This book is an important, but tough, read. Important because we need to know the extent of our massive prison population and how it got that way. Important because we need to understand that mass incarceration, in the name of the war on drugs and “law and order,” has been applied discriminatorily against our black and brown youth, particularly boys and young men. Important because mass incarceration is the new face of a very, very old attempt to keep black and brown people from being full members of society. Important because those of us who are part of the white majority need to see the face of our society from the perspective of those who are not white.
The book is tough because the conclusions are inescapable. It’s tough because well-meaning Christian white Americans have let this happen under our eyes. It’s tough because our response, if it is to combat this problem at its root, must be far more than simply revising our mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Michelle Alexander brings incredible research to these points, carefully laying out facts and figures from her experiences as the director of ACLU’s Racial Justice Project inNorthern California and as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun and as a professor of law at Ohio State University.
She argues that, contrary to what most of us want to believe, “colorblindness” is part of the problem and not part of the solution. In her final chapter, entitled “The Fire This Time,” she challenges us to rethink denial, to talk openly about race, and to adopt an “all of us or none” attitude toward justice.
Like most of our societal problems today, this one is complex. Solutions will not be based on 30-second sound bites, but on systemic work to rid ourselves and our institutions of implicit bias.
Not an easy read. Yes, a tough one. But one that’s necessary.—Jeanie Smith