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Posted on Mon, Oct 29, 2012 : 12:29 p.m.

'The New Jim Crow' announced as Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads 2013 selection

By Staff

"The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness," the award-winning book by civil rights lawyer, advocate and legal scholar Michelle Alexander, is the title selected as the focus of Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads 2013.

An eleven-member selection team composed of community members, educators, students and librarians from the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area chose the book from a group of three finalist titles, all of which centered on the theme of Understanding Race. The selection team was chaired by author and retired Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher Judy Nagle. Other titles under consideration were "The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie, and "Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work For Social Justice," by Paul Kivel.

As described by the organizers, "'The New Jim Crow' is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status - denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. Since its publication in 2010, the book has been dubbed the “secular bible of a new social movement” by numerous commentators, including Cornel West, and has led to consciousness-raising efforts in universities, churches, community centers, re-entry centers and prisons nationwide.

"The majority of black men in major urban areas are under correctional control or saddled with criminal records for life. Jim Crow laws were wiped off the books decades ago, but today an extraordinary percentage of the African American community is warehoused in prisons or trapped in a parallel social universe, denied basic civil and human rights - including the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits.

"Today, it is no longer socially permissible to use race explicitly as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. Yet as Alexander demonstrates, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against convicted criminals in nearly all the ways in which it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once labeled a felon, even for a minor drug crime, the old forms of discrimination are suddenly legal again. In her words, “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Alexander shows that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.

"'The New Jim Crow' challenges the civil rights community - and all of us - to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America. Alexander is a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar. In recent years, she has taught at a number of universities, including Stanford Law School, where she was an associate professor of law and directed the Civil Rights Clinics.

"In 2005, she won a Soros Justice Fellowship, which supported the writing of "The New Jim Crow," and that same year she accepted a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. Since the publication of "The New Jim Crow," the book has received rave reviews and has been featured in national radio and television media outlets, including MSNBC, NPR, The Bill Moyers Journal, the Tavis Smiley Show, C-Span, and Washington Journal, among others. In March, the book won the 2011 NAACP Image Award for best nonfiction.

"Prior to entering academia, Alexander served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, where she coordinated the Project’s media advocacy, grassroots organizing, coalition-building, and litigation. The Project’s priority areas were educational equity and criminal justice reform, and it was during those years at the ACLU that she began to awaken to the reality that our nation’s criminal justice system functions more like a caste system than a system of crime prevention or control. She became passionate about exposing and challenging racial bias in the criminal justice system, ultimately launching and leading a major campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement, known as the “DWB Campaign” or “Driving While Black or Brown Campaign.”

"In addition to her non-profit advocacy experience, Alexander has worked as a litigator at private law firms, including Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller, in Oakland, California, where she specialized in plaintiff-side class action lawsuits alleging race and gender discrimination.

"Alexander is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. Following law school, she clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She currently devotes much of her time to freelance writing, public speaking, consulting with advocacy organizations committed to ending mass incarceration, and, most importantly, raising her three young children - the most challenging and rewarding job of all."

Copies of the book will be available at area bookstores. Both the Ann Arbor District Library and the Ypsilanti District Library own copies of the title and plan to order more.

Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads is scheduled to occur in January and February, with a number of special events expected to be announced. For more information, visit the website at


Deborah Gibson

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 7:39 a.m.

"The New Jim Crow", assumes you understood the Old Jim Crow, and how we all were and remain affected by the social systems created. Hopefully this book will help us understand some of the recently expanded systems of racism and provide needed perspective and detail for discussions which may expand our empathic capacity. Who knows, maybe social agendas may change , creative solutions arise and futures of reconciled dimension will come tearing down the mountain. Or, maybe we will just see what we have not been able to see, previously.


Tue, Oct 30, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

The question is: Why should some one have their voting rights removed AFTER they have served a sentence? Isn't the sentence the punishment? Why do we punish someone for life?


Tue, Oct 30, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

Compare the punishment for possession of small quantities of crack to that of a banker that brought down the countries economy. One gets a few years in jail, the other gets a bonus that is taxed at a low rate. One tends to be black, one tends to be white. Must be coincidence.


Mon, Oct 29, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.

@ Unusual: I'd suggest that you read the book (or a book) and give the author's research a chance but know that won't happen.

Angry Moderate

Mon, Oct 29, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

So the public schools are promoting a book that says that drug crimes are "minor" and shouldn't be punished? Lovely. How did all three of the books end up being about race? What a coincidence.

Basic Bob

Tue, Oct 30, 2012 : 3:30 p.m.

Ask your children what they think. If they know lots of kids at school doing drugs, they probably don't think it's a big deal.


Tue, Oct 30, 2012 : 2 p.m.

It's not a coincidence. This years Reads theme is Understanding Race.


Tue, Oct 30, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

I think drug crimes are minor. I'd rather my neighbor be sitting in his home smoking pot or shooting heroin than him trying to force himself in my apartment to rob me.


Mon, Oct 29, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

Outstanding selection! A very powerful and persuasive book.