North Carolina has reconsidered its decision to ban inmates from reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, following pointed criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The book, which investigates the relationship between racism and mass incarceration, was purportedly blacklisted on the basis that it was “likely to provoke confrontation between racial groups,” a fact brought to light by a New York Times report published last week.
Chris Brook, legal director for North Carolina’s ACLU affiliate, told the Times that “there is a particular perverse irony about barring a book about racism and mass incarceration from prisons in our state,” adding that this specific title is only part of a larger censorship problem that needs to be addressed.
North Carolina’s announcement makes it the second state this month to change its mind about allowing the book within cell walls—on January 8, New Jersey lifted its own ban under similar pressure. It remains off-limits in Florida, at least for now.
The New Jim Crow is premised on the ways in which race is used as a tool to allow the country to surveil and control people of color. A report by the Sentencing Project points out that black people are imprisoned at more than five times the rate of white people, and efforts at reform have withered under the Trump administration.
As Alexander wrote in the book’s introduction:
“It is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.”