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The New Jim Crow | Quotes


We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

Narrator, Introduction

A racial caste is one in which people are "locked into an inferior position by law and custom" according to the color of their skin. Many like to believe that the racial caste system was overcome during the Civil Rights era. However, systems such as mass incarceration have evolved to ensure that it continues.


Any candid observer of American racial history must acknowledge that racism is highly adaptable.

Narrator, Chapter 1

A thread runs between slavery, Jim Crow laws, and mass incarceration. It shows the way racism and the racial caste system have been able to adapt and evolve to the changing times. The system of mass incarceration adapted to advertise itself as "colorblind" and race-neutral. This was despite the fact that a majority of those incarcerated are disproportionately minorities.


The absence of constraints on police discretion is a key feature of the drug war's design.

Narrator, Chapter 2

To get law enforcement to support the War on Drugs, the federal government granted unprecedented power to them to keep drug arrests high. This, in turn, allowed the abuse of power by drug law enforcement. They became financially incentivized to keep the War on Drugs going.


Law enforcement gained ... interest ... in the profitability of the drug market itself.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Drug law enforcement was given unprecedented power and incentives in the form of federal funding and the right to keep the cash and possessions of the people they arrested. Therefore, it was clearly in their best interest that the illegal drug market stays profitable. Rather than prevent or prohibit crime, they were incentivized to keep the War on Drugs going.


Some federal judges ... have quit in protest of federal drug laws and sentencing guidelines.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Due to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines by the federal government, first-time "soft drug" offenders (for marijuana) face steeper sentences than violent criminals. The sentencing guidelines also demand harsher punishments for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine. Crack cocaine is cheaper than powder, and is used more by blacks than whites. Some judges have noted what seemed to be racial injustice in these different guidelines. They have refused in good conscience to enact them.


No wonder, then, that most people labeled felons find their way back into prison.

Narrator, Chapter 2

The word felon is a stigmatized label with ongoing consequences for those who have completed their sentences. It bars ex-offenders from finding housing, employment, and public assistance. They must also prove to their probation officers that they are able to become gainfully employed, despite being forced to reveal their criminal history to potential employers. Often they can have their wages garnished to pay off fines. In this light, it seems more than possible that they might return to criminal drug dealing as a way to survive, and thus be arrested again.


The Supreme Court has actually authorized race discrimination in policing, rather than ... banning it.

Narrator, Chapter 3

Although it would be assumed that the Supreme Court's job is to protect citizens, it instead has made a series of rulings that dismantle some fundamental constitutional rights, such as the 1987 McCleskey v. Kemp ruling that racial bias in sentencing could not be challenged under the 14th Amendment without clear evidence. In Armstrong v. United States (1996), the Supreme Court created an impossible situation where defendants who suspect racial bias from prosecutors must present in advance the very evidence of bias they are seeking to find. Rulings like this have made it all but impossible for anyone to challenge law enforcement on the ground of racial discrimination, particularly when it comes to the War on Drugs. This in turn emboldens law enforcement to continue their practices without any fear of consequence or repercussions.


Even when released from the system's formal control, the stigma of criminality lingers.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Throughout the War on Drugs, the government and the media have sent clear messages that correlate the word "black" with the word "criminal." By extension, to be labeled a criminal is to be stigmatized in society and relegated to the status of a second-class citizen. For them, employment, housing, and public assistance are difficult to attain.


Practically from cradle to grave, black males in urban ghettos are treated like ... criminals.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Alexander brings up the notion that the way people are treated also forms and shapes their sense of self. When black men are treated as possible current or future criminals, it sends a clear message that they are less worthy than other people. She finds it unsurprising, therefore, that many embrace the "thug" identity as a way to reclaim the label, despite the stigma it holds.


When someone is convicted of a crime today, their "debt to society" is never paid.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Many people would like to believe that once criminals have served their sentences, their debt to society has been repaid. They can then rejoin it as productive citizens. Yet few realize that leaving prison is often only the beginning of a different life sentence. Released criminals become second-class citizens barred from many employment and housing opportunities. Many also lose the right to vote and serve on juries.


The silence ... results in a repression of public thought, a collective denial of lived experience.

Narrator, Chapter 4

The black male population serving time in mass incarceration is large. However, few within the black urban community are willing to discuss the experience with one another, out of shame and fear. This leads to a stifling of possibility for any real transformation to occur. Denial is a powerful tool for ensuring things remain the same.


We know and we don't know at the same time.

Narrator, Chapter 5

Alexander discusses a major contradiction. Most people know there is a racial caste system in the United States. However, there is enough "colorblind mentality" in place for them to deny its existence. This kind of racial indifference is far more dangerous to the future of race relations than racial hostility. It allows the truth to remain covered and unspoken.


A new civil rights movement cannot be organized around the relics of the earlier system.

Narrator, Chapter 6

Many current civil rights groups look to the past as a way to move forward. Yet racial systems of oppression have adapted over time in order to survive. Therefore, any new civil rights movement must recognize the way society and mentalities about race have changed.


Colorblindness, though widely touted as the solution, is actually the problem.

Narrator, Chapter 6

The notion of a colorblind society is based on the idea that for everyone to thrive, racial differences—and the experiences of different races in society—shouldn't be acknowledged. However, this notion doesn't include the fact that people do have very different experiences and opportunities based on their race. Colorblindness allows people to not have to challenge the underlying racist structures woven into the fabric of institutions and systems such as mass incarceration.


Any movement to end mass incarceration must deal with [it] as a racial caste system.

Narrator, Chapter 6

Mass incarceration is always advertised as a system of crime control. However, it only takes one look inside a prison to realize that it is very much a system of racial control. Civil rights advocates are hesitant to fight on behalf of those labeled by society as "criminals." Therefore, real change can only occur once it is recognized that many people who are incarcerated may be there because of their race.

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