Black History Month Day 4
“In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination — employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service — are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”― Michelle Alexander, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”
This book is now almost 11-years-old. It was a groundbreaking book that too few of us have read. We have created a carceral system to replace the Jim Crow system, which replaced the chattel system. All of these systems were designed, erected, funded, and implemented for one purpose: to control black bodies.
“Racial caste systems do not require racial hostility or overt bigotry to thrive. They need only racial indifference, as Martin Luther King Jr. warned more than forty-five years ago.”― Michelle Alexander, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”
Have you ever really interrogated why so many people immigrate to America? Have you ever truly investigated why your family came here, if you are not the descendants of slaves or indigenous to these lands? America has a fully operational caste system with black people firmly entrenched at the lowest rung of society.
Every other ethnic group can safely come to America and vie for “whiteness.” The currency used to purchase whiteness is ferocity towards black people in America. Italians were not white, until they were deemed white after engaging in numerous savage acts against blacks, including the 1863 Draft Riots. Italians had fared the same as blacks in America, until they were deemed white. One of the largest mass lynchings, took place in New Orleans. Eleven Italian men were murdered that day as a crowd of thousands cheered for their blood.
People from around the world are able to arrive in America, better off than where they are from because the descendants of slaves are condemned to occupy the bottom of our racial caste system. Yet, few openly discuss why their familial fortunes have improved. To acknowledge it would make one complicit or indifferent.
Most choose indifference. It is this indifference that allows the current system to thrive and black bodies to continue to become more and more isolated with fewer and fewer prospects for opportunity. It is this shirking of our collective debt that Coates describes in “The Case for Reparations” that compounds misery.
“Black success stories lend credence to the notion that anyone, no matter how poor or how black you may be, can make it to the top, if only you try hard enough. These stories “prove” that race is no longer relevant. Whereas black success stories undermined the logic of Jim Crow, they actually reinforce the system of mass incarceration. Mass incarceration depends for its legitimacy on the widespread belief that all those who appear trapped at the bottom actually chose their fate.”― Michelle Alexander, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”
It was in this book that I would first see a name that would be repeated over and over and over again in all my readings: D. Patrick “Pat” Moynihan. I think no person or non-governmental entity has had a more deleterious affect on black America, than this man in the past 50 years. He wrote the highly contentious 1965 The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, best known as the Moynihan Report. It is shortly after this report is released that the Great Migration comes to an end and the carceral state is born. He would eventually become elected to the United States Senate, as a Democrat. Yet, I believe that he has been the invisible hand around the throats of black people, for the past 50 years.
Some will exclaim he had good intentions, but I think this quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates sums it up appropriately: “The point of this language of ‘intention’ and ‘personal responsibility’ is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. ‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history…”― Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me” (come on, you knew this was going to be one of the books.).
In America we like to lift up Jordan, Winfrey and Powell, but we hate to acknowledge Till, Bland and Rice. We decry the violence of Chicago, but we omit from the history books Black Wall St. We criticize black people for not getting the vaccination, but we fail to explain how trust has been broken through continuous experimentation on black bodies in this country (See Tuskegee). We applaud one person seeking the Democratic nomination for president for being a Rhodes scholar and do not mention the other. We conceal that we compensated slaveowners for each slave set free and failed to compensate the newly free slave. We devote all this energy to the New Green Deal, but Flint still does not have clean water. We are quick to use Mayor Barry as a cautionary tale, but we have expelled the impossible life story of Robert Smalls from our collective memory. We love selling the narrative that we are the shining city upon a hill, but we are hostile to exploring what we were, what we are, and what we can become.
“Arguably the most important parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow is that both have served to define the meaning and significance of race in America. Indeed, a primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time. Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.”― Michelle Alexander, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”
#BlackHistoryMonth 4 of 28.