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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

The New Jim Crow in conversation

Nickie Phillips

Jennifer Schuessler writes what most criminal justice scholars are well aware: that that Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is a best-selling book that resonates with many who believe that the criminal justice system has failed African Americans. She writes,

"For many African-Americans, the book — which has spent six weeks on the New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list — gives eloquent and urgent expression to deep feelings that the criminal justice system is stacked against them…."

“…The book is helping white folks who otherwise would have simply dismissed that idea understand why so many people believe it,” said David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It is making them take that seriously.”

For many, the book is considered a must-read and, according to the New York Times, has sold over 175,000 copies. The book has had enormous impact, inspiring activist efforts to end mass incarceration including the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow and a Kickstarter campaign, "Bringing Down the New Jim Crow," designed to launch an on-going radio documentary series that was funded in August of 2012.

Others, however, take a more critical stance on the book. For example, see A. Johnson's post on  People of Color Organize!:

"The great success of The New Jim Crow rests on the fact that it provides a cathartic release for its readers without seriously threatening oppressive hegemonic assumptions. The book, for example, doesn’t even contain the word “capitalism” and excludes the voices of all radical black thinkers, political prisoners, anti-prison activists, black power advocates, and the most useful philosophies to the subject of mass incarceration."

The article points readers to Joseph Osel's two articles "Black Out: Michelle Alexander's Operational Whitewash" and "Toward Detournement of the New Jim Crow or The Strange Career of the New Jim Crow" as well as Greg Thomas' "Why Some Like The New Jim Crow So Much."

Osel writes in "Black Out":

"…the content of Alexander's well-researched, tip-toeing book may be enlightening or nauseating depending on the reader's existing understanding of mass incarceration in the United States and their ability to think critically and contextually about complicated social issues. Privileged or sheltered progressive liberals, or for that matter any individual with the garden variety college education, as well as the vast majority of progressive academics, will likely find The New Jim Crow stimulating, maybe cathartic and probably worth recommending. On the other hand, those with any kind of serious background in Black philosophy, history, criticism, or even a passing interest in self-determination should brace themselves for the all too familiar: a breathtaking descent into the nether regions of Eurocentrism, in all its clever disguises."

Alexander's book is available here and she will be appearing at John Jay College on May 9, 2013 at 4pm to discuss her book.