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New Jim Crow Lesson 9

Parallels Between Mass Incarceration and Jim Crow

Hello and welcome to Southern Fried Socialist and Lesson 9 of the Teach Tolerance Lesson Plan for the New Jim Crow. Michelle Alexander was inspired to write The New Jim Crow while working as a civil rights lawyer at the ACLU, and you can read her interview with Teaching Tolerance : A Conversation with Michelle Alexander . Teach Tolerance’s mission is to Discover and develop world-class materials with a community of educators committed to diversity, equity and justice.

Essential Questions

  • What are the most salient similarities between Jim Crow and mass incarceration?
  • How has racial caste perpetuated in the form of mass incarceration, despite the achievements of the civil rights movement?

Tier II and III vocabulary

  • Collateralsomething pledged as security for repayment of a loan, to be forfeited in the event of a default.
  • Dysfunction abnormality or impairment in the function of a specified bodily organ or system
  • Eradicatedestroy completely; put an end to
  • Hallmark – a mark stamped on articles of gold, silver, or platinum in Britain, certifying their standard of purity.
  • Ideologya system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy
  • Intuitionthe ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning
  • Legitimatemake legitimate; justify or make lawful:
  • Liberation – the act of setting someone free from imprisonment, slavery, or oppression; release:
  • Organicallywithout the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals, naturally
  • Perpetualnever ending or changing
  • Plightpledge or promise solemnly (one’s faith or loyalty).
  • Progenya descendant or the descendants of a person, animal, or plant; offspring
  • Rationalizeattempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate
  • Subsequentcoming after something in time; following
  • Untouchable – people outside of a caste system, not able or allowing to be touched or affected

Warm Up

Exercise 1: Venn Diagram / Handout – Complete the Venn diagram below to compare and contrast Jim Crow and mass incarceration. List similarities in the section where the two circles overlap. Write details that explain how Jim Crow and mass
incarceration are different in the two outer circles.

Chapter 5

Exercise 1: This lesson focuses on a subsection of Chapter 5,  in which Alexander discusses Mass incarceration is a system of racialized social control that, like slavery and Jim Crow before it, operates to discriminate and create a stigmatized racial group locked into an inferior position by law and custom. While we are reading, consider the following…

  1. What are the similarities and differences between Jim Crow and mass incarceration?
  2. What is Alexander’s thesis in The New Jim Crow?
  3. Are their any connections between mass incarceration and your own lives and communities?

Exercise 2: Discussion Questions; The following are suggested discussion questions for the activity above and guided reading. Unlike the majority of previous lessons, where we focused primarily on close engagement with the text, this activity asks YOU to form and articulate YOUR own points of view….

  1. What is the most striking similarity between Jim Crow and mass incarceration in your opinion?
  2. What is the most important difference between Jim Crow and mass incarceration in your opinion?
  3. Overall, do you think mass incarceration has more parallels with Jim Crow than differences?
  4. How has reading The New Jim Crow changed or informed the way you think about the civil rights movement?
  5. How has reading The New Jim Crow changed or informed the way you think about drug laws?
  6. How has reading The New Jim Crow changed or informed the way you think about our criminal justice system?
  7. How has reading The New Jim Crow changed or informed the way you think about race and racism?
  8. How has reading The New Jim Crow changed or informed the way you think about U.S. History?
  9. In your opinion, who would benefit the most from reading The New Jim Crow? Why?
  10. How does The New Jim Crow relate to you?
  11. How does The New Jim Crow relate to your family?
  12. How does The New Jim Crow relate to your community?
  13. What is one thing you would like to ask or tell Alexander? What do you think her response would be? 

Guided Reading : Lesson 9

Full Audio : Chapter 5

1. See Jamie Fellner and Marc Mauer, Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States (Washington, DC: Sentencing Project, 1998).
2. See Purkett v. Elm, 514 U.S. 765 discussed in chapter 3, p. 150.
3. Brian Kalt, “The Exclusion of Felons from Jury Service,” American University Law Review 53 (2003): 65.
4. Jeremy Travis, But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry (Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 2002), 32, citing Bureau of Justice Statistics.
5. Peter Wagner, “Prisoners of the Census”; for more information, see
6. See, e.g., Charles Ogletree and Austin Sarat, eds.,
From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America (New York: New York University Press, 2006); and Joy James, The New Abolitionists: (Neo) Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings (New York: State University of New York Press, 2005)