Cornel West begins the foreword by stating that The New Jim Crow will prove to be hugely important to the fight for social and political justice in the present era. He argues that Michelle Alexander writes in a tradition of “intellectual freedom fighters” that includes Marian Wright Edelman, Angela Davis, and Glenn Loury, and that The New Jim Crow embodies “the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.” The book was written during Obama’s presidency, and although this period saw some progress, it also involved a heightening of the problems of mass incarceration and economic inequality.
The beginning of the foreword demonstrates that there is a long tradition of African American activists using knowledge and writing in the fight for racial justice. The importance of knowledge is increased in the context of mass incarceration because of the fact that prisoners are deliberately secluded and hidden from society. Thus many people who do not personally know someone in prison may not be aware of the full extent of the problem.
West argues that the “discourse of colorblindness” does not constitute evidence that racism is over, but rather is used to disguise the fact that racism still exists. The New Jim Crow contradicts this denial of racism and criticizes people’s “failure to care, really care across color lines.” West concludes that the book will cause an “awakening” in which people will come to truly care for each other, and will help lead to a “revolution” in which ordinary people regain power.
West’s use of the phrase “discourse of colorblindness” refers to the social trend of claiming not to notice race. In the view of West and others, this claim to be “colorblind” is dishonest and unhelpful to the fight for racial justice. Rather than pretending we don’t see color, we should instead care equally about people of all colors.