While the end of slavery and the Jim Crow era, as well as the election of Barack Obama, led some optimists to believe that racism had ended in the United States, it is far from reality. Two books, Racism without Racists, by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, and The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, argue that racism has taken new forms in the United States. Both books explore the roots and modern iterations of racist institutions and describe the political and media rhetoric regarding minorities in America. Racism without Racists focuses on the misperception that the only racism is overt, while The New Jim Crow explores the phenomenon of mass incarceration and racial profiling. Two books overlap in their depiction of modern-day racism, as well as the representation of various racist systems within the sphere of criminal justice.
The racism with racists period was primarily connected to the time during which whites institutionally subordinated black people during the Jim Crow era. The racism of that time was associated with various systematically racist practices. As the change from slavery to Jim Crow was identified by deviations and no commonly held racial principles (Bonilla-Silva 28). Thus, racially divided laws and unwritten common practices have developed after 1865 and were set twenty years later (Bonilla-Silva 28). However, Jim Crow-inspired perception of racial relations has been followed by the new racist ideology or color-blind racism. Therefore, people of color encounter systematic separation and continue to be noticeably behind white people in various vital spheres. Whereas Jim Crow apartheid defined black people’s social and political standing as the outcome of their physical and psychological inferiority, color-blind racism is not solely based on these arguments. Alternatively, white people reason the contemporary minorities’ state as the natural outcome of capitalist economic relations and blacks’ assigned cultural constraints.
Furthermore, cultural racism is different from a traditional one, as the former is a structure that relies on culturally-based reasons for discrimination. For instance, the phrase “blacks have too many babies” is used to justify black people’s minority position in society (Bonilla-Silva 76). On the contrary, slavery and Jim Crow periods used biological features as a primary argument for segregating racial minorities. Another example of cultural discrimination is when white people harass minorities for their assumed lack of proper hygiene, moral code, and family derangement. Another example of cultural racism that recently became popular among white people is the excuse “some of my best friends are black” (Bonilla-Silva 105). Thus, the core of this frame of racism is victim-blaming, claiming that minorities’ positions result from their laziness and improper values without acknowledging the systematic inequalities or avoiding conversations about race.
Racism without Racists points towards the inconsistencies and lack of political will to make post-Civil War reconstruction effective as one of the factors allowing the Jim Crow era to happen. The history of slavery influenced the geographic distribution and primary occupation of black people, leading to a more evident institutional racism in the south. The text indicates that in the south, “this was accomplished through vagrancy and apprenticeship laws, restrictions on blacks’ right to buy land and to work in certain occupations, debt imprisonment, and the convict lease system” (Bonilla-Silva 27). This would lead to more directly segregationist, that is, racist laws being put in place, namely “disenfranchisement of blacks, racial separation in public accommodations, segregation in housing, schools, the workplace, and other areas to ensure white supremacy” (Bonilla-Silva 28). Despite the end of the Jim Crow era, elements of segregation still exist in the United States. Black communities, particularly poor black people, are often separated by neighborhood or district, creating a sort of soft separation. However, recent trends indicate that this distribution of the black population is declining.
Moreover, when the primary segregation codes were overturned, some federal rights laws protecting the recently emancipated slaves were announced. This period is also known as the Reconstruction because of the brief advancement of black rights. One of the main achievements of this time is the Thirteenth Amendment, which stands for the abolition of slavery in the United States. Despite its primary function, this Amendment allowed State to have one significant deviation: “slavery remained appropriate as punishment for a crime” (Alexander 70). In a milestone ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court, Ruffin v. Commonwealth, the court stated that “he is for the time being a slave of the State” (Alexander 70). Thus, black people are re-enslaved by the State through the criminal justice system. The author presents the information that convicts more often were black, and the prison sentences got longer (Alexander 70). Thus, the decade after the Amendment, the population in prisons started to increase ten times faster than the overall number of people in the United States.
The prison-industrial complex is associated with the accelerated expansion of a number of convicts because of the strong influence of private prisons. They and other businesses started to adapt their strategies after politicians began to look for ways to cut the federal prison budget. Private prisons are influential as they are rooted in the economy and politics of the United States. Various wealthy company owners and politicians invest millions of dollars into the private prison sector. Thus, influential people are particularly interested in increasing the number of sentenced individuals and not reforming the justice system that holds many people of color captive for a profit. Corrections Corporation of America provided various reasons for such interest, “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them” (Alexander 261). Therefore, the system thrives from the conviction of black people, as these facilities’ entire existence is connected to the constant need for new prisoners.
Donald Trump, particularly during his campaign, made various statements painting minorities in America as a threat. For instance, Donald Trump has accused Mexicans of being rapists and drug dealers (Alexander, 12). However, public officials state that minority members, mainly the black population, maybe a threat that predates Donald Trump. The idea of super predators has been reported in American media, creating a false narrative of a generation of predominantly black young men who are going to be remorseless criminals (Alexander, 18). The focus of the media during the War on Drugs was directed at the black population during the perceived crack cocaine epidemic in the 80s and 90s (Alexander, 44). The combination of public officials and media repeatedly presenting the black community as dangerous can lead to fear among the dominant white population. That would demand more police protection, resulting in more racial profiling.
The segregation caused by Jim Crow-era laws and norms still exists in some form, leading to members of the black community being seen as separate from their white neighbors. Furthermore, constant political and media rhetoric presenting black Americans as potential threats, through drugs or violent crime, makes elements of the non-black population fearful. As The New Jim Crow notes, the sort of well-publicized killings of predominantly unarmed black men is common decades after the Jim Crow laws. The police brutality towards unarmed black men and boys indicates a lack of sympathy, or worse, genuine, albeit misguided, fear that they may be dangerous (Alexander, 10). As long as whites are told to be fearful of the black population, black people will suffer violence.
The general discontent with the constant violence towards the black population coalesced into the Black Lives Matter Movement after the acquittal of the murderer of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin. The main goal of the movement is to change the notion that violence against the black population is somehow less significant than against any other group in the United States (Alexander, 10). This can be done by demanding that minorities are not vilified in the media by insisting on accountability from law enforcement when it acts with excessive force.
In conclusion, both books identify transparent areas of racism still prevalent in the United States. Racism without Racists defines the dangerous belief that contemporary American society is no longer racist and explores the ways racism still underpins various interactions. The New Jim Crow goes further, investigating the link between mass incarceration and racism and how it can be seen as a descendant of the Jim Crow era. Both books argue that racism is still present and can not be ignored. Furthermore, the current form of racism is harder to identify, as the majority of the population is not conscious that their behavior is racist. However, this still has adverse effects on the black community, despite there being less overt racism. The rhetoric Donald Trump has normalized is presented as another step back, and ties into the killing of unarmed black men and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism Without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. 4th ed., Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2014.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New Press, 2012.