Stop Being Slow: The New Jim Crow Must Go

On the twelfth anniversary of Michele Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow (2010), the new freedom movement priority should be specifically to get rid of this confounded nonsense that a new Jim Crow exists in the new millennium, and this is the best way to characterize the contemporary system that keeps down Black people. The oppressive institutions that overwhelmingly keep down Black people, wherever the vast multitudes of Black people live, are administered by Black people. This is not to suggest that Black people are not fit to govern ourselves. Rather, the Black political class should not be defended as our representatives. They are not the embodiment of our humanity, when locally those in official authority are in fact our killers and managers of subordinate lives.

The Reality of Jim Crow and Lynch Law in the South

Jim Crow was a system of law, customs, and practices that relegated Black people to the position of second-class citizenship, particularly in the Southern region of the United States. Jim Crow was sanctioned by the white racial state that emerged following the subversion of Black Reconstruction from 1865–1877. The white power structure ensured that segregation in public accommodations was enforced through the law. The everyday white citizen was deputized to enforce this social order through brute force and violence known as lynch law. Lynch law was the public killing and mutilation of Black people, mostly in the Jim Crow south. It was used as a tool of social domination, terror, and economic exploitation of Black people. The term Jim Crow is believed to have derived from the song “Jump Jim Crow” performed by Thomas Rice, a white actor who performed caricatures of Black people in Black face.

The Defeat of Jim Crow

Over sixty years ago Jim Crow segregation was officially legally defeated through the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) This overruled the constitutionality of the Court’s previous ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). This earlier decision theoretically sanctioned segregation so long as separate accommodations for Black people were equal to that of whites. However, resources provided were rarely equal. Informal segregation of schools and housing is still with us. Of course, the modern civil rights (1955–1965) and Black Power movements (1965–1975), pushed the government from behind. At its most insurgent it even made it question if its legitimacy could survive.

The Advent of a New Jim Crow

Today, we have activists for the government claiming that there is a new Jim Crow. Such activists claim that the new Jim Crow functions eerily similar to the original Jim Crow in the way that it discriminates against Black people in America. Michelle Alexander, author of New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, is the major proponent responsible for popularizing the idea of the existence of a New Jim Crow.

In her book, Alexander claims that the new Jim Crow is carried out through the way that the law is used to disenfranchise Black people, Black men in particular. She argues that this is evident in how Black men were disproportionately targeted for prosecution and conviction in the war on drugs even though there is no evidence that Black people use drugs any more than their white counterparts. She claims that the war on drugs in particular and the criminal justice system in general has been used as a tool to disenfranchise and discriminate against Black people branded felons in housing, education, and job opportunities.

The Problems with the New Jim Crow Theory

Alexander’s new Jim Crow arguments aim to characterize mass incarceration as a problem of racial injustice. Such arguments are short-sighted in that there are millions of poor white people who are also locked inside of what Mumia Abu Jamal has referred to as America’s prison house of nations. To be clear, even under the southern Jim Crow regime, some white people were punished by other whites when it was perceived that another white person attempted to subvert white supremacy and domination in the interest of Black liberation. Today, the vast majority of the prison population not comprised of people of color are not there for trying to subvert the dominant social order. There is no new Jim Crow. There is the American prison state.

By and large, mass incarceration is powered by an ethnically plural police state. It is presided over by the Black political class made up of Black mayors, police chiefs, judges, prosecutors, and department of corrections commissioners. Many of these individuals rule above society in the mid-west and southern regions of the U.S. where Jim Crow and lynch law were literally woven into the social fabric. The Black vote is not suppressed, and Blacks overwhelmingly don’t vote for Republicans.

In many instances, it is Black people who are driving mass incarceration of the multitudes in southern cities and counties (as well as in the north) throughout the United States today. This was not the case in the era of Jim Crow in the south. Black people were not in official authority in most places from 1878–1954. Even in the contemporary federal government there are Black U.S. Attorneys, judges, and FBI agents.

Carter Stewart, the husband of Alexander, presided over mass incarceration and criminalization of poor and Black people as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio during Barack Obama’s presidency. This is pointed out to highlight the fact that Alexander’s characterizations of the new Jim Crow suggesting to many that it is something carried out by racist southern rednecks is an argument, she knows is fallacious. In fact, when the book first came out it functioned to run interference for Obama, whose contempt for young Black men, was well known.

Obama repeatedly made speeches chiding Black male behavior to national audiences and in mixed company. How could an imperialist who target assassinated people of color from the sky in the Middle East without trial “bring black manhood back?” During Jim Crow was a Black man ever-made emperor of the world? This is what this ahistorical idea defends: the role of the Black political class, that appear to be caring and civil professionals, stepping on ordinary people. Michele Alexander’s book, especially its title, was expanded into a larger idea that was used to assert a certain argument: just because Obama was elected didn’t mean racism was over. This was true. But they wished to mystify and defend who were its most advanced administrators.

Progressive Reformers Don’t Oppose the Carceral State

Liberals and progressives do not uncompromisingly oppose the American prison state. These criminal justice reformers who wish to make prisons “more humane” and police who conquer and kill “better trained,” seem to believe that the carceral state should merely be reformed to incarcerate less Black non-violent drug offenders. However, John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University in his book Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform asserts that the majority of people convicted of crimes are incarcerated for violent offenses. Therefore, simply reforming drug laws, as we see, will still leave millions of people behind bars.

The propagators of the idea that there is a new Jim Crow seem mentally stuck before 1955–1965 fighting a white racial state that no longer exists. However, this does not mean that white supremacy and racism no longer exist. Half the ruling class wishes to maintain Anglo-Americanism explicitly; the other bloc of capital, people like Michelle Alexander votes for, work for multi-cultural America.

The New Jim Crow Offers No Solutions for Political Struggle Today

Alexander’s book was circulated widely in university life and cited in media ad nauseum in response to young people’s concerns about state violence. As the uprisings against police murder from 2014–2020 showed, it offered no political thought on how to overturn the oppressive system whatsoever. In fact, everyone who blabbered on about what her book said was an activist for the government. Her ideas did not lead to burning down police stations, overturning police cars, throwing back tear gas at the police, or unarresting those who took direct action in the streets. Why? Because her color consciousness (in contrast to color blindness) functioned to contain the real liberation instinct and struggle. In fact, her social consciousness was a highly overstated projection from someone still struggling with racial insecurity because of the reality of the class she identifies. Alexander does not think professionals should be abolished as the embodiment of culture and government.

Still, if those who speak of a New Jim Crow are not simply relying on outdated notions of the material reality of who administers subordinate lives in the U.S. where Black people live (given who Black people tend to vote for) they may be doing something more sinister. They may be setting back the clock of history to spread disinformation to defend the Black political class from their results: police murder and mass incarceration. “The New Jim Crow” wishes to maintain the myth that black power above society means concern (if not advancement) for ordinary Black people below society.

Activists for the Government Take New Jim Crow and Run with It

As problematic as the idea of the existence of a new Jim Crow is within the realm of the criminal justice system, when we observe how far activists for the government have run with this idea it is quite disturbing. Activists for the government use the idea of a new Jim Crow to, on one hand, justify the expansion of the affirmative action empire and the ethnically plural police state. On the other hand, activists for the government use the new Jim Crow theory to give cover to Black-led governments who face crises that go beyond their abilities to address. The reality is that the municipality or city-state as a model, under the empire of capital, can no longer ensure the health, safety, and security of people. This is a fact of political life that transcends race and color. We should be conscious of perennial racism. But we should also be conscious of Black elites claiming to be leaders of mass democratic social motions that they are not. We should despise pretenders where our lives are on the line. The social class that Michele Alexander represents clearly believes that all black lives do not matter. She affirms them in a hierarchy and sides with the functionaries of the imperial and police state first — especially where they are black.

New Branding to Resuscitate the Democratic Party

Every Black-led regime, especially those few who claim to be a part of some insurgent social motion, have created a brand that is extremely useful in resuscitating and lending legitimacy to the Democratic Party. There are activists for the government, who are sponsored by the cultural apparatus of the Democratic Party, who coalesce around these regimes to help legitimate the politically bankrupt idea that these rulers in hierarchical government and the people are one. This is where slogans that allude to direct democracy (when in reality this form of freedom is feared by progressives) like “the people must decide” come from. What they mean is that the people must decide who will be their rulers, not that they must hold sway over the central decisions that impact their lives. Such slogans are used to blur the lines between Black rulers above society and the multitudes who they subordinate. Such rulers do not represent the interests of the people. They represent the interests of Capital and the State. So do the activists for the government, who decry privilege and are friends with the white rich, and run interference for them in times of crisis.

The new Jim Crow is used by activists for the government when Black-led regimes are in a crisis that goes beyond their political abilities to address. When faced with such crises, you will hear the Black rulers talk about “white flight.” This is code to say that white people leaving the city and taking their tax dollars with them devastated and undermined Black municipal governments to the point of sabotage.

Let us be clear Black mayors and their decrepit city governments are not “the Black body” swinging from a tree or found at the bottom of a well. That is what these Black-led governments have done (with more modern methods of propaganda) to everyday Black people. They have mutilated Black toilers, the unemployed and street force and left them for dead or warehoused them while scholar-activists argued about whether the prisons are publicly owned or privately owned. Such people decry Wall Street, and get out the vote for these despicable people again.

Racism Used to Obfuscate the Bankruptcy of Black Rulers

In instances where the state is run by a white Republican governor, as many in the south are, The Black rulers will misdirect by emphasizing that they have been asking for help from the State for years to no avail thus making their administration the “victim” of the economic chicanery of white racist Republicans. It does not matter if the Black mayor has done nothing to address the city’s problem themselves.

When the crisis finally strikes, the activists for the government give cover to the Black mayor. They say that the white-led state government has “divested” or “defunded” the municipal government to undermine Black leadership. They lay responsibility for the catastrophe of the municipality at the feet of state government. At all costs, it can never be the ineptitude or political bankruptcy of the Black mayor and his administration. To be clear, this is not a defense of state governments. There is no need to affirm such a vile station of oppression to convey the obvious. It is the mayoral administration’s responsibility to address problem facing the municipality on its watch. The new Jim Crow rallying cry is used to ensure that Black rulers are absolved of all responsibility for crises that happen on their watch. It is always the new Jim Crow that is at play rearing its ugly head again.

The New Jim Crow: A Weapon Wielded to Protect the Black Political Class

Michelle Alexander’s popularization of the new Jim Crow as it pertains to mass incarceration is superficial. The true value of the notion of an existence of “a new Jim Crow” is found in its ability to be wielded as a sword and shield to protect the Black political class. In the south today, there are numerous Black rulers who preside over and administer subjugation and hold in-check the common people’s better instincts toward controlling their own lives independent of and separate from Black rulers who claim to represent them.

Black people have been repeatedly murdered by Black led city governments in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Arkansas. Not to mention in California, New York, Illinois, Maryland, and Washington D.C. People magazine, Time-Life, tabloid journalism everywhere (certainly Ebony and Essence) perennially spread puff pieces about these Black personalities, many of them Black women, who are mayors. Even the people half-asleep know their names from London to Vi, Latoya to Lori, Randall to Antar, Sharon to Steven, Andre, Frank, and Muriel. Should all Black lives matter? Well, we know who is still alive.

Michele Alexander’s book was originally endorsed by the NAACP, the national association for the advancement of certain people, and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE). This would make this the first “radical” book endorsed by cops and black activists who have never been associated with insurgency. Ever since, she has become a celebrity professor including at the Union Theological Cemetery. The cultural apparatus of the state rewards her because she never disturbed anybody who held power above society, certainly not the left bloc of capital she is affiliated.

The new Jim Crow is wielded by political hucksters who are only interested in maintaining power for themselves above society. Where southern activists in the past held signs that read “Jim Crow must go,” today’s activists for the government fight to keep the spirit of Jim Crow alive because they are slow and rewarded for doing so.

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