Michelle Alexander at Miller Center, 2011
|Born||October 7, 1967|
|Fields||Race in the United States criminal justice system,
Racism in the United States
|Institutions||Ohio State University|
|Alma mater||Vanderbilt University
Stanford Law School
|Known for||The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness|
Education and career
Alexander is a graduate of Vanderbilt University where she received a Truman Scholarship. She 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.
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.
Book: The New Jim Crow
Alexander published her first book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010). In it, she argues that systemic racial discrimination in the United States has resumed following the Civil Rights Movement's gains; 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.
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.”
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.
In a 2012 interview, Alexander told the story of the origin of the book. Working on "Driving While Black" DWB racial profiling in Oakland with the ACLU, a young African-American man came in with a well-documented case of most of a year of repeated stops by police with dates and names. Listening to his story, Alexander increasingly felt she had the test case for which she was looking. Then the man said in passing he had a drug-felony conviction on his record and Alexander had to backtrack completely and finally: The conviction was an insurmountable obstacle to a test case in front of a jury for her at that time. In turn, the man then built a strong anger toward her, saying in effect "I'm innocent ...; it was just a plea bargain"; and that 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, tearing up his notes as he went. The experience stuck with Alexander and eventually grew, prompted in part by more observations of events in Oakland, into the book. She has tried to find the young man again, in part to dedicate the book to him, but has so far been unable to.
The New Jim Crow was re-released in paperback in early 2012 and has received significant praise. As of September 30, 2012 it has been on The New York Times Best Seller list for 35 weeks and it also reached #1 on the Washington Post best seller list in 2012. The book has also been the subject of scholarly debate and criticism.
Starting in the fall of 2015 all freshmen enrolled at Brown University will 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.
Alexander is a 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, Leslie Alexander, is a professor of African American Studies at Ohio State University and is the author of African or American?: Black Identity and Political Activism in New York City, 1784-1861.
Alexander married Carter Mitchell Stewart in 2002, then a senior associate at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, a San Francisco law firm. Currently, Stewart serves as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. They have three children. He does not share Alexander's views about the criminal justice system.
- "Weddings; Michelle Alexander, Carter Stewart" (limited no-charge access), The New York Times, March 24, 2002. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
- Alexander webpage at Ohio State.
- "OSI Awards More Than $1.25 Million Nationwide to New Leaders in Criminal Justice Reform", Open Society foundations, January 31, 2005.
- Alexander, Michelle, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, New York 2010) ISBN 978-1-59558-103-7
- Alexander, The New Jim Crow, p. 198.
- "Legal Scholar: Jim Crow Still Exists In America", Fresh Air Dave Davies interview with Michelle Alexander (39 m.), January 16, 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
- Jennifer Schuessler (2012-03-06). "Drug Policy as Race Policy: Best Seller Galvanizes the Debate". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-09.
- James Forman Jr. (2012-02-26). "Radical Critiques of Mass Incarceration Beyond the New Jim Crow" (PDF). Radical Critiques. Retrieved 2012-05-08.
- Joseph D. Osel (2012-04-07). "Black Out: Michelle Alexander's Operational Whitewash" (PDF). International Journal of Radical Critique. Retrieved 2012-05-08.
- Greg Thomas (2012-04-26). "Why Some Like The New Jim Crow So Much". Vox Union. Retrieved 2012-05-08.
- Joseph D. Osel (2012-12-15). "Toward Détournement of The New Jim Crow, or, The Strange Career of The New Jim Crow" (PDF). International Journal of Radical Critique. Retrieved 2012-12-20.
- Alexander, Michelle, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, New York 2010) ISBN 978-1-59558-103-7, p. ix
- Alexander, Michelle, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, New York 2010) ISBN 978-1-59558-103-7, p. x
- Tomgram: Michelle Alexander
- TRNN Town Hall: In Conversation with Michelle Alexander at The Real News Network