all of the racial stereotypes and assumptions
that gave rise to the system are now embraced (or at least internalized)
by people of all colors, from all walks of life, and in every major political party. We may wonder aloud, “where have the black men gone?”
but deep down we already know. It is simply taken for granted that,
in cities like Baltimore and Chicago, the vast majority of young black
men are currently under the control of the criminal justice system or
branded criminals for life. This extraordinary circumstance—unheard
of in the rest of the world—is treated here in America as a basic fact of
life, as normal as separate water fountains were just a half century ago.
States of Denial
The claim that we really know where all the black men have gone may
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inspire considerable doubt. If we know, why do we feign ignorance?
Could it be that most people really don’t know? Is it possible that
the roundup, lockdown, and exclusion of black men en masse from
the body politic has occurred largely unnoticed? The answer is yes
and no.
Much has been written about the ways in which people manage to
deny, even to themselves, that extraordinary atrocities, racial oppression, and other forms of human suffering have occurred or are occurring. Criminologist Stanley Cohen wrote perhaps the most important
book on the subject, States of Denial. The book examines how individuals and institutions—victims, perpetrators, and bystanders—know
about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts. They see only what
they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest. This has
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
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T HE N E W J IM CROW
been true about slavery, genocide, torture, and every form of systemic
oppression.
Cohen emphasizes that denial, though deplorable, is complicated. It
is not simply a matter of refusing to acknowledge an obvious, though
uncomfortable, truth. Many people “know” and “not-know” the truth
about human suffering at the same time. In his words, “Denial may be
neither a matter of telling the truth nor intentionally telling a lie. There
seem to be states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know
and don’t know at the same time.”10
Today, most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass
incarceration. For more than three decades, images of black men in
handcuffs have been a regular staple of the evening news. We know
that large numbers of black men have been locked in cages. In fact, it
is precisely because we know that black and brown people are far more
likely to be imprisoned that we, as a nation, have not cared too much
about it. We tell ourselves they “deserve” their fate, even though we
know—and don’t know—that whites are just as likely to commit many
crimes, especially drug crimes. We know that people released from
prison face a lifetime of discrimination, scorn, and exclusion, and yet
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we claim not to know that an undercaste exists. We know and we don’t
know at the same time.
Upon reflection, it is relatively easy to understand how Americans
come to deny the evils of mass incarceration. Denial is facilitated by
persistent racial segregation in housing and schools, by political demagoguery, by racialized media imagery, and by the ease of changing one’s
perception of reality simply by changing television channels. There is
little reason to doubt the prevailing “common sense” that black and
brown men have been locked up en masse merely in response to crime
rates when one’s sources of information are mainstream media outlets.
In many respects, the reality of mass incarceration is easier to avoid
knowing than the injustices and sufferings associated with slavery or
Jim Crow. Those confined to prisons are out of sight and out of mind;
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
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T HE N E W J IM CROW
227
once released, they are typically confined to ghettos. Most Americans
only come to “know” about the people cycling in and out of prisons
through fictional police dramas, music videos, gangsta rap, and “true”
accounts of ghetto experience on the evening news. These racialized
narratives tend to confirm and reinforce the prevailing public consensus that we need not care about “those people”; they deserve what
they get.
Of all the reasons that we fail to know the truth about mass incarceration, though, one stands out: a profound misunderstanding
regarding how racial oppression actually works. If someone were to
visit the United States from another country (or another planet) and
ask, “is the U.S. criminal justice system some kind of tool of racial
control?” most Americans would swiftly deny it. Numerous reasons
would leap to mind why that could not possibly be the case. The visitor would be told that crime rates, black culture, or bad schools were
to blame. “The system is not run by a bunch of racists,” the apologist
would explain. “It’s run by people who are trying to fight crime.” That
response is predictable because most people assume that racism, and
racial systems generally, are fundamentally a function of attitudes.
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Because mass incarceration is officially colorblind, it seems inconceivable that the system could function much like a racial caste system.
The widespread and mistaken belief that racial animus is necessary
for the creation and maintenance of racialized systems of social control is the most important reason that we, as a nation, have remained
in deep denial.
The misunderstanding is not surprising. As a society, our collective understanding of racism has been powerfully influenced by the
shocking images of the Jim Crow era and the struggle for civil rights.
When we think of racism we think of Governor Wallace of Alabama
blocking the schoolhouse door; we think of water hoses, lynchings,
racial epithets, and “whites only” signs. These images make it easy
to forget that many wonderful, good-hearted white people who were
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
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T HE N E W J IM CROW
generous to others, respectful of their neighbors, and even kind to
their black maids, gardeners, or shoe shiners—and wished them
well—nevertheless went to the polls and voted for racial segregation. Many whites who supported Jim Crow justified it on paternalist
grounds, actually believing they were doing blacks a favor or believing the time was not yet “right” for equality. The disturbing images
from the Jim Crow era also make it easy to forget that many African
Americans were complicit in the Jim Crow system, profiting from it
directly or indirectly or keeping their objections quiet out of fear of
the repercussions. Our understanding of racism is therefore shaped
by the most extreme expressions of individual bigotry, not by the way
in which it functions naturally, almost invisibly (and sometimes with
genuinely benign intent), when it is embedded in the structure of a
social system.
The unfortunate reality we must face is that racism manifests itself
not only in individual attitudes and stereotypes, but also in the basic
structure of society. Academics have developed complicated theories
and obscure jargon in an effort to describe what is now referred to as
structural racism, yet the concept is fairly straightforward. One theCopyright © 2020. The New Press. All rights reserved.
orist, Iris Marion Young, relying on a famous “birdcage” metaphor,
explains it this way: if one thinks about racism by examining only one
wire of the cage, or one form of disadvantage, it is difficult to understand how and why the bird is trapped. Only a large number of wires
arranged in a specific way, and connected to one another, serve to
enclose the bird and to ensure that it cannot escape.11
What is particularly important to keep in mind is that any given
wire of the cage may or may not be specifically developed for the purpose of trapping the bird, yet it still operates (together with the other
wires) to restrict its freedom. By the same token, not every aspect of
a racial caste system needs to be developed for the specific purpose
of controlling black people in order for it to operate (together with
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
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T HE N E W J IM CROW
229
other laws, institutions, and practices) to trap them at the bottom of
a racial hierarchy. In the system of mass incarceration, a wide variety
of laws, institutions, and practices—ranging from racial profiling to
biased sentencing policies, political disenfranchisement, and legalized employment discrimination—trap African Americans in a virtual
(and literal) cage.
Fortunately, as Marilyn Frye has noted, every birdcage has a door,
and every birdcage can be broken and can corrode.12 What is most concerning about the new racial caste system, however, is that it may prove
to be more durable than its predecessors. Because this new system is
not explicitly based on race, it is easier to defend on seemingly neutral
grounds. And while all previous methods of control have blamed the
victim in one way or another, the current system invites observers to
imagine that those who are trapped in the system were free to avoid
second-class status or permanent banishment from society simply by
choosing not to commit crimes. It is far more convenient to imagine
that a majority of young African American men in urban areas freely
chose a life of crime than to accept the real possibility that their lives
were structured in a way that virtually guaranteed their early admisCopyright © 2020. The New Press. All rights reserved.
sion into a system from which they can never escape. Most people are
willing to acknowledge the existen…
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