Welcome to our first online discussion post! During Lent, we will post questions each week to help get you thinking and guide you through The New Jim Crow. We will do our best to make the questions accessible to those who have not yet read the book, but we strongly encourage you to read it. Please also see our page entitled The New Jim Crow Study Tools to read articles, find other discussion questions, or listen to Michelle Alexander speak.

Please respond to the questions through commenting on our post, or responding to the comments of others. We do not allow hateful language of any kind on our website, so we retain the right to remove posts.


Read the following excerpt from the book’s introduction: 

“Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises- the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life. Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole. Cotton’s story illustrates, in many respects, the old adage “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

  • In what ways is this true in how our society has dealt and continues to deal with issues of race and class?
  •  Do you think Jarvious Cotton’s situation has parallels to the stories of the earlier generations of his family? Why or why not?


John Mathison · February 24, 2015 at 1:04 pm

“Hundreds of years later, America is still not an egalitarian democracy.” Sadly Jarvious Cotton’s situation echoes modern day issues of race and class. Despite the minor adjustments made over the years, the system is still flawed in many ways. In other words “we have not ended racial caste in America, we have merely redesigned it.” While the face of discrimination has changed the stigma has not. For instance, today it seems the injustice has largely become institutionalized “Rather than rely on race, we allow our criminal justice system to label people of color criminals.”
Jarvious Cotton’s situation also draws parallels to the stories of the earlier generations of his family. “In each generation, new tactics have been used for achieving the same goals.” Slavery, Violence, lack of education, incarceration. Every generation of Cotton’s family contended with a different evil,
each with the same outcome; their voices were silenced. Cotton’s situation is a stark reminder; if we continue to redesign rather than rebuild there will never be true progress.

Erin · February 26, 2015 at 1:43 pm

It seems like the systems of oppression that are in place today are more insidious and harder to point out. It’s easy to say that slavery is morally wrong and since we don’t do that anymore, we’ve moved into a post-racial society, when in reality, there are different systems of oppression like the overwhelming amount of black men imprisoned for drug and other minor offenses. By turning black men into criminals, it then makes it easier to deny them their rights. That they are the ones who are in the wrong, and that they deserve the consequences. Black men are much more likely to be prosecuted for a crime and to serve time than a white man accused of the same thing. The racist systems in place today may be less blatantly obvious than slavery, but they have the same effect of disenfranchising black people and creating a system designed to keep them down.

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