Last updated on January 10th, 2018
“No honest assessment of the current state of human rights can omit an analysis of structural violence.” Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor.
When The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander was first published in 2010 in hardback, The New Press printed 3,000 copies. Two years later, The New Press reissued the book in paper with an enlightening new foreword by Cornel West, Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary. Describing the book as “the secular bible for a new social movement in early twenty-first century America,” West underlines the impact The New Jim Crow has had on the American audience: An astounding 295,000 copies have been sold to date. Why has an academic book with a title that includes this mix—“Jim Crow,” “mass incarceration,” and “colorblindness”— resonated with the public? Clearly, Alexander has hit a nerve. Something profound is happening in American society.
There is implicit design in Alexander’s title. Packing the terms “Jim Crow,” “Mass Incarceration,” and “Colorblindness” together, she implicates the historical system of Jim Crow and the criminal justice system of mass incarceration in the creation of a Black “racial caste”—with pronounced deleterious consequences on society. Focusing on the “bogus drug war” of the last four decades, Alexander shows how a “colorblind” criminal justice system manufactures a ghettoized population with the characteristics of de facto Jim Crow segregation. In practice, this system of oppression pervades the lives of a small slice of the American population with tragic consequences. As Alexander points out, “An extraordinary percentage of black men in the United States are legally barred from voting today, just as they have been throughout most of American history. They are also subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service, just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents once were.” This quote from the first page of The New Jim Crow sets the framework within which Alexander examines the new Jim Crow, mass incarceration, and the age of colorblindness to discover the relationships among them and to realize subtexts that would otherwise remain invisible.
Over at least the last thirty years, incarceration has been an oppressive fact in the lives of low-income and undereducated African Americans who have been disproportionately the targets of the “War on Drugs.”
Forty-three years ago, President Richard Nixon signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 and formally launched the “war on drugs.” After homicide rates climbed dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s, the country was in no mood to go soft on drug offenders of any stripe: A “tough on crime” attitude prevailed. In 1973, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed the Rockefeller Drugs laws, one of the earliest and most draconian pieces of legislation to come out of the “tough on crime” era. It set a precedent for long sentences in which possession of a specific quantity of drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, morphine, or marijuana, could result in a minimum of fifteen years to life and a maximum of twenty-five years to life. (In 2008 the mandatory minimum sentences were removed from New York state laws.) During President Ronald Reagan’s administration, the “war on drugs” morphed into the “War on Drugs” just as First Lady Nancy Reagan popularized the slogan “Just Say No.” (President Barack Obama stopped using the term “war on drugs,” saying it was “counterproductive.”) In 1986 President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act that reinstated federal mandatory sentences for drug possession based on the quantity of possession of various drugs: a ten-year sentence for possessing 5,000 grams of powder cocaine and 1,000 grams of heroin or a five-year sentence for 500 grams of powder cocaine or 100 grams of heroin. Although the 1986 act was directed at high-level drug dealers and traffickers, it also ensnared low-level street dealers and users of crack cocaine—50 grams of crack meant a ten-year minimum and five grams a five-year minimum. (In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act that reduced the disparity between crack and cocaine possession from 100-to-1 to 18 to 1.) The prison system had become increasingly punitive: Parole was abolished, prisoners served 85% of their sentence, and rehabilitation languished.
Over the last three decades, criticism has mounted against these laws, particularly as data have shown they are racially discriminatory. People of color constitute 60% of the state and federal prison population, and of those who are doing time for drug offenses, two-thirds to three-quarters are African-American or Hispanic men. In many instances, African-American men serve longer prison sentences than white men convicted of the same drug crime because they “are more than twice as likely to face charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences.” They are also nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though the two populations use the drug at similar rates. (Sources: The Sentencing Project, ACLU, and Huffington Post.) According to Wikipedia, “The United States has a higher percent of imprisoned minorities than any other country in the world. In Washington D.C., three out of every four young black men are expected to serve some time in prison. In major cities across the country, 80% of young African Americans now have criminal records.”
In a report titled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White” (June 2013), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) examines an insidious feature of the drug war: the prioritization of marijuana possession arrests over the last decade. Whereas in the first half of the larger drug war law enforcement focused on heroin and crack cocaine law in poor communities of color, it shifted to marijuana when the crack epidemic receded. Between 2001 and 2010, law enforcement made nearly three million arrests, 88% of which were for marijuana possession—“over half (52%) of all drug arrests in America in 2010.” At the end of the decade, blacks were arrested at the rate of 716 per 100,000, and whites at the rate of 192 per 100,000—a disparity rate nearly four times as great. The “War on Marijuana” has not engaged the public as earlier drug wars have, and thus “it has gone largely, if not entirely, unnoticed by middle- and upper-class white communities.” Further, the disparities in the arrest rate of blacks ring true, given that “over the past 20 years, various policing models rooted in the ‘broken windows’ theory, such as order-maintenance and zero-tolerance policing, have resulted in law enforcement pouring resources into targeted communities to enforce aggressively a wide array of low-level offenses, infractions, and ordinances through tenacious stop, frisk, and search practices.”
The perspective that mass incarceration is due to long drug sentencing guidelines and anti-drug policies implemented over the last forty years, such as New York’s Rockefeller drug laws; the federal 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act; California’s 1994 “Three Strikes and You’re Out”; “order-maintenance and zero-tolerance policing” and New York’s stop, search and frisk practices, has been gaining adherents in the wider population.
Indeed. At an August 12, 2013, news conference, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the judicial system in the United States was morally and economically broken. Unfair in its sentencing laws and incarceration rates of African-American and Hispanic men, the judicial system needed reparation, Holder said, in particular with respect to the nation’s federal laws on harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses. In effect, he ordered prosecutors to withhold listing the quantities of illegal substances when charging non-violent, non-gang-related, or non-drug-trafficking offenders with possession, thus sidestepping the mandatory minimum trigger. A month later, Attorney General Holder ordered prosecutors “to apply the new policy retroactively to defendants who are already in the system but have not yet been sentenced.”
On the same day—August 12—Federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin brought much-needed clarity to the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy. Judge Scheindlin ruled that the policy not only violated the Fourth and 14th Amendments rights of minorities—African-American and Hispanic men being the primary targets—but also that the more than four million stops since 2002 showed “a policy of indirect racial profiling”: If these men had been white, they would not have been stopped and frisked. The figures tell the tale: 80 percent of stop-and-frisk stops were of African-American and Hispanic men, and 90 percent of those were not charged or arrested. (On October 31, 2013, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit stayed Judge Scheindlin’s ruling and stayed the court-order mandate, including an outside monitor of the New York City “Police department’s compliance with the Constitution and directing some officers to wear cameras in a pilot program to record their street interactions.” )
Holder’s order and Scheindlin’s ruling, in spite of the setback noted above, are clear indications that the “War on Drugs” has wrongly ensnared entire communities in its execution. In an interview on Between the Lines, a weekly newsmagazine, Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project puts it concisely: “What we’ve seen in mass incarceration over four decades is that we’ve become the world leader in incarceration and that prisons have become overwhelmingly populated by people of color, so much so that criminal justice prison has become an almost inevitable part of the growing up of young black males and increasingly young Latino males, and women as well. This is really the point now where it’s interrupting life cycles, it’s interrupting family formation, and we can only hope that with the shifts we’re seeing now, we may be able to redress, at least modestly, some of these decades-long policies and their very disturbing impacts.” (See “Bonding From Behind Bars.”)
To reflect on Mauer’s statement that “criminal justice prison has become an almost inevitable part of growing up of young black males and increasingly young Latino males, and women as well” is to understand that a vulnerable population of individuals, and, by extension, whole communities, have been stripped of their human rights and dehumanized by systemic forces beyond their control. Largely ignored or invisible to middle-and-upper-class white society, this dehumanization—as evidenced in the figures stated above—is a product of structural violence in societies in which there is a powerful and violent hierarchical oppressor-oppressed dyad.
Paul Farmer, the physician-anthropologist known globally for his humanitarian work delivering “first-world” health care in Haiti, Rwanda, Peru, and Russia, reintroduces the term “structural violence” in his influential book Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor (2003). His definition of “structural violence” elucidates both its meaning and scope and helps to unpack the thesis of The New Jim Crow. Farmer defines structural violence “as a broad rubric that includes a host of offensives against human dignity: extreme and relative poverty, social inequalities ranging from racism to gender inequality, and the more spectacular forms of violence that are uncontestedly human rights abuses….” In The New Jim Crow, Alexander defines mass incarceration in this way: As “institutionalized racism,” mass incarceration is a “racialized system of control” that systematically marginalizes a specific group of people—poor black males— and subordinates them into a “racial caste.” Her terminology—“racial caste,” “undercaste,” “racially subordinating,” “racialized social control,” “complex tyrannical structure,” and “systemic marginalization”—falls within the definition Farmer posits: “a broad rubric that includes a host of offensives against human dignity.” It is not a stretch to observe that the racial caste in The New Jim Crow is an obdurate consequence of structural violence produced via an entrenched and, as is often the case, invisible oppressor-oppressed dyad. Further, the victims of structural violence in The New Jim Crow—those who are impoverished, unemployed, disenfranchised, segregated—are kin to the poor and vulnerable that Farmer identifies in Pathologies of Power. Examining the roots of this structural violence, Farmer writes that “such suffering is ‘structured’ by historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces that conspire—whether through routine, ritual, or, as is more commonly the case, the hard surfaces of life—to constrain agency. For many, including most of my patients and informants, choices both large and small are limited by racism, sexism, political violence, and grinding poverty.”
Farmer dispels the notion that the poor—his patients and informants— have little to say about systemic violence in the form of structured oppression by the powerful. Rather, “human rights abuses are best understood (that is, most accurately and comprehensively grasped) from the point of view of the poor.” As a physician administering to the poor in developing countries through Partners in Health (PIH), the social justice non-profit he co-founded, Farmer and his co-workers deliver medical care as first-rate as it is for the rich—a right, not a privilege. It is also from the point of view of the black and brown poor—mostly male— that Alexander examines mass incarceration in an era when people do not want to talk about “race”—a colorblindness that subverts the reality of race as a basic social construct—and to remind readers of the long and deep affiliation between the new violence of mass incarceration and the old violence of Jim Crow.
At the center of Farmer’s inquiry into structural violence is this: discerning its nature and “exploring its contribution to human suffering.” At the center of Alexander’s inquiry into mass incarceration is a “complex tyrannical structure that enlists groups in their own oppression,” one that has caused a magnitude of human suffering largely unacknowledged by an indifferent society. Mass incarceration, like its antecedent Jim Crow, functions to oppress blacks of basic human rights just as it also demonstrates the enormous social currency of race as a cultural, political, and economic construct, when, in fact, race has no biological or genetic basis. As a construct, Alexander indicates how potent the idea of race is: “Mass incarceration, like Jim Crow, helps to define the meaning and significance of race in America. Indeed, the stigma of criminality functions in much the same way that the stigma of race once did. It justifies a legal, social, and economic boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them.’” But whereas “earlier systems of control were designed to exploit and control black labor,” she writes, “mass incarceration is designed to warehouse a population deemed disposable—unnecessary to the functioning of the new global economy.”
Loïc Wacquant assists here in elucidating the deeper meaning in Alexander’s assertion that mass incarceration and Jim Crow help “to define the meaning of race in America.” In his article “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration,” Wacquant writes:
“In recent years, the courts have consistently authorized the police to employ race as a ‘negative signal of increased risk of criminality’ and legal scholars have rushed to endorse it as ‘a rational adaptation to the demographics of crime,’ made salient and verified, as it were, by the blackening of the prison population, even though such practice entails major inconsistencies from the standpoint of constitutional law. Throughout the urban criminal justice system, the formula ‘Young + Black + Male’ is now openly equated with ‘probable cause’ justifying the arrest, questioning, bodily search and detention of millions of African-American males every year.” Mass incarceration is, therefore, a warehouse for the disposed, dishonored, irrelevant, and unnecessary “race,” whose “increased risk of criminality” conforms with the “demographics of crime” and proves the formula: “Young + Black + Male.” Thus goes the circular argument explicit in the evidence: the “blackening of the prison population.”
Given a criminal justice system that seems marked as a “system of racialized social control,” Alexander contends that a society that believes race no longer matters is blind to “the realities of race” just as it has “facilitated the emergence of a new caste system.” Further, “although this new system of racialized social control purports to be colorblind, it creates and maintains racial hierarchy much as earlier systems of control did. Like Jim Crow (and slavery), mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.” Indifference, colorblindness, ignorance, racial stigma, unconscious bias, “the historical sequence of peculiar institutions” (Wacquant)—slavery, Jim Crow, ghettos, and mass incarceration—all point to a structural violence in the form of racial classifications that, as Farmer writes, “have an important place in considerations of human suffering.”
Alexander refutes the belief that Americans live in a post-racial society because a black man was elected president. Given her argument that the criminal justice system over the last four decades has not been about controlling crime but about controlling a group of people—black and brown men—and thus creating a “racial undercaste,” it is a paradox that a so-called colorblind society has played a central role in systemic mass incarceration and the ensuing tragic consequences on poor communities of color. Rather than a colorblindness that diffuses the suffering in racial dehumanization, Alexander wants to talk about race, openly and honestly. She insists that “people must come to understand the racial history and origins of mass incarceration—the many ways our conscious and unconscious biases have distorted our judgments over the years about what is fair, appropriate, and constructive when responding to drug use and drug crime. We must come to see, too, how our economic insecurities and racial resentments have been exploited for political gain, and how this manipulation has caused suffering for people of all colors.” She wants a real conversation, not a colorblind one punctuated with coded words and subtexts.
American society faces an absurd dilemma. The political class adheres to a colorblind script for the good of the country; no politician admits to racial animus or racist bias—except in instances when they use coded words that can reveal the true intent of motives and actions. Since President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in 2010—known also as Obamacare, initially a pejorative term—a group of extreme right-wing activists known as the Tea Party have furiously protested the law over the last three years. The Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature piece of legislation, has been the target of the Tea Party contingent of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives since it became the law of the land: They have tried to repeal or defund it in whole or in part at least forty-three times. Between September 28 and midnight September 30, 2013, in the latest iteration to defund and/or repeal the Affordable Care Act, Speaker John Boehner yielded to the right-wing of his party and sent to the Senate four continuing resolutions to fund the government. The continuing resolutions—all of which the Senate rejected and sent back to the house— also included a measure to repeal, defund, or delay the Affordable Care Act. Neither the Senate nor the House blinked, and on October 1, the government, in a partial shutdown, furloughed 800,000 federal employees and asked one million people to go to work without pay.
Members of the conservative wing of the Republican Party have faced off with President Obama over more than the Affordable Care Act in an acrimonious debate over what is good for the country. In neutral, colorblind terms, they profess core principals of fiscal responsibility and limited government as reasons for their opposition. However, the resentment and hostility that attach, in particular, to the Affordable Care Act seem immoderate, so much so that a small group called “the Gang of Forty” in the House of Representatives held the government hostage until the very end. When the House under Speaker John Boehner’s leadership could not pass a bill on October 16 to fund the government and avoid default the day before the United States would run out of money to pay its bills, the action moved to the Senate where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell worked out a plan that ended the sixteen-day government shutdown and averted a financial default. The plan: H.R. 2775, which funds the government through January 15 and raises the debt limit through February. It passed by an 81-18 vote in the Senate and then sent to the House, where it passed 285 to 144. One hundred ninety-eight Democrats and 87 Republicans voted yes. President Obama signed Bill H.R. 2775 at 12:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 17, 2013. The federal government reopened and federal employees returned to work. Cost to the government? As much as $24 billion. It was, undoubtedly, a self-inflicted wound to the economy and political bi-partisanship.
What is going on? Just in the last forty years, terms like “states’ rights,” “silent majority,” “law and order,” “welfare,” “inner city” and “Willie Horton,” among others, have been used as code words to reveal a white, working class subtext of animus against blacks. Should Obamacare also join this list? Several clues support this conjecture.
First, when President Obama ran for the president in 2007, he was labeled a stealth communist/socialist Muslim born in Kenya. In other words, he is not a true American. He is “other.” Second, in an interview in 2010 with the National Review, Senator Mitch McConnell said: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” This is a richly ambiguous sentence. It could mean, “Yes, of course, we want to defeat this president. As the opposition, we want to win. We don’t want to give him another term.” It could also mean: “We want to defeat this president. It’s our number one job to obstruct him at every turn and we will do everything in our power to wound him.” Third, the Tea Party began to agitate against the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, and, at the same time, state legislatures were redrawing political districts to create “‘safe, lily-white’ Republican strongholds.’”
Fourth, Obama’s election in 2008 and re-election in 2012 would seem to contradict Alexander’s argument that Americans are living in an age of colorblindness. As A.O. Scott, the film critic of The New York Times, writes in the article “Never-Ending Story: “…the fervor of the opposition to the president, and its concentration in the states of the former Confederacy, have at least something to do with the color of his skin.” Whereas Alexander argues that mass incarceration dehumanizes in its deniability or colorblindness a specific cohort within a race, Scott points to President Obama’s dehumanization via the South’s history of slavery and Jim Crow. One is deniability and indifference enforced through a criminal justice system; the other is straight up racial hostility, communicated through so-called, colorblind language. The racial animus attaches to him through Obamacare—a derogatory word used as code for his blackness.
Fifth, when the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act on June 28, 2012, the justices, however, said the federal government could not coerce states into participating in Medicaid expansion by discontinuing federal funding to Medicaid. Over the last three years, more than half the states have rejected the expansion of Medicaid, although the federal government would have paid for the entire expansion until 2016 and for 90% afterwards. In a feature article in The New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff report: “The 26 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are home to about half of the country’s population, but about 68% percent of poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers. About 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor are in those states.” Many of them are southern states where poverty is endemic, health insurance is lacking, and health costs are high. In fact, “every state in the Deep South, with the exception of Arkansas,” has declined to participate in the Medicaid expansion. “The disproportionate impact on poor blacks introduces the prickly issue of race into the already politically charged atmosphere around the health care law,” the authors write. As evidence, “6 out of 10 blacks live in the states not expanding Medicaid. In Mississippi, 56 percent of all poor and uninsured adults are black, though they account for just 38 percent of the population.” Farmer would have no trouble calling this structural violence—the denial of the right to health care. Alexander would call it the New Jim Crow—the denial to be equal.
In The New Jim Crow, Alexander explains how in his campaign for the presidency in 1980 Ronald Reagan appealed to a mainly poor and working-class southern white constituency who resented the successes of the Civil Rights Movement. Through a colorblind rhetoric that included race-neutral terms—“welfare queen,” “predators,” “states’ rights”—he manipulated the language and exploited white “racial hostility or resentment for political gain.” Reagan and the Republican Party would not brook critics’ accusations he was running a racist campaign. They could not prove it, Reagan denied it, and thus, “welfare queen” and “states’ rights” entered the lexicon of politicians using code words to signal a racial message. A doctor in Mississippi, interviewed for Tavernise and Gebeloff’s article mentioned above, describes in unambiguous language what President Reagan hid in coded rhetoric: “…the history of segregation and violence against blacks still informs the way people see one another, particularly in the South, making some whites reluctant to support programs that they believe benefit blacks…. If you look at the history of Mississippi, politicians have used race to oppose minimum wage, Head Start, all these social programs. It’s a tactic that appeals to people who would rather suffer themselves than see a black person benefit.”
In the Preface to The New Jim Crow, Alexander claims an audience who cares about racial justice and wants to change the American criminal justice system, but who also needs the facts and data to implement change. But there is also a different group of people—perhaps even more consequential—she wants to involve: the incarcerated and ex-offenders “trapped within America’s latest caste system.” For them she writes: “You may be locked up or locked out of mainstream society, but you are not forgotten.” To ensure she keeps her promise to them, she calls for a radical restructuring of society.
To end the racial caste system explored in The New Jim Crow, Alexander writes that nothing less than a radical overhaul of the basic structure of American society will achieve “the death of racial caste in America.” Just as mass incarceration resembles the oppressive nature of the old Jim Crow, and Jim Crow of slavery, she foresees a new version of an oppressor-oppressed racial dyad reappearing unless, she writes, a new movement cultivates “an ethic of genuine care, compassion, and concern for every human being—of every class, race, and nationality—within our nation’s borders, including poor whites, who are often pitted against poor people of color….” Advocating for nothing less than a paradigmatic shift from a civil rights movement to a human rights movement, Alexander recalls what Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned before his death in 1968. It was time, he said, “for racial justice advocates to shift from a civil rights to a human rights paradigm” as “it would offer a positive vision of what we can strive for—a society in which all human beings of all races are treated with dignity, and have the right to food, shelter, health care, education and security.” Extreme poverty, homelessness, inadequate or lack of health care, segregated schools, unemployment, disenfranchisement, discrimination based on race, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation—all contribute to the hierarchical power distribution found in both developed and developing countries around the world.
Given the bitter partisanship of the last decade in both Congress and the populace, it seems idealistic to believe that a paradigmatic shift of such an enormous scope could happen in the United States. This problem does not deter Alexander from making her own prescriptions toward a social, cultural, and historical “radical restructuring,” starting with the system of mass incarceration. A good first step, she advises, would be governmental intervention in the form of “job creation, economic development, educational reforms, and restorative justice” to solve “problems associated with crime.” Specific steps to end mass incarceration? Rescinding mandatory drug sentencing laws (as Holder has ordered for non-violent drug offenders); legalizing marijuana; providing meaningful re-entry programs, such as job training and drug treatment on demand; ending racial profiling and drug busts concentrated “in poor communities of color”; and revoking financial incentives that perpetuate the drug war, especially for non-violent drug offenses.
Alexander’s prescriptions, as noted in the above list, are vitally important for changing the trajectory of the drug war as it has been implemented in the past four decades. Perhaps more significant, however, is her appeal to law enforcement. She writes: “Black and brown people in ghetto communities must no longer be viewed as the designated enemy, and ghetto communities must no longer be treated like occupied zones. Law enforcement must adopt a compassionate, humane approach to the problems of the urban poor—an approach that goes beyond the rhetoric of ‘community policing’ to a method of engagement that promotes trust, healing, and genuine partnership.” Alexander’s blueprint for a radical movement draws energy from a human rights paradigm: Rehabilitative models for prisoners, public health and therapeutic models for individuals, and community reconciliation programs for communities. (Ernest Drucker, “Drug Law, Mass Incarceration, and Public Health”)
Just as Farmer argued that a human rights paradigm was needed to change the oppressor-oppressed equation and ensure social and economic equities, Alexander sees it is as a necessary antidote to the structural violence perpetrated in the four-decades-long drug war on poor black and brown people. Extreme suffering and grinding poverty cannot be “divorced from the actions of the powerful,” Farmer writes, recalling the words of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and philosopher in his landmark book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970, English translation): “Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human.”
In The New Jim Crow, Alexander challenges readers to find answers to these questions: Why does “racialized social control” exist in a rich country like the United States in the twenty-first century? How could a drug war “waged almost exclusively against poor people of color—people already trapped in ghettos that lacked jobs and decent school”—be allowed to happen in a democratic society? How can American society justify the billions of dollars paid to the private prison industry over the last forty years to incarcerate non-violent offenders in the “War on Drugs”? And—the most difficult question of all to answer—when will people of all colors, nationalities, gender, class, and sexual orientation join together in declaring a radical restructuring of society so that every human being has the right to adequate food, shelter, health care, education, and security? An expansive vision, to be sure, but one that would create, as Alexander believes, “a thriving, multiracial, multiethnic democracy free from racial hierarchy.”