by Laura Hutson
For a civil rights attorney promoting a new book about racial inequality and the War on Drugs, an interview with Stephen Colbert can be tricky. But when Colbert asked, “Why don’t black people ‘Just Say No’?” Alexander treated him not as a cable TV caricature or as a political pundit, but as someone with a reasonable question. “It should be, ‘Just be fair’ — treat people of color as humans worthy of dignity and respect and the same chances in life as people growing up in white or middle class neighborhoods who make the same kinds of mistakes, but aren’t asked to pay for the rest of their lives for them.”
It’s that kind of composure that makes her 2011 NAACP Image Award-winning book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness so important. Alexander argues that the future of the black community may depend on a mass re-examination of the role of criminal justice in our society, without ever veering into conspiracy theory craziness or sympathetic liberal platitudes. Tonight, Alexander will deliver the Martin Luther King Day keynote speech at Vanderbilt, her alma mater, for free.