Dr Michelle Alexander is a civil rights lawyer, advocate, legal scholar, university professor and writer. Her bestselling book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sparked a debate on the role of the prison system in perpetuating injustice in a modern-day racial caste system.
“I use the term racial caste because I wanted to emphasise that mass incarceration functions as a complex system of rules, laws, policies and practices that lock a group of people—defined in large part by race—into a permanent second-class status,” she explained in an interview with Teaching Tolerance Magazine. “And that people who find themselves cycling in and out of prison are often in that situation, not because they lack motivation or lack the desire to support themselves or contribute to their communities or support their families, but [because] they’re trapped there by law.”
From 1998 to 2005, Dr Alexander directed the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California. During her tenure at the organisation, the Racial Justice Project led a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement officers—the “Driving While Black or Brown” campaign. She also directed the Civil Rights Clinic and served as an associate professor at Stanford Law School, her alma mater.
Dr Alexander served as a law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun at the US Supreme Court and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. In 2016, over 37,000 people signed a petition urging President Obama to nominate her as the Supreme Court Justice to replace Antonin Scalia.
As an associate at Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller, she specialised in class action suits addressing race and gender discrimination.
In 2018, after contributing several op-ed contributions to the newspaper, she became a columnist for The New York Times. She has written about human rights issues including prison reform, Palestine and reproductive rights, including her own abortion after being raped in law school.
Throughout her decades-long career in racial justice, she has received several awards, including the Soros Justice Fellowship of the Open Society Institute, the 21st Annual Heinz Award in Public Policy, and the MLK Dreamer Award from the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center at Ohio State University.
Dr Alexander is currently a visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary. She has taught at several universities over the course of her career as a civil rights advocate.
“If we don’t pull back the curtain for young people and help them to see how unconscious bias operates, how systems of discrimination operate, then they will continue to operate on a false belief that race discrimination is a part of our past and not our present,” she continued. “They will find themselves being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”Tags: Activism, criminal justice, Criminal Reform, Diversity and Inclusion, human rights, law, literature