Highly acclaimed author, legal scholar and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander gave a lecture in the Alumni Memorial Building's Cox Auditorium on Tuesday.
However, those who weren't able to make it shouldn't worry. The event concerning America's social division, which filled up the auditorium, will be broadcasted nationally on C-Span in a few weeks.
Alexander discussed the issues addressed in her best-selling new book, entitled "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," including the war on drugs, racial prejudice through the judicial system, and decimation of African-American communities during an age of supposed colorblindness and equality.
The lecture primarily consisted of what Alexander considers as the relegation of many African-Americans to second-class citizen status via mass incarceration, and describes caste-like social, judicial and economic structures that systematically discriminate against African-Americans, even during an age of supposed racial equality.
She argued that, in the name of the war on drugs, African-Americans have been targeted by police and incarcerated at astronomical rates, despite there being similar rates of drug use between African-Americans and other races.
She claimed this creates a cycle of crime and incarceration, damages African-American communities and, by labeling them as felons, not only strips many African-Americans of the certain rights, such as voting and serving on a jury, but also makes post-prison life more difficult in the form of legal discrimination against convicts in important areas of life, such as housing and employment.
"We have not ended racial caste, we have merely designed it," Alexander said of this system she perceives as oppressive.
Alexander also evoked the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to call for a movement toward greater social justice and an awakening of public consciousness of what she called a "human rights nightmare."
"If we are to ever catch up with King, we have to be willing to continue his work," Alexander said. "We have to pick up where he left off and do the hard work of the movement, building on the behalf of poor people of all color."
Bertin Louis, assistant professor of Africana studies and anthropology at UT and principal organizer of the event, cited this enthusiasm toward action as one of the reasons he was excited for this lecture.
"She brings a lot of positive energy to the social movement," Louis said. "A second civil rights movement around this issue, to help realize what we find in the Declaration of Independence, that all humans are created equal. We have not been striving (toward) this, with African-Americans as a prime example of that not being realized. She brings a spirit of new energy that really resonates."
Britt Rogers, junior in history, was impressed with Alexander's arguments, and had his views impacted by the lecture.
"It made me realize that I need to do some soul searching and be a part of this awakening she is talking about, including about the problem of felons," Rogers said. "How can I help them, instead of judging and discriminating against them?"
Rogers was also concerned about the Supreme Court upholding certain laws and policies that Alexander argued are discriminatory.
"It made me think a lot about where we are headed as a nation if we don't make some changes, as far as racial discrimination laws go," he said.
The event was sponsored by the UT Africana studies program, as well as the Haines-Morris Endowment Fund, Ready for the World grant, UT School of Law, the UT departments of anthropology and sociology, the Center for the Study of Social Justice, the Office of Multicultural Student Life and the Black Cultural Programming Committee.