Michelle Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow” is a Union Theological Seminary professor, a civil rights lawyer, and a writer. At the beginning of her speech at The University of Chicago in 2013, she described the system that is set in place has incarcerated and decimated many families. Michelle Alexander ran a justice project for the ACLU in California, which launched a campaign that allowed people of color to come forward and tell their stories about moments when they had been stopped and frisked by police. Due to this corrupt system, its racial progress has regressed. The Drug War has been a massive incarceration to the New Jim Crowe. From a sociological perspective someone’s actions or behaviors are interoperated in many ways. These terms are normally categorized in three ways: a Functionalist, a Conflict Theorist, and a Symbolic Interactionist.
Conflict theory refers to a society that is composed of groups in competition for scarce resources and envisions a communist society to replace capitalist class structures (Shuey 2017). Conflict theorists would see this as: for millennia, whites have dominated African Americans, since African Americans had no options back in the day other than to accept discrimination and slavery. To this day felons and African Americans are still treated badly and felons have less respect than any other person except in todays day they have some rights and are able to exercise those rights. African American males are locked away in prison as a way for police to get them off the street. As Griffith states, “African Americans only make up about 13% of the population in the United States (Griffith 2012).” People with felonies especially have fewer rights than many other people and in the past slavery was a large part of the United States, but now that people have more rights they are able to speak up through lawyers and social media if they feel they have been mistreated. A conflict theorist would explain why police are more racist and focus on felons and people of color more. People who have felonies and people of color strive to gain equality, while whites and police resist their efforts (Shuey 2017). Deviance plays a large part in how a Conflict Theorist would look at her message. According to conflict theory, the power elite controls the criminal justice system in order to maintain what benefits them along with what will keep them in power (Shuey 2017). The Bourgeoisie (rich and powerful) vs. the Proletariat (lower class) a conflict theorist would reflect on the marginal working class, which is the class that is normally so desperate to survive that individuals commit street crimes. Alexander talks about how felons are not given any resources following their sentence and even one mishap will revoke any advantage as she states, “What are folks released from prison expected to do. You’re released from prison can’t get a job, you’re barred from housing even food stamps, food may be off-limits to you what we expect them to do. Well apparently what we expected to do is to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees, fines, and court costs accumulated back child support (Alexander 2013).” When people are desperate they will do anything to survive and the system sets every single one of them to fail as soon as they get out of prison. Another term in the Conflict Theorists eyes, that would be appropriate for the message Michelle Alexander is trying to get across, is social stratification. This is about structured inequality, which means that these are built into our society’s institution and produces advantages and disadvantages to many people (Shuey 2017). This term relates to when a person with a felony, that could have even been giving to by corrupt cops, were never able to turn to the people that were supposed to protect them except only to be framed and beaten until they took the plea that was given to them by a lawyer that was hired by the state. A Conflict Theorist would look at this as they are the rich and powerful, and they will bulldoze over anyone to get what they need by using people who have no credibility and by being discriminatory towards the ones that they can get off the street will help that status and power.
A Functionalist thinks that, “Society is a whole unit; made up of interrelated parts that work together and that society is like a ‘living organism'” (Shuey 2017). One thing that a Functionalist believes is in Manifest vs. Latent. This means that criminal justice’s main purpose is to deter crime (manifest function), but with the consequence of the fact that it would create jobs (latent function); By doing this all parts of society are supposed to work together so that it can be in a normal state and when people like felons do not fill their function, society becomes abnormal (Shuey 2017). A functionalist would look at people with felonies, or even people who commit criminal acts basically as a virus in a society that screws everything up and society cannot be back on track until that virus is treated and taken care of, which is where law enforcement comes in. Like Conflict Theorist, Functionalists have a different opinion on Social Institutions, they see it in five functions: replacing members, socializing new members, producing/distributing goods & services, preserving order, and providing a sense of purpose (Shuey 2017). They would see the people of colour who go away for felonies and the ones that cycle in and out of the prison system are supposed to be replaced and it’s better for the organism as a whole if they stay there. They would disagree with Michelle Alexander and possibly be against her movement to try to help those who have been set up to fail from the beginning because that is how the world works and they are better without those criminals. Michelle Alexander is against deviance and yet a functionalist thinks that deviance contributes to social order as a whole. They think that the felons or people who have committed deviant crimes are a necessary evil in society and unlike Michelle Alexander who thinks that it’s not okay to lock black people and strip them of their rights states, “the United States has moved independently of one another incarceration rates especially black incarceration rates have soared regardless of whether the crime is going up or down in any given community or the nation as a whole so what explains the sudden explosion (Alexander 2013)”. A functionalist thinks about these deviant crimes in three functions: clarifies moral boundaries and affirms norms, promotes social unity, and promotes social change. They think in a way, that if you broke an important rule and we will not put up with that and by them thinking that they want everyone to follow rules and it does not matter what the meaning if you do not follow that rule you deserve to be put away no matter the crime. Finally, functionalism is a way for people to follow rules; Prejudice is functional and it allows dominant groups to maintain positions of authority and it does not matter what they do as long as the organism can be normal again. It does not matter what happens, if are a virus you will be put away until the living organism can be whole again and Michelle Alexander looks at it from the drug war perspective and focuses more on where these people rightfully convicted and most people who do break the rules are not even blacks but others in society.
A Symbolic Interactionist is a study of how people use symbols to communicate, it focuses on how our behaviors depend on the way we define ourselves and others around us and it focuses on face-to-face interactions and relationships. The message Michelle Alexander gives is pretty clear and that our justice system is corrupt and the millions of people that keep cycling in and out of our justice system need to be helped because Dr. King didn’t give up so we cannot either. One part of S.I. is C.H. Cooley’s looking glass self, which states that we were not born human yet humanness is socially created, and it is the process by which a sense of self is developed (Shuey 2017). Our society has developed a new cast system to which we aren’t able to see and yet many people aren’t aware of and Dr. Alexander shows us that we need to start change because if not things will get worse and a new Jim Crowe era will come once again. The looking glass self-engraves in us to be aware of how we interoperate others reactions, develop self- concepts, and how we appear to others (Shuey 2017). Stereotypes are also a large part we become prejudice towards a category of people and that is because we take on other people’s views on other people. A prime example of stereotyping is when a group of people at Stanford took data from 4.5 million traffic stops in North Carolina and they stated that, “researchers have found that police in that state are more likely to search black and Hispanic motorists, using a lower threshold of suspicion, than when they stop white or Asian drivers (Andrews 2017).” This is how we look at felons and people who commit crimes. Media and law enforcement like Michelle Alexander pointed out has painted a very clear picture, and that is that felons and people of colour are one in the same and that they always are the bad guy who doesn’t deserve to be in society. Selective Perception is another factor of how S.I.’s would perceive the speech and that is that we are painted a picture of a group that has had negative traits associated with them before many of us have even been born and by only focusing on this negative trait we fail to see the good things in that group or even the same traits in other groups since we are focused only on that group. Alexander talks about how there are more white felons and people who have been taking in for drug crimes that have not been black people and yet they are the ones that law enforcement stops and focuses on. Finally an S.I. would ask the question as to what the convicted felons do or what happened rather than focusing on the negative aspect the take a closer look at the situation. I think they would look at Michelle Alexander’s speech as one of them because she looked beyond the stereotype after that one man walked in and said he had a felony and she soon realized that there is more to the story.