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The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (2012) (read in 2017)

Published by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

This is an impeccably researched, devastatingly factual, relentlessly focused and canonical volume on ongoing institutional racism against blacks in the United States. The argument is that the power over blacks that whites had through slavery was not eradicated with the end of slavery, but rather made to go (very temporarily) underground only to reappear as Jim Crow laws—laws that subjugated blacks just as effectively as slavery without the stigma of human chattel.

She continues the argument that the 20th-century (and now, 21st-century) United States prison system almost totally subverts civil-rights achievements by continuing the subjugation of blacks, sending them once again to a second-class society in America, just as effectively as slavery and the Jim Crow laws did.

The U.S. slavery laws designated black people as property. This kept them in an official lower caste. Once owning people was no longer socially acceptable, the caste system was continued by denying all sorts of rights with poll tests and other extremely precisely defined qualification systems, collectively known as Jim Crow laws. Once the Jim Crow laws were deemed illegal—and, more importantly, no longer socially acceptable—the elites pivoted once again and came up with a new way of relegating blacks to a second-class caste: criminalization.

Fueled by a tremendous propaganda effort—as well as very willing participants—one law after another was created, targeting blacks specifically in order to mark them as voluntary criminals and therefore unworthy of participation in mainstream society. The U.S. Drug War was instrumental in this mission. The many ways in which the criminalization of blacks was achieved are breathtakingly insidious and devious. The most devious part is that the latest incarnation disarmed the civil-rights movement’s best weapon: the morally offensive racial bias of Jim Crow laws tended to pull people together to support their discriminated brethren. By swapping race for criminality, they drive a wedge between potential non-criminal supporters and those who have supposedly chosen a life of crime.

Alexander presents her thesis relentlessly, heaping an irrefutable amount of information on the reader until the propaganda wall of all but the most hardened racists must be broken down. That might be giving people too much credit, though.


“In Washington, D.C., our nation’s capitol, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison. Similar rates of incarceration can be found in black communities across America.”
Page 6
“In some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men.”
Page 7
“The only country in the world that even comes close to the American rate of incarceration is Russia, and no other country in the world incarcerates such an astonishing percentage of its racial or ethnic minorities.”
Page 8
“These days, activists who advocate “a world without prisons” are often dismissed as quacks, but only a few decades ago, the notion that our society would be much better off without prisons—and that the end of prisons was more or less inevitable—not only dominated mainstream academic discourse in the field of criminology but also inspired a national campaign by reformers demanding a moratorium on prison construction.”
Page 8
“One in three young African American men will serve time in prison if current trends continue, and in some cities more than half of all young adult black men are currently under correctional control—in prison or jail, on probation or parole.20 Yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis).”
Page 9
“The popular narrative that emphasizes the death of slavery and Jim Crow and celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, is dangerously misguided. The colorblind public consensus that prevails in America today—i.e., the widespread belief that race no longer matters—has blinded us to the realities of race in our society and facilitated the emergence of a new caste system.”
Page 11
“Few legal rules meaningfully constrain the police in the drug war, and enormous financial incentives have been granted to law enforcement to engage in mass drug arrests through military-style tactics. Once swept into the system, one’s chances of ever being truly free are slim, often to the vanishing point.”
Page 16
“The demand for land was met by invading and conquering larger and larger swaths of territory. American Indians became a growing impediment to white European “progress,” and during this period, the images of American Indians promoted in books, newspapers, and magazines became increasingly negative.”
Page 23
“In an effort to protect their superior status and economic position, the planters shifted their strategy for maintaining dominance. They abandoned their heavy reliance on indentured servants in favor of the importation of more black slaves. Instead of importing English-speaking slaves from the West Indies, who were more likely to be familiar with European language and culture, many more slaves were shipped directly from Africa. These slaves would be far easier to control and far less likely to form alliances with poor whites.”
Page 24
“The notion of white supremacy rationalized the enslavement of Africans, even as whites endeavored to form a new nation based on the ideals of equality, liberty, and justice for all. Before democracy, chattel slavery in America was born. It may be impossible to overstate the significance of race in defining the basic structure of American society. The structure and content of the original Constitution was based largely on the effort to preserve a racial caste system—slavery—while at the same time affording political and economic rights to whites, especially propertied whites.”
Page 25
“Nine Southern states adopted vagrancy laws—which essentially made it a criminal offense not to work and were applied selectively to blacks—and eight of those states enacted convict laws allowing for the hiring-out of county prisoners to plantation owners and private companies. Prisoners were forced to work for little or no pay.”
Page 28
“Once again, vagrancy laws and other laws defining activities such as “mischief” and “insulting gestures” as crimes were enforced vigorously against blacks. The aggressive enforcement of these criminal offenses opened up an enormous market for convict leasing, in which prisoners were contracted out as laborers to the highest private bidder.”
Page 31
“As described by sociologist Katherine Beckett, “The (alleged) misbehaviors of the poor were transformed from adaptations to poverty that had the unfortunate effect of reproducing it into character failings that accounted for poverty in the first place.”56 The “social pathologies” of the poor, particularly street crime, illegal drug use, and delinquency, were redefined by conservatives as having their cause in overly generous relief arrangements. Black “welfare cheats” and their dangerous offspring emerged, for the first time, in the political discourse and media imagery.”
Page 45
“By 1968, 81 percent of those responding to the Gallup Poll agreed with the statement that “law and order has broken down in this country,” and the majority blamed ‘Negroes who start riots’ and ‘Communists.’”
Page 46
“One study indicates that as late as 1970, more than 70 percent of all blacks working in metropolitan areas held blue-collar jobs.78 Yet by 1987, when the drug war hit high gear, the industrial employment of black men had plummeted to 28 percent.”
Page 50

Can those numbers even be properly compared?

“The articles typically featured black “crack whores,” “crack babies,” and “gangbangers,” reinforcing already prevalent racial stereotypes of black women as irresponsible, selfish “welfare queens,” and black men as “predators”—part of an inferior and criminal subculture.”
Page 52
“The bonanza continued into 1989, as the media continued to disseminate claims that crack was an “epidemic,” a “plague,” “instantly addictive,” and extraordinarily dangerous—claims that have now been proven false or highly misleading.”
Page 52
“One senator insisted that crack had become a scapegoat distracting the public’s attention from the true causes of our social ills, arguing: “If we blame crime on crack, our politicians are off the hook. Forgotten are the failed schools, the malign welfare programs, the desolate neighborhoods, the wasted years. Only crack is to blame. One is tempted to think that if crack did not exist, someone somewhere would have received a Federal grant to develop it.” (Emphasis added.)”
Page 53
“Shortly thereafter, a New York Times/CBS News Poll reported that 64 percent of those polled—the highest percentage ever recorded—now thought that drugs were the most significant problem in the United States.94 This surge of public concern did not correspond to a dramatic shift in illegal drug activity, but instead was the product of a carefully orchestrated political campaign. The level of public concern about crime and drugs was only weakly correlated with actual crime rates, but highly correlated with political initiatives, campaigns, and partisan appeals. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 55
“During Clinton’s tenure, Washington slashed funding for public housing by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent) and boosted corrections by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor.” (Emphasis added.)”
Page 57
“More than 2 million people found themselves behind bars at the turn of the twenty-first century, and millions more were relegated to the margins of mainstream society, banished to a political and social space not unlike Jim Crow, where discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education was perfectly legal, and where they could be denied the right to vote. The system functioned relatively automatically, and the prevailing system of racial meanings, identities, and ideologies already seemed natural. Ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses in many states were black or Latino, yet the mass incarceration of communities of color was explained in race-neutral terms, an adaptation to the needs and demands of the current political climate. The New Jim Crow was born.”
Page 58
“Full-blown trials of guilt or innocence rarely occur; many people never even meet with an attorney; witnesses are routinely paid and coerced by the government; police regularly stop and search people for no reason whatsoever; penalties for many crimes are so severe that innocent people plead guilty, accepting plea bargains to avoid harsh mandatory sentences; and children, even as young as fourteen, are sent to adult prisons.”
Page 59
“[…] state and local law enforcement agencies were granted the authority to keep, for their own use, the vast majority of cash and assets they seize when waging the drug war. This dramatic change in policy gave state and local police an enormous stake in the War on Drugs—not in its success, but in its perpetual existence. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 78
“When a drug dealer is sent to jail, there are many others ready and willing to take his place, but seizing the means of production, some legislators reasoned, may shut down the trafficking business for good. Over the years, the list of properties subject to forfeiture expanded greatly, and the required connection to illegal drug activity became increasingly remote, leading to many instances of abuse. But it was not until 1984, when Congress amended the federal law to allow federal law enforcement agencies to retain and use any and all proceeds from asset forfeitures, and to allow state and local police agencies to retain up to 80 percent of the assets’ value, that a true revolution occurred.”
Page 78
“Quite predictably, the enormous economic rewards created by both the drug-war forfeiture and Byrne-grant laws has created an environment in which a very fine line exists between the lawful and the unlawful taking of other people’s money and property—a line so thin that some officers disregard the formalities of search warrants, probable cause, and reasonable suspicion altogether.”
Page 80
“In Virginia, for example, fees paid to court-appointed attorneys for representing someone charged with a felony that carries a sentence of less than twenty years are capped at $428. And in Wisconsin, more than 11,000 poor people go to court without representation every year because anyone who earns more than $3,000 per year is considered able to afford a lawyer.”
Page 85
““All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights or what is occurring. Sometimes the proceedings reflect little or no recognition that the accused is mentally ill or does not adequately understand English. The fundamental right to a lawyer that Americans assume applies to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the United States.””
Page 85
“For those released on probation or parole, the risks are especially high. They are subject to regular surveillance and monitoring by the police and may be stopped and searched (with or without their consent) for any reason or no reason at all. As a result, they are far more likely to be arrested (again) than those whose behavior is not subject to constant scrutiny by law enforcement.”
Page 94
“In this system of control, failing to cope well with one’s exile status is treated like a crime. If you fail, after being released from prison with a criminal record—your personal badge of inferiority—to remain drug free, or if you fail to get a job against all the odds, or if you get depressed and miss an appointment with your parole officer (or if you cannot afford the bus fare to take you there), you can be sent right back to prison—where society apparently thinks millions of Americans belong.”
Page 95
“Human Rights Watch reported in 2000 that, in seven states, African Americans constitute 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison. In at least fifteen states, blacks are admitted to prison on drug charges at a rate from twenty to fifty-seven times greater than that of white men. In fact, nationwide, the rate of incarceration for African American drug offenders dwarfs the rate of whites.”
Page 98
“When the War on Drugs gained full steam in the mid-1980s, prison admissions for African Americans skyrocketed, nearly quadrupling in three years, and then increasing steadily until it reached in 2000 a level more than twenty-six times the level in 1983.”
Page 98
“Any notion that drug use among blacks is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data; white youth have about three times the number of drug-related emergency room visits as their African American counterparts.”
Page 99
“The racial bias inherent in the drug war is a major reason that 1 in every 14 black men was behind bars in 2006, compared with 1 in 106 white men.”
Page 100
“The problem with this abbreviated analysis is that violent crime is not responsible for mass incarceration. As numerous researchers have shown, violent crime rates have fluctuated over the years and bear little relationship to incarceration rates—which have soared during the past three decades regardless of whether violent crime was going up or down.”
Page 101
“What is painfully obvious when one steps back from individual cases and specific policies is that the system of mass incarceration operates with stunning efficiency to sweep people of color off the streets, lock them in cages, and then release them into an inferior second-class status. Nowhere is this more true than in the War on Drugs. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 103
“These findings are consistent with numerous other studies, including a study of network television news from 1990 and 1991, which found that a predictable “us against them” frame was used in the news stories, with “us” being white, suburban America, and “them” being black Americans and a few corrupted whites.”
Page 105
“Viewed as a whole, the relevant research by cognitive and social psychologists to date suggests that racial bias in the drug war was inevitable, once a public consensus was constructed by political and media elites that drug crime is black and brown.”
Page 107
“According to the Court, whether or not police discriminate on the basis of race when making traffic stops is irrelevant to a consideration of whether their conduct is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment.”
Page 109
“The real issue at hand was whether—and to what extent—the Supreme Court would tolerate racial bias in the criminal justice system as a whole. The Court’s answer was that racial bias would be tolerated—virtually to any degree—so long as no one admitted it.”
Page 109
“The very evidence that the Court demanded in McCleskey—evidence of deliberate bias in his individual case—would almost always be unavailable and/or inadmissible due to procedural rules that shield jurors and prosecutors from scrutiny. This dilemma was of little concern to the Court. It closed the courthouse doors to claims of racial bias in sentencing. There is good reason to believe that, despite appearances, the McCleskey decision was not really about the death penalty at all; rather, the Court’s opinion was driven by a desire to immunize the entire criminal justice system from claims of racial bias. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 111
““The presumption of innocence is now a legal myth,” he declared. “The 100-to-1 ratio, coupled with mandatory minimum sentencing provided by federal statute, has created a situation that reeks with inhumanity and injustice. . . . If young white males were being incarcerated at the same rate as young black males, the statute would have been amended long ago.” Judge Cahill sentenced Clary as if the drug he had carried home had been powder cocaine. The sentence imposed was four years in prison. Clary served his term and was released.”
Page 113
“The Georgia Supreme Court ruled, by a 4–3 vote, that the stark racial disparity presented a threshold case of discrimination and required the prosecutors to offer a race-neutral explanation for the results. Rather than offer a justification, however, the Georgia attorney general filed a petition for rehearing signed by every one of the state’s forty-six district attorneys, all of whom were white. The petition argued that the Court’s decision was a dire mistake; if the decision were allowed to stand and prosecutors were compelled to explain gross racial disparities such as the ones at issue, it would be a “substantial step toward invalidating” the death penalty and would “paralyze the criminal justice system”—apparently because severe and inexplicable racial disparities pervaded the system as a whole. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 114
“Most prosecutors’ offices lack any manual or guidebook advising prosecutors how to make discretionary decisions. Even the American Bar Association’s standards of practice for prosecutors are purely aspirational; no prosecutor is required to follow the standards or even consider them.”
Page 115
“With no trace of irony, the Court demanded that Armstrong produce in advance the very thing he sought in discovery: information regarding white defendants who should have been charged in federal court. That information, of course, was in the prosecution’s possession and control, which is why Armstrong filed a discovery motion in the first place.”
Page 117
“A report in 2000 observed that among youth who have never been sent to a juvenile prison before, African Americans were more than six times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison for identical crimes.”
Page 118
“Achieving an all-white jury, or nearly all-white jury, is easy in most jurisdictions, because relatively few racial minorities are included in the jury pool. Potential jurors are typically called for service based on the list of registered voters or Department of Motor Vehicle lists—sources that contain disproportionately fewer people of color, because people of color are significantly less likely to own cars or register to vote. Making matters worse, thirty-one states and the federal government subscribe to the practice of lifetime felon exclusion from juries. As a result, about 30 percent of black men are automatically banned from jury service for life. Accordingly, no more than a handful of strikes are necessary in many cases to eliminate all or nearly all black jurors.”
Page 121
“As noted earlier, at least 10 percent of Americans violate drug laws every year, and people of all races engage in illegal drug activity at similar rates. With such an extraordinarily large population of offenders to choose from, decisions must be made regarding who should be targeted and where the drug war should be waged. From the outset, the drug war could have been waged primarily in overwhelmingly white suburbs or on college campuses. SWAT teams could have rappelled from helicopters in gated suburban communities and raided the homes of high school lacrosse players known for hosting coke and ecstasy parties after their games. The police could have seized televisions, furniture, and cash from fraternity houses based on an anonymous tip that a few joints or a stash of cocaine could be found hidden in someone’s dresser drawer.”
Page 123
“Instead, when police go looking for drugs, they look in the ’hood. Tactics that would be political suicide in an upscale white suburb are not even newsworthy in poor black and brown communities. So long as mass drug arrests are concentrated in impoverished urban areas, police chiefs have little reason to fear a political backlash, no matter how aggressive and warlike the efforts may be. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 124
“The hypersegregation of the black poor in ghetto communities has made the roundup easy. Confined to ghetto areas and lacking political power, the black poor are convenient targets. Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton’s book, American Apartheid, documents how racially segregated ghettos were deliberately created by federal policy, not impersonal market forces or private housing choices. The enduring racial isolation of the ghetto poor has made them uniquely vulnerable in the War on Drugs.”
Page 124
“The facts were as follows: Seattle residents were far more likely to report suspected narcotics activities in residences—not outdoors—but police devoted their resources to open-air drug markets and to the one precinct that was least likely to be identified as the site of suspected drug activity in citizen complaints. In fact, although hundreds of outdoor drug transactions were recorded in predominantly white areas of Seattle, police concentrated their drug enforcement efforts in one downtown drug market where the frequency of drug transactions was much lower. In racially mixed open-air drug markets, black dealers were far more likely to be arrested than whites, even though white dealers were present and visible.”
Page 127
“The Seattle Police Department’s] focus on black and Latino individuals and on the drug most strongly associated with ‘blackness’ suggest that law enforcement policies and practices are predicated on the assumption that the drug problem is, in fact, a black and Latino one, and that crack, the drug most strongly associated with urban blacks, is ‘the worst.’” This racialized cultural script about who and what constitutes the drug problem renders illegal drug activity by whites invisible. “White people,” the study’s authors observed, “are simply not perceived as drug offenders by Seattle police officers.” (Emphasis added.)”
Page 127
“A black kid arrested twice for possession of marijuana may be no more of a repeat offender than a white frat boy who regularly smokes pot in his dorm room. But because of his race and his confinement to a racially segregated ghetto, the black kid has a criminal record, while the white frat boy, because of his race and relative privilege, does not. Thus, when prosecutors throw the book at black repeat offenders or when police stalk ex-offenders and subject them to regular frisks and searches on the grounds that it makes sense to “watch criminals closely,” they are often exacerbating racial disparities created by the discretionary decision to wage the War on Drugs almost exclusively in poor communities of color. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 132
“What most surprised many analysts was that, in both studies, whites were actually more likely than people of color to be carrying illegal drugs or contraband in their vehicles. In fact, in New Jersey, whites were almost twice as likely to be found with illegal drugs or contraband as African Americans, and five times as likely to be found with contraband as Latinos. Although whites were more likely to be guilty of carrying drugs, they were far less likely to be viewed as suspicious, resulting in relatively few stops, searches, and arrests of whites.”
Page 133
“Although the NYPD frequently attempts to justify stop-and-frisk operations in poor communities of color on the grounds that such tactics are necessary to get guns off the streets, less than 1 percent of stops (0.15 percent) resulted in guns being found, and guns and other contraband were seized less often in stops of African Americans and Latinos than of whites.”
Page 136
“The NYPD made 50,300 marijuana arrests in 2010 alone, mostly of young men of color. As one report noted, these marijuana arrests offer “training opportunities” for rookie police who can practice on ghetto kids while earning overtime.”
Page 136
“These arrests serve another purpose as well: they “are the most effective way for the NYPD to collect fingerprints, photographs and other information on young people not yet entered into the criminal databases.””
Page 136
“A simple arrest for marijuana possession can show up on criminal databases as “a drug arrest” without specifying the substance or the charge, and without clarifying even whether the person was convicted. These databases are then used by police and prosecutors, as well as by employers and housing officials—an electronic record that will haunt many for life.”
Page 136
“Hundreds of years ago, our nation put those considered less than human in shackles; less than one hundred years ago, we relegated them to the other side of town; today we put them in cages. Once released, they find that a heavy and cruel hand has been laid upon them.”
Page 141
“When a defendant pleads guilty to a minor drug offense, nobody will likely tell him that he may be permanently forfeiting his right to vote as well as his right to serve on a jury—two of the most fundamental rights in any modern democracy.”
Page 142

Most democracies do not have jury systems.

“As Jeremy Travis has observed, “In this brave new world, punishment for the original offense is no longer enough; one’s debt to society is never paid.” Other commentators liken the prison label to “the mark of Cain” and characterize the perpetual nature of the sanction as “internal exile.””
Page 142
“Myriad laws, rules, and regulations operate to discriminate against ex-offenders and effectively prevent their reintegration into the mainstream society and economy. These restrictions amount to a form of “civic death” and send the unequivocal message that “they” are no longer part of “us.””
Page 142
“[The] offender may be sentenced to a term of probation, community service, and court costs. Unbeknownst to this offender, and perhaps any other actor in the sentencing process, as a result of his conviction he may be ineligible for many federally-funded health and welfare benefits, food stamps, public housing, and federal educational assistance. His driver’s license may be automatically suspended, and he may no longer qualify for certain employment and professional licenses. If he is convicted of another crime he may be subject to imprisonment as a repeat offender. He will not be permitted to enlist in the military, or possess a firearm, or obtain a federal security clearance. If a citizen, he may lose the right to vote; if not, he becomes immediately deportable.”
Page 143
“Despite the brutal, debilitating impact of these “collateral consequences” on ex-offenders’ lives, courts have generally declined to find that such sanctions are actually “punishment” for constitutional purposes. As a result, judges are not required to inform criminal defendants of some of the most important rights they are forfeiting when they plead guilty to a felony.”
Page 143
“Prisoners returning “home” are typically the poorest of the poor, lacking the ability to pay for private housing and routinely denied public housing assistance—the type of assistance which could provide some much-needed stability in their lives. For them, “going home” is more a figure of speech than a realistic option. More than 650,000 people are released from prison each year, and for many, finding a new home appears next to impossible, not just in the short term, but for the rest of their lives.”
Page 148
“[…] employers and their recruitment/staffing agencies routinely limit the pool of qualified candidates to those with spotless records, thus excluding millions of people from having the opportunity even to interview for jobs. Millions find themselves locked out of the legal economy, and no one with a record has a more difficult time getting hired than black men.”
Page 154
“Throughout the United States, newly released prisoners are required to make payments to a host of agencies, including probation departments, courts, and child-support enforcement offices. In some jurisdictions, ex-offenders are billed for drug testing and even for the drug treatment they are supposed to receive as a condition of parole. These fees, costs, and fines are generally quite new—created by law within the past twenty years—and are associated with a wide range of offenses. Every state has its own rules and regulations governing their imposition. Florida, for example, has added more than twenty new categories of financial obligations for criminal defendants since 1996, while eliminating most exemptions for those who cannot pay.”
Page 154
“Many states utilize “poverty penalties”—piling on additional late fees, payment plan fees, and interest when individuals are unable to pay all their debts at once, often enriching private debt collectors in the process. Some of the collection fees are exorbitant. Alabama charges a 30 percent collection fee, and Florida allows private debt collectors to tack on a 40 percent surcharge to the underlying debt.”
Page 155
“Hurley’s attorney decried the trap she was in: “This is a situation where if this woman was able to write a check for the amount of the fine, she would be out of there. And because she can’t, she’s still in custody. It’s as simple as that.” Although she worked a full-time job while in custody, most of her income went to repay the diversion program, not the underlying fine that put her in custody in the first place. This harsh reality harks back to the days after the Civil War, when former slaves and their descendents were arrested for minor violations, slapped with heavy fines, and then imprisoned until they could pay their debts. The only means to pay off their debts was through labor on plantations and farms—known as convict leasing—or in prisons that had been converted to work farms.”
Page 156
“A black minister in Waterloo, Mississippi, explained his outrage at the fate that has befallen African Americans in the post–civil rights era. “It’s a hustle,” he said angrily. “‘Felony’ is the new N-word. They don’t have to call you a nigger anymore. They just say you’re a felon. In every ghetto you see alarming numbers of young men with felony convictions. Once you have that felony stamp, your hope for employment, for any kind of integration into society, it begins to fade out. Today’s lynching is a felony charge. Today’s lynching is incarceration. Today’s lynch mobs are professionals. They have a badge; they have a law degree. A felony is a modern way of saying, ‘I’m going to hang you up and burn you.’ Once you get that F, you’re on fire.” (Emphasis added.)”
Page 164
“Poor people of color, like other Americans—indeed like nearly everyone around the world—want safe streets, peaceful communities, healthy families, good jobs, and meaningful opportunities to contribute to society. The notion that ghetto families do not, in fact, want those things, and instead are perfectly content to live in crime-ridden communities, feeling no shame or regret about the fate of their young men is, quite simply, racist. It is impossible to imagine that we would believe such a thing about whites.”
Page 170
“We condemn their baggy pants (a fashion trend that mimics prison-issue pants) and the music that glorifies a life many feel they cannot avoid. When we are done shaming them, we throw up our hands and then turn our backs as they are carted off to jail.”
Page 172
When the system of mass incarceration collapses (and if history is any guide, it will), historians will undoubtedly look back and marvel that such an extraordinarily comprehensive system of racialized social control existed in the United States. How fascinating, they will likely say, that a drug war was waged almost exclusively against poor people of color—people already trapped in ghettos that lacked jobs and decent schools. They were rounded up by the millions, packed away in prisons, and when released, they were stigmatized for life, denied the right to vote, and ushered into a world of discrimination. Legally barred from employment, housing, and welfare benefits—and saddled with thousands of dollars of debt—these people were shamed and condemned for failing to hold together their families. They were chastised for succumbing to depression and anger, and blamed for landing back in prison. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 175
“The fact that Barack Obama can give a speech on Father’s Day dedicated to the subject of fathers who are “AWOL” without ever acknowledging that the majority of young black men in many large urban areas are currently under the control of the criminal justice system is disturbing, to say the least. What is more problematic, though, is that hardly anyone in the mainstream media noticed the oversight.”
Page 180
“Today, the political fanfare and the vehement, racialized rhetoric regarding crime and drugs are no longer necessary. Mass incarceration has been normalized, and all of the racial stereotypes and assumptions that gave rise to the system are now embraced (or at least internalized) by people of all colors, from all walks of life, and in every major political party. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 181
It is simply taken for granted that, in cities like Baltimore and Chicago, the vast majority of young black men are currently under the control of the criminal justice system or branded criminals for life. This extraordinary circumstance—unheard of in the rest of the world—is treated here in America as a basic fact of life, as normal as separate water fountains were just a half century ago. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 181
“The widespread and mistaken belief that racial animus is necessary for the creation and maintenance of racialized systems of social control is the most important reason that we, as a nation, have remained in deep denial.”
Page 183
“And while all previous methods of control have blamed the victim in one way or another, the current system invites observers to imagine that those who are trapped in the system were free to avoid second-class status or permanent banishment from society simply by choosing not to commit crimes. It is far more convenient to imagine that a majority of young African American men in urban areas freely chose a life of crime than to accept the real possibility that their lives were structured in a way that virtually guaranteed their early admission into a system from which they can never escape. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 184
“The entrapment occurs in three distinct phases, each of which has been explored earlier, but a brief review is useful here. The first stage is the roundup. Vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice system by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color. They are rewarded in cash—through drug forfeiture laws and federal grant programs—for rounding up as many people as possible, and they operate unconstrained by constitutional rules of procedure that once were considered inviolate. Police can stop, interrogate, and search anyone they choose for drug investigations, provided they get “consent.””
Page 185
“About 90 percent of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense in Illinois are African American. White drug offenders are rarely arrested, and when they are, they are treated more favorably at every stage of the criminal justice process, including plea bargaining and sentencing. Whites are consistently more likely to avoid prison and felony charges, even when they are repeat offenders. Black offenders, by contrast, are routinely labeled felons and released into a permanent racial undercaste.”
Page 189
“The total population of black males in Chicago with a felony record (including both current and ex-felons) is equivalent to 55 percent of the black adult male population and an astonishing 80 percent of the adult black male workforce in the Chicago area.”
Page 189
“More than 70 percent of all criminal cases in the Chicago area involve a class D felony drug possession charge, the lowest-level felony charge. Those who do go to prison find little freedom upon release.”
Page 189
“Formally race-neutral devices were adopted to achieve the goal of an all-white electorate without violating the terms of the Fifteenth Amendment. The devices worked quite well. Because African Americans were poor, they frequently could not pay poll taxes. And because they had been denied access to education, they could not pass literacy tests. Grandfather clauses allowed whites to vote even if they couldn’t meet the requirements, as long as their ancestors had been able to vote.”
Page 192
“Under the usual-residence rule, the Census Bureau counts imprisoned individuals as residents of the jurisdiction in which they are incarcerated. Because most new prison construction occurs in predominately white, rural areas, white communities benefit from inflated population totals at the expense of the urban, overwhelmingly minority communities from which the prisoners come.”
Page 193
“Rather than merely shunting black people to the other side of town or corralling them in ghettos, mass incarceration locks them in cages. Bars and walls keep hundreds of thousands of black and brown people away from mainstream society—a form of apartheid unlike any the world has ever seen.”
Page 195
“Because the term white crime lacks social meaning, the term white criminal is also perplexing. In that formulation, white seems to qualify the term criminal—as if to say, “he’s a criminal but not that kind of criminal.” Or, he’s not a real criminal—i.e., not what we mean by criminal today.”
Page 198
“For the system to succeed—that is, for it to achieve the political goals described in chapter 1—black people must be labeled criminals before they are formally subject to control. The criminal label is essential, for forms of explicit racial exclusion are not only prohibited but widely condemned. Thus black youth must be made—labeled—criminals. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 200
“As previously noted, poll taxes, literacy tests, and felon disenfranchisement laws were all formally race-neutral practices that were employed in order to avoid the prohibition on race discrimination in voting contained in the Fifteenth Amendment. These laws operated to create an all-white electorate because they excluded African Americans from the franchise but were not generally applied to whites. Poll workers had the discretion to charge a poll tax or administer a literacy test, or not, and they exercised their discretion in a racially discriminatory manner. Laws that said nothing about race operated to discriminate because those charged with enforcement were granted tremendous discretion, and they exercised that discretion in a highly discriminatory manner. The same is true in the drug war. Laws prohibiting the use and sale of drugs are facially race neutral, but they are enforced in a highly discriminatory fashion. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 201
“As discussed in chapter 4, during Jim Crow, racial stigma contributed to racial solidarity in the black community. Racial stigma today, however—that is, the stigma of black criminality—has turned the black community against itself, destroyed networks of mutual support, and created a silence about the new caste system among many of the people most affected by it. The implications of this difference are profound. Racial stigma today makes collective action extremely difficult—sometimes impossible; whereas racial stigma during Jim Crow contained the seeds of revolt. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 202
“Racial violence has been rationalized, legitimated, and channeled through our criminal justice system; it is expressed as police brutality, solitary confinement, and the discriminatory and arbitrary imposition of the death penalty.”
Page 202
“[…] many whites during the Jim Crow era sincerely believed that African Americans were intellectually and morally inferior. They meant blacks no harm but believed segregation was a sensible system for managing a society comprised of fundamentally different and unequal people. The sincerity of many people’s racial beliefs is what led Martin Luther King Jr. to declare, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” The notion that racial caste systems are necessarily predicated on a desire to harm other racial groups, and that racial hostility is the essence of racism, is fundamentally misguided. Even slavery does not conform to this limited understanding of racism and racial caste. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 203
“By and large, plantation owners were indifferent to the suffering caused by slavery; they were motivated by greed.”
Page 204
We, as a nation, seem comfortable with 90 percent of the people arrested and convicted of drug offenses in some states being African American, but if the figure were 100 percent, the veil of colorblindness would be lost. We could no longer tell ourselves stories about why 90 percent might be a reasonable figure; nor could we continue to assume that good reasons exist for extreme racial disparities in the drug war, even if we are unable to think of such reasons ourselves. In short, the inclusion of some whites in the system of control is essential to preserving the image of a colorblind criminal justice system and maintaining our self-image as fair and unbiased people. Because most Americans, including those within law enforcement, want to believe they are nonracist, the suffering in the drug war crosses the color line. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 204
  • What is an appropriate percentage of people in prison? In jail? On parole? In “the system”?
  • What is the ratio of historically privileged (white) to historically oppressed (black) prisoners?
  • How does that compare to the ratio in the overall population?
  • 1/3 of black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime
  • What percentage would be more acceptable?
  • What is the percentage for whites?
  • What percentage of the poor are incarcerated? The rich?
  • How does the ratio of those percentages compare to the ratio in the overall population?
“In fact, the number of deaths related to all illegal drugs combined was tiny compared to the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers. The total of all drug-related deaths due to AIDS, drug overdose, or the violence associated with the illegal drug trade, was estimated at 21,000 annually—less than the number of deaths directly caused by drunk drivers, and a small fraction of the number of alcohol-related deaths that occur every year.”
Page 206
“[…] most states adopted tougher laws to punish drunk driving. Numerous states now have some type of mandatory sentencing for this offense—typically two days in jail for a first offense and two to ten days for a second offense. Possession of a tiny amount of crack cocaine, on the other hand, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison. The vastly different sentences afforded drunk drivers and drug offenders speaks volumes regarding who is viewed as disposable—someone to be purged from the body politic—and who is not. Drunk drivers are predominantly white and male. White men comprised 78 percent of the arrests for this offense in 1990 when new mandatory minimums governing drunk driving were being adopted. They are generally charged with misdemeanors and typically receive sentences involving fines, license suspension, and community service. Although drunk driving carries a far greater risk of violent death than the use or sale of illegal drugs, the societal response to drunk drivers has generally emphasized keeping the person functional and in society, while attempting to respond to the dangerous behavior through treatment and counseling. People charged with drug offenses, though, are disproportionately poor people of color. They are typically charged with felonies and sentenced to prison. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 206
“In view of the nation’s treatment of predominately white drunk drivers and drug offenders, it is extremely difficult to imagine that our nation would have declared all-out war on drug offenders if the enemy had been defined in the public imagination as white.”
Page 207
“The notion that African Americans support “get tough” approaches to crime is further complicated by the fact that “crime” is not a generic category. There are many different types of crime, and violent crime tends to provoke the most visceral and punitive response. Yet as we have seen in chapter 2, the drug war has not been aimed at rooting out the most violent drug traffickers, or so-called kingpins. The vast majority of those arrested for drug crimes are not charged with serious offenses, and most of the people in state prison on drug charges have no history of violence or significant selling activity. Those who are “kingpins” are often able to buy their freedom by forfeiting their assets, snitching on other dealers, or becoming paid government informants. Thus, to the extent that some African Americans support harsh policies aimed at violent offenders, they cannot be said to support the War on Drugs, which has been waged primarily against nonviolent, low-level offenders in poor communities of color.”
Page 208
“Although African Americans do not engage in drug crime at significantly higher rates than whites, black men do have much higher rates of violent crime, and violent crime is concentrated in ghetto communities. Studies have shown that joblessness—not race or black culture—explains the high rates of violent crime in poor black communities. When researchers have controlled for joblessness, differences in violent crime rates between young black and white men disappear. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 210
“Civil rights advocates strenuously argued that it was the mentality and ideology that gave rise to Jim Crow that was the real source of the danger experienced by blacks. Of course they were right. But it is understandable why some blacks believed their immediate safety and security could best be protected by cooperation with the prevailing caste system. The fact that black people during Jim Crow were often complicit with the system of control did not mean they supported racial oppression.”
Page 211
“[…] complicity with the prevailing system of control may seem like the only option. Parents and schoolteachers counsel black children that, if they ever hope to escape this system and avoid prison time, they must be on their best behavior, raise their arms and spread their legs for the police without complaint, stay in failing schools, pull up their pants, and refuse all forms of illegal work and moneymaking activity, even if jobs in the legal economy are impossible to find. Girls are told not to have children until they are married to a “good” black man who can help provide for a family with a legal job. They are told to wait and wait for Mr. Right even if that means, in a jobless ghetto, never having children at all. When black youth find it difficult or impossible to live up to these standards—or when they fail, stumble, and make mistakes, as all humans do—shame and blame is heaped upon them. If only they had made different choices, they’re told sternly, they wouldn’t be sitting in a jail cell; they’d be graduating from college. Never mind that white children on the other side of town who made precisely the same choices—often for less compelling reasons—are in fact going to college. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 215
“Who becomes a social pariah and excommunicated from civil society and who trots off to college bears scant relationship to the morality of crimes committed. Who is more blameworthy: the young black kid who hustles on the street corner, selling weed to help his momma pay the rent? Or the college kid who deals drugs out of his dorm room so that he’ll have cash to finance his spring break? Who should we fear? The kid in the ’hood who joined a gang and now carries a gun for security, because his neighborhood is frightening and unsafe? Or the suburban high school student who has a drinking problem but keeps getting behind the wheel?”
Page 216
As legal scholar john a. powell once commented, only half in jest, “It’s actually better to be exploited than marginalized, in some respects, because if you’re exploited presumably you’re still needed.” (Emphasis added.)”
Page 219
“Rev. Al Sharpton captured the spirit of the protest when he stated boldly, “We’ve gone from plantations to penitentiaries. . . . They have tried to create a criminal justice system that particularly targets our young black men. And now we sit and stand in a city that says it’s a prank to hang a hangman’s noose, but that it is attempted murder to have a fight. We cannot sit by silently. That’s why we came, and that’s why we intend to keep coming.””
Page 221
“[…] civil rights organizations—like all institutions—are comprised of fallible human beings. The prevailing public consensus affects everyone, including civil rights advocates. Those of us in the civil rights community are not immune to the racial stereotypes that pervade media imagery and political rhetoric; nor do we operate outside of the political context. Like most people, we tend to resist believing that we might be part of the problem. One day, civil rights organizations may be embarrassed by how long it took them to move out of denial and do the hard work necessary to end mass incarceration. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 224
“A prime example is the Rosa Parks story. Rosa Parks was not the first person to refuse to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Civil rights advocates considered and rejected two other black women as plaintiffs when planning a test case challenging segregation practices: Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith. Both of them were arrested for refusing to give up their seats on Montgomery’s segregated buses, just months before Rosa Parks refused to budge. Colvin was fifteen years old when she defied segregation laws.”
Page 227
“One reason so many people have a false impression of the economic well-being of African Americans, as a group, is that poverty and unemployment statistics do not include people who are behind bars. Prisoners are literally erased from the nation’s economic picture, leading standard estimates to underestimate the true jobless rate by as much as 24 percentage points for less-educated black men.”
Page 228
“During the much heralded economic boom of the 1990s, the true jobless rate among noncollege black men was a staggering 42 percent (65 percent among black male dropouts).”
Page 229
“If we hope to return to the rate of incarceration of the 1970s—a time when many civil rights activists believed rates of imprisonment were egregiously high—we would need to release approximately four out of five people currently behind bars today. Prisons would have to be closed across America, an event that would likely inspire panic in rural communities that have become dependent on prisons for jobs and economic growth.”
Page 230
“Even beyond private prison companies, a whole range of prison profiteers must be reckoned with if mass incarceration is to be undone, including phone companies that gouge families of prisoners by charging them exorbitant rates to communicate with their loved ones; gun manufacturers that sell Taser guns, rifles, and pistols to prison guards and police; private health care providers contracted by the state to provide (typically abysmal) health care to prisoners; the U.S. military, which relies on prison labor to provide military gear to soldiers in Iraq; corporations that use prison labor to avoid paying decent wages; and the politicians, lawyers, and bankers who structure deals to build new prisons often in predominately white rural communities—deals that often promise far more to local communities than they deliver. All of these corporate and political interests have a stake in the expansion—not the elimination—of the system of mass incarceration. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 231
“[…] we hope to end this system of control, we cannot be satisfied with a handful of reforms. All of the financial incentives granted to law enforcement to arrest poor black and brown people for drug offenses must be revoked. Federal grant money for drug enforcement must end; drug forfeiture laws must be stripped from the books; racial profiling must be eradicated; the concentration of drug busts in poor communities of color must cease; and the transfer of military equipment and aid to local law enforcement agencies waging the drug war must come to a screeching halt.”
Page 232
“Those who believe that advocacy challenging mass incarceration can be successful without overturning the public consensus that gave rise to it are engaging in fanciful thinking, a form of denial. Isolated victories can be won—even a string of victories—but in the absence of a fundamental shift in public consciousness, the system as a whole will remain intact. To the extent that major changes are achieved without a complete shift, the system will rebound. The caste system will reemerge in a new form, just as convict leasing replaced slavery, or it will be reborn, just as mass incarceration replaced Jim Crow. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 234
Few would openly argue that we should lock up millions of poor people just so that other people can have jobs or get a good return on their private investments. Instead, familiar arguments would likely resurface about the need to be “tough” on criminals, not coddle them or give “free passes.” The public debate would inevitably turn to race, even if no one was explicitly talking about. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 239
“The deeply flawed nature of colorblindness, as a governing principle, is evidenced by the fact that the public consensus supporting mass incarceration is officially colorblind. It purports to see black and brown men not as black and brown, but simply as men—raceless men—who have failed miserably to play by the rules the rest of us follow quite naturally. The fact that so many black and brown men are rounded up for drug crimes that go largely ignored when committed by whites is unseen.”
Page 241
“Finally, this is not an argument that affirmative action should be reconsidered simply on the grounds that it is “unfair” to white men as a group. The empirical evidence strongly supports the conclusion that declining wages, downsizing, deindustrialization, globalization, and cutbacks in government services represent much greater threats to the position of white men than so-called reverse discrimination.”
Page 245
“Affirmative action, particularly when it is justified on the grounds of diversity rather than equity (or remedy), masks the severity of racial inequality in America, leading to greatly exaggerated claims of racial progress and overly optimistic assessments of the future for African Americans.”
Page 246
“Seeing black people graduate from Harvard and Yale and become CEOs or corporate lawyers—not to mention president of the United States—causes us all to marvel at what a long way we have come. As recent data shows, however, much of black progress is a myth. Although some African Americans are doing very well—enrolling in universities and graduate schools at record rates thanks to affirmative action—as a group, in many respects African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and riots swept inner cities across America. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 246
“[…] mass incarceration is predicated on the notion that an extraordinary number of African Americans (but not all) have freely chosen a life of crime and thus belong behind bars. A belief that all blacks belong in jail would be incompatible with the social consensus that we have “moved beyond” race and that race is no longer relevant. But a widespread belief that a majority of black and brown men unfortunately belong in jail is compatible with the new American creed, provided that their imprisonment can be interpreted as their own fault. If the prison label imposed on them can be blamed on their culture, poor work ethic, or even their families, then society is absolved of responsibility to do anything about their condition. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 248
“Whereas black success stories undermined the logic of Jim Crow, they actually reinforce the system of mass incarceration. Mass incarceration depends for its legitimacy on the widespread belief that all those who appear trapped at the bottom actually chose their fate.”
Page 248
“Viewed from this perspective, affirmative action no longer appears entirely progressive. So long as some readily identifiable African Americans are doing well, the system is largely immunized from racial critique. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 248
“Reports that minority officers may engage in nearly as much racial profiling as white officers have been met with some amazement, but the real surprise is that some minority police officers have been willing to speak out against the practice, given the ferocity of the drug war. A war has been declared against poor communities of color, and the police are expected to wage it. Do we expect minority officers, whose livelihood depends on the very departments charged with waging the war, to play the role of peacenik?”
Page 250
“Remarkably, the Obama administration chose to increase funding for Byrne programs twelvefold not in response to any sudden spike in crime rates or any new studies indicating the effectiveness of these programs, but instead because handing law enforcement billions of dollars in cash is an easy, efficient jobs program in the midst of an economic crisis. The dramatically increased funding for Byrne grants was included as part of the Economic Reinvestment Act of 2009. While the channeling of stimulus dollars to law enforcement may help some police officers keep their jobs at a time when state and local budgets are being slashed, there is a cost. As New York Times columnist Charles Blow observed, “[it’s] a callous political calculus. . . . The fact that they are ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men and, by extension, the communities they belong to barely seems to register.”
Page 253
“[…] could it be that many African Americans would actually prefer to ignore racial issues during Obama’s presidency, to help ensure him smooth sailing and a triumphant presidency, no matter how bad things are for African Americans in the meantime? The fact that the last question could plausibly be answered yes raises serious questions for the civil rights community.”
Page 254
Malcolm X understood that the United States was created by and for privileged white men. It was white men who dominated politics, controlled the nation’s wealth, and wrote the rules by which everyone else was forced to live. No group in the United States can be said to have experienced more privilege, and gone to greater lengths to protect it, than “the white man.” (Emphasis added.)”
Page 255
“As Lani Guinier points out, however, the racial liberalism expressed in the Brown v. Board of Education decision and endorsed by civil rights litigators “did not offer poor whites even an elementary framework for understanding what they might gain as a result of integration.” Nothing in the opinion or in the subsequent legal strategy made clear that segregation had afforded elites a crucial means of exercising social control over poor and working-class whites as well as blacks. The Southern white elite, whether planters or industrialists, had successfully endeavored to make all whites think in racial rather than class terms, predictably leading whites to experience desegregation, as Derrick Bell put it, as a net “loss.” (Emphasis added.)”
Page 256
“[…] if meaningful progress is to be made, whites must give up their racial bribes too, and be willing to sacrifice their racial privilege. Some might argue that in this game of chicken, whites should make the first move. Whites should demonstrate that their silence in the drug war cannot be bought by tacit assurances that their sons and daughters will not be rounded up en masse and locked away. Whites should prove their commitment to dismantling not only mass incarceration, but all of the structures of racial inequality that guarantee for whites the resilience of white privilege. After all, why should “we” give up our racial bribes if whites have been unwilling to give up theirs? In light of our nation’s racial history, that seems profoundly unfair. But if your strategy for racial justice involves waiting for whites to be fair, history suggests it will be a long wait. It’s not that white people are more unjust than others. Rather it seems that an aspect of human nature is the tendency to cling tightly to one’s advantages and privileges and to rationalize the suffering and exclusion of others. This tendency is what led Frederick Douglass to declare that “power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.” (Emphasis added.)”
Page 257
“[…] we may still manage to persuade mainstream voters in the midst of an economic crisis that we have relied too heavily on incarceration, that prisons are too expensive, and that drug use is a public health problem, not a crime. But if the movement that emerges to end mass incarceration does not meaningfully address the racial divisions and resentments that gave rise to mass incarceration, and if it fails to cultivate an ethic of genuine care, compassion, and concern for every human being—of every class, race, and nationality—within our nation’s borders, including poor whites, who are often pitted against poor people of color, the collapse of mass incarceration will not mean the death of racial caste in America.”
Page 258
“Inevitably a new system of racialized social control will emerge—one that we cannot foresee, just as the current system of mass incarceration was not predicted by anyone thirty years ago.”
Page 258
“[…] when a young man who was born in the ghetto and who knows little of life beyond the walls of his prison cell and the invisible cage that has become his life, turns to us in bewilderment and rage, we should do nothing more than look him in the eye and tell him the truth.”
Page 262
“We should tell him the same truth the great African American writer James Baldwin told his nephew in a letter published in 1962, in one of the most extraordinary books ever written, The Fire Next Time. With great passion and searing conviction, Baldwin had this to say to his young nephew: This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. . . . It is their innocence which constitutes the crime. . . . This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 262