Michelle Alexander

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Michelle Alexander
Michelle Alexander 2011 02.jpg
Michelle Alexander at Miller Center, 2011
Born (1967-10-07) October 7, 1967 (age 51)
United States
Alma materVanderbilt University
Stanford Law School
Known forThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Scientific career
FieldsRace in the United States criminal justice system,
Racial profiling,
Racism in the United States
InstitutionsUnion Theological Seminary in the City of New York

Michelle Alexander (born October 7, 1967)[1] is a writer, civil rights advocate, and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary (New York City). She is best known for her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. In 2018, she was hired as an opinion columnist at The New York Times.[2]

Early life[edit]

Michelle Alexander was born on October 7, 1967. She is the daughter of Sandra Alexander, formerly of Ashland, Oregon, and the late John Alexander, originally from Evanston, Illinois. Her mother was the senior vice president of the ComNet Marketing Group in Medford, Oregon, which solicits donations for nonprofit organizations. Her younger sister, Dr. Leslie Alexander, is a professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Oregon and the author of 2008's African or American? Black Identity in New York City, 1784-1861 [3]

Alexander graduated from Vanderbilt University, where she received a Truman Scholarship. She received a law degree from the Stanford Law School.[4]


Alexander served for several years as director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. Alexander directed the Civil Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School and was a law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun at the U. S. Supreme Court and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. As an associate at Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller, she specialized in plaintiff-side class action suits alleging race and gender discrimination.[5]

Alexander now sits on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York as a Visiting Professor of Social Justice.[6]

Alexander has litigated numerous class action discrimination cases and worked on criminal justice reform issues. She is a recipient of a 2005 Soros Justice Fellowship of the Open Society Institute.[7]

The New Jim Crow[edit]

Alexander published her first book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness in 2010. In it, she argues that systemic racial discrimination in the United States resumed following the Civil Rights Movement; the resumption is embedded in the US War on Drugs and other governmental policies and is having devastating social consequences. She considers the scope and impact of this current law enforcement, legal and penal activity to be comparable with that of the Jim Crow laws of the 19th and 20th centuries. Her book concentrates on the mass incarceration of African-American men.[8]

In The New Jim Crow, Alexander argues that mass incarceration in America functions as a system of racial control in a similar way to how Jim Crow once operated. Alexander writes, "Race plays a major role-indeed, a defining role – in the current system, but not because of what is commonly understood as old-fashioned, hostile bigotry. This system of control depends far more on racial indifference (defined as a lack of compassion and caring about race and racial groups) than racial hostility – a feature it actually shares with its predecessors."[9]

The New Jim Crow describes how she believes oppressed minorities are "subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, public benefits, and jury service, just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents once were". Alexander argues the harsh penalty of how "people whose only crime is drug addiction or possession of a small amount of drugs for recreational use find themselves locked out of the mainstream society--permanently--and also highlights the inequality presented from the fact that "blacks are admitted to prison on drug charges at a rate from twenty to fifty-seven times greater than that of white men". Alexander's The New Jim Crow analyzes some of the factors she argues contribute to the new and modified Jim Crow laws that reside in American society today.[citation needed]

In a 2012 interview, Alexander told the story of the origin of the book. While she was working on cases of "Driving While Black" racial profiling in Oakland with the ACLU, a young African-American man came in with a well-documented case of many repeated stops by police over the past year. Listening to his story, Alexander increasingly felt she had the test case for which she was looking. However, the man then said in passing that he had a felony drug conviction on his record and Alexander had to backtrack completely: the conviction was an insurmountable obstacle to a test case in front of a jury for her at that time. In response, the man then became angry at her, saying in effect that "I'm innocent ...; it was just a plea bargain"; she "was no better than the police"; and "You're crazy if you think you're going to find anyone here to challenge the police who is not already 'in the system'." He ended by stalking out of the building, tearing up his notes as he went. The experience stuck with Alexander and eventually grew into the book, prompted in part by more observations of events in Oakland. She has since tried to find the young man again, in part to dedicate the book to him, but has so far been unable to.[10]

The New Jim Crow was re-released in paperback in early 2012 and has received significant praise. As of March 2012 it had been on The New York Times Best Seller list for 6 weeks[11] and it also reached number 1 on the Washington Post bestseller list in 2012. The book has also been the subject of scholarly debate and criticism.[12][13][14][15]

In the fall of 2015, all freshmen enrolled at Brown University have read The New Jim Crow as part of the campus's First Readings Program initiated by the Office of the Dean of the College and voted on by the faculty.[16]

Yale University clinical law professor James Forman Jr., while acknowledging the many similarities and insights in using the Jim Crow analogy, has argued that Alexander overstates her case, and leaves out important ways in which the newer system of mass incarceration is different. In one paper, Forman Jr. identifies Alexander as one of a number of authors who have overstated and misstated their case.[17] He asserts that her framework over-emphasizes the War on Drugs and ignores violent crimes, asserting that Alexander's analysis is demographically simplistic.

Hidden Colors 2[edit]

Alexander appeared in the documentary Hidden Colors 2: The Triumph of Melanin (released on December 6, 2012), where she discussed the impact of mass incarceration in melanoid communities. Alexander states: "Today there are more African American adults, under correctional control, in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850 a decade before the Civil War began.[18]

2016 election[edit]

In February 2016, Alexander wrote an essay in The Nation titled "Why Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote", warning against what she regarded as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's history of supporting policies which have "decimated black America."[19]

Personal life[edit]

In 2002, Alexander married Carter Mitchell Stewart, a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School.[20] Stewart at the time was a senior associate at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, a San Francisco law firm,[1] and later became the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.[21][22] They have three children.[23]


  • 2016, Heinz Award in Public Policy[24]
  • 2017, The Ohio State University, Office of Diversity and Inclusion's Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center's MLK Dreamer Award—Where nearly 2400 people & guest speaker Dr. Angela Davis celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. King—OSU ODI 45th Annual MLK Celebration.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Weddings; Michelle Alexander, Carter Stewart" (limited no-charge access), The New York Times, March 24, 2002. Retrieved January 16, 2012.
  2. ^ "Michelle Alexander Joins The New York Times Opinion Pages as Columnist". The New York Times Company. 2018-06-21. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  3. ^ Everill, Bronwen. "African or American? Black Identity in New York City, 1784-1861". history.ac.uk. Reviews in History. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  4. ^ "Michelle Alexander | Americans Who Tell The Truth". www.americanswhotellthetruth.org. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  5. ^ Alexander webpage at Ohio State Archived April 17, 2010, at the Wayback Machine..
  6. ^ Link text, additional text.
  7. ^ "OSI Awards More Than $1.25 Million Nationwide to New Leaders in Criminal Justice Reform", Open Society foundations, January 31, 2005.
  8. ^ Alexander, Michelle, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010), ISBN 978-1-59558-103-7.
  9. ^ Alexander, The New Jim Crow, p. 198.
  10. ^ "Legal Scholar: Jim Crow Still Exists In America", Fresh Air Dave Davies interview with Michelle Alexander (39 m.), January 16, 2012. Retrieved January 16, 2012.
  11. ^ Jennifer Schuessler (March 6, 2012). "Drug Policy as Race Policy: Best Seller Galvanizes the Debate". New York Times. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  12. ^ James Forman Jr. (February 26, 2012). "Radical Critiques of Mass Incarceration Beyond the New Jim Crow" (PDF). Radical Critiques. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 2, 2013. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  13. ^ Joseph D. Osel (April 7, 2012). "Black Out: Michelle Alexander's Operational Whitewash" (PDF). International Journal of Radical Critique. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  14. ^ Greg Thomas (April 26, 2012). "Why Some Like The New Jim Crow So Much". Vox Union. Archived from the original on April 27, 2013. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  15. ^ Joseph D. Osel (December 15, 2012). "Toward Détournement of The New Jim Crow, or, The Strange Career of The New Jim Crow" (PDF). International Journal of Radical Critique. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  16. ^ "About The Book", Brown University Library.
  17. ^ Forman, Jr., James (February 26, 2012). "Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow". Racial Critiques. 87: 101–146.
  18. ^ Davu, Amarii (February 19, 2014). "Tariq Nasheed Reveals Our Hidden Colors". The Source.
  19. ^ Alexander, Michelle (February 10, 2016). "Why Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote". The Nation. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  20. ^ "Hall of Fame entry for 2012 Michelle Alexander, JD '92". Black Community Services Center, Student Affairs. Stanford University. 2017. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  21. ^ Carter Stewart Archived August 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., Main Justice.
  22. ^ http://www.justice.gov/usao/ohs/meetattorney.html
  23. ^ Alexander, The New Jim Crow, p. ix.
  24. ^ "The Heinz Awards :: Recipients". www.heinzawards.net. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  25. ^ "MLK Dreamer Award :: Recipients". www.odi.osu.edu. Retrieved February 3, 2017.


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