Like an Optical Illusion

"For me, the new caste system is now as obvious as my own face in the mirror. Like an optical illusion—one in which the embedded image is impossible to see until its outline is identified—the new caste system lurks invisibly within the maze of rationalizations we have developed for persistent racial inequality."

In this quote, Michelle Alexander speaks to the subtle way in which the “new Jim Crow” operates. Even as a civil rights attorney at the ACLU, Alexander was largely blind to and skeptical of the parallels between mass incarceration and the Jim Crow south. Her point here is that unlike overt oppression of slavery and Jim Crow, this new system operates insidiously under the guise of laws and policies that are officially “colorblind.” Once one investigates the results of these colorblind policies, however, it becomes obvious that they are primarily employed in a way that targets and oppresses minorities.

The Rules of Acceptable Discourse

"As the rules of acceptable discourse changed, segregationists distanced themselves from an explicitly racist agenda. They developed instead the racially sanitized rhetoric of "cracking down on crime."

Alexander argues that throughout US history, racial oppression has never truly gone away but merely changed forms to adapt to the prevailing social codes of the time. When it was no longer socially acceptable to support slavery, oppression took new form through Jim Crow and other legalized forms of racial segregation. After the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, the racial discrimination of the Jim Crow era was no longer socially acceptable. Today, racial oppression is achieved through coded rhetoric about getting “tough” on crime. Though such statements seem racially neutral, most Americans...

(The entire section is 952 words.)