The Question and Answer section for The New Jim Crow is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The author assumes that anyone who has served time will never be able to fit into or be accepted in main stream America and states the many reasons. He lists obstacles, a lack of opportunities, and the revolving door back to prison, as the reason...
This would be interpreted to mean a negative or adverse reaction. In context, the word is used to describe the reaction to African American gains after Reconstruction by whites, who reacted with outrage and panic.
In this context, the author is claiming that the Civil Rights were symbolic (figurative) and meant to pacify.... they didn't prove effective.