Who is Michelle Alexander, and what was her argument? What is dis-proportionality, and who does it impact?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Michelle Alexander is a writer and activist whose best-known work is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness . In this book, Alexander argues that the War on Drugs has effectively functioned as a new form of systemic racial discrimination, analogous to the Jim Crow...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Michelle Alexander is a writer and activist whose best-known work is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. In this book, Alexander argues that the War on Drugs has effectively functioned as a new form of systemic racial discrimination, analogous to the Jim Crow laws which were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The laws pertaining to drugs are not explicitly racist, but they disproportionately affect African Americans, meaning that their effect is similar to that of racist legislation.

Disproportionality refers to the disparity between the number of black people and white people who are incarcerated, particularly for drug-related crimes. Alexander points out that white people in America are more likely to sell and use drugs than African Americans. However, the prison population is dominated by black people. In New Jersey, for instance, African Americans account for 15 percent of the state's general population but 60 percent of its prison inmates. Disproportionality on this scale cannot be explained by poverty or any other social factors, but is the result of a complex set of policies at federal and state levels. These policies are not confined to the prison system. Once African Americans are disproportionately categorized as criminals, this enables discrimination to take place in education, employment, housing, and a whole range of other areas without race ever being mentioned as a factor.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team