The New Jim Crow

from by Sam Steffen



This song was written for Ms. Michelle Alexander, who wrote an important book by the same title.


Everybody knows that slavery ended with the civil war
Equality and freedom were well worth dyin for
And people claim that race is not an issue anymore
but if you ain’t pale and privileged, it’s hard to ignore

And everybody knows the story of how we won our civil rights
The blacks received the ballot, the same as the whites
We ended segregation and all appeared to be alright
But the dawn of a new era just brought on another night

Just look at the facts of the case, my friend
Its black and its white, time and again
“but we’re vanquishing crime,” the politicians contend
Meanwhile prison population just grows
But crime ain’t the thing being fought
Despite what you’ve been told and taught
You can’t prove innocence when you’re caught—under the new jim crow
Under the New Jim Crow

That the US polices all the world I’ve heard it’s leaders claim
Incarcerationally speaking the US puts the world to shame
Using words of law and order, from seeming racist they’ve abstained
But slavery ain’t abolished, it’s just wearing a new name

It’d be hard to gauge or guess how far the justice system’s failed
When millions of people in this free country have been jailed
Beneath the pretense of a war on crime, the cracking down’s entailed
A round-up of the ones without the means to pay the bail

Just look at the facts of the case my friends,
It’s black and it’s white, time and again
The pattern by nows a predictable trend
Whose numbers just go to show
That you can’t blame the blind hand of fate
When the criminal is yours to create
And is judged less by his deeds than his traits—Under the new jim crow

When it’s expected that young poor black males will likelier serve time
Than receive their diplomas in their graduation lines
And the judges in the courtrooms all claim they’re colorblind
While from the schoolyard to the jailyard there’s no black child left behind

And once you’ve been to prison, the lifelong label you will wear
But you know it will prevent you from ever getting anywhere
They’ll say it’s nothing personal as they tell you to prepare
To become someone about whom nobody has to care

Just look at the facts of the case my friends
Its black and its white, time and again
The rights that your laws are supposed to defend
Were suspended a long time ago
But the history’s too painful to trace
And the music’s just too sad to face
And no one wants to talk about race—under the new jim crow
Under the new jim crow

When the police shoot the people they ought to protect
And any motion for indictment the grand jury must reject
On account of police bullets in black bodies ain’t suspect
And black kids have to wear “Don’t Shoot Me” signs around their necks

Just look at the facts of the case, my friends
It’s black and its white, time and again
And whether you’re free all seems to depend
Upon which way the wind wants to blow
With one percent of your people enslaved
In this land of the free and the brave
Tell me, America, O say
Does that star spangled banner yet wave—under the new jim crow
Under the new jim crow?


from Ain't It a Pity?, released July 31, 2016



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