non-fiction · racism · review

The New Jim Crow-Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness- Michelle Alexander

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This is my last book review of this year. I had successfully completed my small target of the reading challenge for the year 2015. Though my target was not that too fancy like 50 or 70, it was a mere 12 averaged out as one book per month. These 12 books mean a lot to me because, I haven’t read so many at a stretch so far. As per the Goodreads, have read approximately 4485 pages.I was happy to look at this last night when I hit the finish button after reading this book.As a consequence of happiness, I had changed facts about me on good reads as follows:

“I’m a consistent and target -oriented reader with an eye for detail.My reading curve is not steep but has risen up steadily and I don’t predict any diminishing returns in the next few years”.

This means that moving forward for the next few years, I would be setting up a reading challenge for myself until this becomes part of my DNA. Am I doing any forced injection of this habit? Yes, but for good.The next year-2016 challenge would comprise of reading 20 books with a confidence interval of anywhere between 18 to 24.

Coming back to this book, again the same question I pose. Why this book? This is not even relevant to me as an Indian. Just that I get to see African-Americans and the minorities whenever I go out as I temporarily live in the United States.This book is one of the choices from Mark Zuckerberg’s books of the year. He had written a good review about this book and called this as the best book. As an action plan after reading this book, he had donated something to the folks who are behind the bars due to the drug wars.And my action after reading the first chapter was to change the status of my WhatsApp as “Yes, New Jim Crow does exist in India also, but in the reverse”.What does this mean?I will explain in some time.

This author is a civil rights litigator that works for the fields such as racism in America. She, being a black had written extensively about the woes faced by the minorities especially African -Americans.In my opinion, this book runs into three parts- First the history of slavery, second the Jim Crow period and the third the New Jim Crow period or the mass incarceration. This explains how blacks have been suffering by racism ever since in different forms in a disguised manner.

To put it short, during the days of slavery, she had explained how Africans were imported into the country to work as slaves in the banana plantations under the white owners who had confiscated the land from the native Americans.This had created sub-caste in America.Later slavery was eradicated after which there came the existence of the Jim Crow when every public place and amenity was segregated based on the color. The blacks were not admitted to any Ivy schools.Then came the period of drug war where the cops got more power to search the black vehicles and communities for drug handling.Then finally, she talks about New Jim Crow where even after the inequality has faded the men who had been incarcerated has lost their lives in terms of livelihood after they come back from the conviction period.All the rights of the American citizen would be ripped off and they will not be able to find employment, housing or any basic facilities thus making their families live on roads.
This book talks about how there is disparity among people of color and white and the consequences of black after they get released from the imprisonment. What extent of punishment is given for people who handle drugs. In spite of a black person becoming the President of the country, there is no change for people who are very poor and get caught behind the bars. This is what she explains.

Here comes my opinion-I really agree with all the points that she had mentioned.Instead of addressing the wound, I feel the root cause needs to be addressed.
My prescription is:
All the vehicles need to be searched equally. The color of the skin should not matter. Maybe there should be random audit as to every fifth car on a freeway needs to be searched.This number should be increased during the weekends.
Increased funding for people coming out of the jail term. Extending training and education for people inside the prison so that they can search for a job once they are out with the skill set.
Moratorium period of a year or two for the fines they charge after they have been proved guilty.
Reduction of jail term for these offenses.
Addressing the root- Eradicating the drug dealers and the presence of the drugs. I’m not sure whether this can ever happen in this world as so many people are addicted to wrong things in life.
While I was reading this book 2 major incidents crossed my mind and this is about someone who had been very close to me.

One: There was a nice gentleman from India who traveled to North America for a job or living in the 1970s. He was a smart guy who was called ‘The Midas Touch’ as he was an excellent sales guy who could show a donkey and sells it away as a lion.He did not get good scores in his exam though but a guy who had all the talent under this sun coupled with smoking like a pot and drinking extensively.
He had lived with his sister and her husband and this guy used to babysit their children and lived happily there by doing mean jobs like carpentry and driving trucks. Totally an unskilled laborer who could handle stuff in the Americas forty years ago. He had a talent of making the girls fall for him and he was caught up with the wrong company there and started possessing drugs.His sister’s husband who was not comfortable with all this made this guy flee back to India. The reason is, this guy was put behind the bars a couple of times and had he repeated this offense even the sister’s family with whom he was living with was threatened to be jailed. With whatever money this guy earned he was forcefully moved out of the country on the day he received his green card. Gosh..this story was concealed by the family and he was made to get married to a girl who was born of a low- middle-class family with four siblings and mom as a homemaker and dad as a teacher with no savings. There was just living for a day. She had got married to him with so much dream that this guy would take her to North America and they can have a family there not knowing why this came back to India. The wedding was a super grand affair and her dad took loans and got her married. On the day of the D-Day, the groom came drunk to the wedding and our innocent bride got married to him thinking that he would come back to normal after a while. She did not have guts to question him there as she wanted to get married and have a family and all the more didn’t want to make her parents sad about stopping the marriage.This guy had sex with her that night and revealed every damn thing to the whole world in front of her making her feel embarrassed and this poor girl was left in tears and regretted her life.He stopped going to work and abused his wife physically and mentally. He made her starve. She had to get food from her mom’s every day.One fine day, a baby girl was born and this woman thought that her husband would change for good at least after looking at the baby in his arms. Unfortunately, everything went haywire and her husband started drinking more and one day absconded from the house leaving her and her daughter with no money with the help of his uncle and his entire family.This woman had to return to her mom’s and her daughter was psychologically affected with stuttering and she was bullied by everyone in her school because her dad was a drunkard.The story goes on and on.And dated back 20 years from now , he was mysteriously dead and beaten -up by someone and the woman brought her child up in a good way such that she is able to write this very blog at this point of time. I will continue this in another blog for sure.But what I’m trying to say here is, the useless drug dealers not all of them but mostly have rotten life, conceal the known facts and spoil the family.Their very own siblings also do not reveal the wrong doings thus spoiling the life of a girl who gets married with a lot of dreams in life.The conclusion here is if you get to know that, someone is dealing with drugs and has gone behind the bars, never ever live with the person- JUST GET RID OFF THEM ASAP.

Hence, I recommend a familial mental torture for the person doing anything deliberately wrong.

Two-Another gentlemen were deputed to the United States and with the IT boom like every other guy, this guy also had come to the States for a living and was very happy to have found a skilled IT job.He had bought a brand new car, rented a good apartment and was waiting for his wife to arrive in next 10 days time. His wife was working in India and she had to wrap up few things and settle some stuff for her mom. On the eve of Christmas, this poor guy had gone for shopping groceries and all the stuff for the long weekend. He was chased by the cops for not using the lights and maintaining too close a distance with the car in front of him. To make the matters worse, he did not notice the cops and drove home happily after which he realized and stopped. He was hand-cuffed and the vehicle was searched. They had produced a very fat ticket against him with all the three offenses and the third one being that he was trying to abduct something off from them.His long weekend turned out to be a nightmare and he had to get a court appointment to get the matters solved and pay a huge sum.After having connected the dots, what was revealed that the cops had targets to achieve for the year -end which they were not able to meet for the year. If the targets are not met, the officers would lose their jobs the forthcoming year. In order for them to hold on to their jobs and get a commission, they have to put someone behind the bars or confiscate marijuana or drugs. The officers were white skinned and they wanted to search for the drugs in the brown/black skinned guy’s car. As these people have a style of stopping a vehicle for traffic violations that are super minor and search the vehicle for the possession of drugs. This guy being innocent and ignorant of the cops following him had a bad day and was a victim to all this. The reason why I put up this story is like Michelle Alexander said, the vehicle search incidents have not deteriorated. It still happens and these poor guys who are well educated and come to the US only to save money get caught in the wrong hands and they are being treated as puppets by these white guys. The racism does exist in the invisible mode.

Coming back to what I was saying about New Jim Crow does exist in India but in the reverse is that, in India due to the reservation, all the upper castes or OC without money are being abused by having a higher cut-off score selection for any good university education and they are not granted any government jobs or assistance. Rather people with the caste certificate- OBC, MBC, SC/ST, etc has a lower cut off and access to every damn thing. People who belong to OC and possess wealth could survive this trauma, but others are laid behind and no damn soul to question on this. People just keep sharing the statuses on the social media, but no action is being taken so far.

One good thing is at least in the US, there is some baby step being taken to eradicate the New Jim Crow and hopefully, this will turn into a dinosaur step one day.But these steps or movements will never happen in India.

To conclude, this book is an excellent read for folks who are impacted by the New Jim Crow and a good read for folks like me who are from the other countries and can relate stuff to some extent.

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