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Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that "[w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as "a system of social control" ("More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850"). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the "war on drugs." She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates "who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits." Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: "most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration"-but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Alexander's first book is not an academic work, but a polemic about what social justice activists have come to call mass incarceration. She argues that despite the election of Barack Obama, a racial caste system still exists that plays out by locking up African American men. Alexander (law, Ohio State) offers a clear perspective on "lockdown" in chapter 2, where she focuses on the war on drugs. She claims that the way the criminal justice system seems to work is a far cry from how it actually works. This drug "war" is more about the lack of constraints on the police. Additionally, the author implicates the US Supreme Court for turning a blind eye to the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. Alexander blames the civil rights movement and the call for colorblindness as a culprit in clamping down on African Americans, although at first glance, the call looked to be progressive: "far from being a worthy goal, however, colorblindness has proved catastrophic for African Americans" (p. 228). With all the work the author did researching her subject, she does not come close to producing a scholarly text. The book's advertising promises more than it delivers. Summing Up: Not recommended. E. Smith Wake Forest University