Who’s to Blame for Mass Incarceration?

Donna Murch in the Boston Review:

Harlem-webThe images inspired by Michael Javen Fortner’s new book, Black Silent Majority, are revealing. A New Yorker review featured a graphic rendering of somber black men clad in orange jumpsuits imprisoned behind a fence made from the bodies of neatly dressed black men and women. Strikingly, the impediments are faceless, with only an occasional wisp of pink lip or sculpted facial hair, but the period-piece A-line skirts, peg leg suits, and skinny ties speak for themselves. The respectable classes of Fortner’s “black silent majority” form a literal wall of black human bondage. Through the magic of design, the book’s thesis is rendered in a deeply visceral way: African Americans themselves, not white backlash against black advancement, mobilized the phalanx behind mass incarceration.

Black Silent Majority is an ambitious and provocative book by a young African American political scientist, who argues that “working- and middle-class African Americans are partially responsible for the mass incarceration of black sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers and the misery that they endured while committed to penal institutions in New York.” Fortner takes aim at a whole body of scholarship, journalistic writings, and activist wisdom stressing the centrality of anti-black racism to the war on drugs and, by implication, mass incarceration. He directs particular ire at Michelle Alexander’s bestseller, The New Jim Crow (2010), which forcefully demonstrates how the drug war and the criminal justice system more broadly have become the biggest obstacle to black equality since legalized segregation.

More here.