drugs, jails, and race.

I just came back from a meeting downtown to launch our “community read” of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. It’s subtitled, “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” and we began by talking in groups on what “colorblindness” means in a racist society.

I guess it was a step up from blatant racism to move to colorblindness, but it allows us to ignore the ways in which some of these “colors” face obstacles that some others of us can’t imagine.

In the book the author traces the lineage of the present prison system from the creation of slavery which required the invention of racism to justify that level of bald faced exploitation of an entire group of humans, to Jim Crow laws which enabled the use of nearly free labor from that same group, to the current system of arrests and imprisonment which so heavily impacts the African-American community.

As has been widely reported, the “War on Drugs” is mostly fought in black communities. The widespread use of drugs on college campuses and in middle class communities is mostly ignored. I remember a friend’s child was caught selling cocaine and was given a suspended sentence.

On the other hand, African Americans are incarcerated at 10 times the rate as whites for non violent drug offenses although 5 times as many whites use drugs than African Americans.

African Americans serve about as much time in prison for a drug offense as whites do for a violent offense according to the NAACP website.

The Washington Post has a great analysis of the arrests of African Americans compared to whites for marijuana use:

Many of us know of the racial bias of the courts [though I didn’t know the extent], but Michelle Alexander’s service is this analysis that helps us see this, not as random stupidity, but a well functioning system to keep a people down to maintain a familiar and profitable system.

Martin Luther King said, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

This book can help us avoid a bit of that fate and pass on a little less of it to our children.


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