Go buy Michelle Alexander‘s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Or check it out from the library, or borrow it from a friend — I don’t really care how you obtain it, but you absolutely should read it. I know I recommend a lot of books, but of all the books I own — of all the books I’ve ever read — if I could only suggest one book, it would be The New Jim Crow.
As much as I think Queer (In)Justice is amazing (and not just because Joey Mogul is fantastic, and the book quotes Owen Daniel-McCarter and mentions TJLP), as much as I think Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete? is a great first book about prison abolition and the prison industrial complex, as much as I have a number of favorite books on trans issues, I think everyone should move The New Jim Crow to the very top of their reading list.
I’ll admit that I’m still not done reading The New Jim Crow, despite the fact that I’ve been trying to read it since April. Every paragraph, there’s something about which I want to blog, or a case I want to research, or something I need to read aloud to whoever’s near me. I literally can’t read a full page without learning something (often several things) I want to share with the world. Most of what I read makes me so infuriated that I can barely think clearly — I knew before I starting reading the book that the criminal legal system is racist and classist and just heart-breaking, and yet I’m still horrified by what I’m reading.
Frankly, a large part of me thinks that The New Jim Crow should be required reading for people living in the U.S., or at least for people who aren’t the targets of mass incarceration (I’m not trying to act as though they won’t understand what they are experiencing without this book). Between media reports regarding the so-called “War on Drugs” and shows like Law & Order, not to mention general news and media outlets, there is so much false information circulating. In The New Jim Crow, Alexander debunks much of that and describes what is actually happening in an articulate, intelligent, fact-based manner.
What Alexander brings to light in The New Jim Crow is abhorrent. Few books have ever made me so enraged by what I have learned (as opposed to being infuriated by the biases of the author) — off the top of my head, only Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and Queer (In)Justice (written, of course, by Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock) come close. And I had to read both of those in segments because I would just get too upset to continue.
To summarize: go read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Even though I have not yet finished it, it has already made my top ten list of most influential books I’ve ever read.