Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jim Crow is alive and thriving

Michelle Alexander, the author of Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, has helped me further understand why we do not live in a post-racial society or much of a society at all. Below, I have briefly summarized a small section of her lecture in order to help others understand why the USA is not equal when it comes to the justice system. 

“We have not eliminated discrimination but simply redesigned it”

-Michelle Alexander 

Between the 1880s and 1960s, the United States had Jim Crow laws meant to legally racial discriminate against African Americans. These laws were based on the concept of separate but equal, however they only perpetuated and enforced social, economic and educational disadvantages. These conditions for African Americans were inferior to those of Caucasian Americans in order to prevent them from surpassing their caucasian peers or being truly and completely equal in society. Today, in modern USA the idea of Jim Crow is now simply the phrase “conscious intentional bias" yet racial discrimination is not just a conscious action such as of name calling or refusing to hire an employee. No, the concepts and practices of Jim Crow laws remain today rooted into the justice system.  Instead of using race as a label for discrimination, the label of convicted criminal is now being used as the tool for discrimination. A convicted criminal can not vote, can not have access to financial aid for education, will have trouble obtaining a job, is not allowed access to public housing nor even allowed food stamps. We can not think to ourselves, "people of color just shouldn't commit any crimes if they didn't want their rights stripped away" or "they commit the most crime and thus must pay the consequences." No, according to Michelle Alexander, “The explosion of imprisonment is not due to crime rates. Crime rates are at historical lows yet black incarceration rates has soared.” 1 in every 15 black men compared to 1 in 106 white men are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes ( The Jim Crow laws may no longer be legal but incarceration and suppression is now just the new form of racial control.

One may ask "why are there more black people in prison than white people?"  One example would be that The War on Drugs is being exclusively waged on black dominated communities, even though black people are not more likely to use drugs than white people. Law enforcement is not going to white dominated suburbs nor college campuses to search for people to convict of drug possession. In order to find those to convict, random groups of people or individuals are being stopped and frisked. The cop is most likely putting his or her hand on a gun as a fear tactic and definitely not informing the person being frisked that they have a right to say "No." Out of 600,000 frisks in 2010, 87% of those frisks were on people of color (Alexander). It is because of this targeted discrimination that more black men are in jail than white men for nonviolent crimes proving that legal racial discrimination is not dead, it is thriving.

Ultimately, the cycle will continue. First, an underprivileged black man is targeted for something as small as Mary Jane possession. Second, he is convicted to the maximum unless he or his family hires a private defense lawyer with money most underprivileged people do not have. This is especially difficult if his father before was convicted of a crime as well and struggles with finding a living wage. Then lastly, released without the means to thrive in society nor even get back into society such as buying food or having a living wage job. At the end of the day, creating second class citizens without rights nor the means to survive is somehow acceptable in the eyes of the law but that is only if there was no name calling. 

To learn more please watch Michelle Alexander's full lecture on systematic racial discrimination.

More information can be found in these links:

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