Michelle Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow,” is visiting Union South this Thursday to discuss race in America. Her book points out the undeniable institutional racism that exists in the American prison system.
Race has a dark history in this nation. When black Americans were promised freedom they were given Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan, and when they were promised civil rights they were given Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs.
On January 20, 1961, in the frigid cold in Washington, D.C., President John Kennedy made a declaration that signaled a change in America. “The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state,” he said, “but from the hands of God.” We are taught in history class Jim Crow laws ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While these acts brought an end to de jure discrimination, the sad fact is racism is still deeply and institutionally embedded in this nation.
Jim Crow lives. He lives in our drug laws and our welfare policy. He lives in the minds of the citizens who sought to delegitimize this president by claiming he was born in Kenya. He lives in voter ID laws and racial profiling. Most of all, he lives in a vicious cycle of poverty that has caused unimaginable problems for minorities — a cycle that too many whites are blind to.
Law enforcement is where our institutional racism is most evident. Blacks are over-represented in executions by about threefold. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, black convicts account for 35 percent of executions despite the fact they only make up 13 percent of the population.
Human Rights Watch reports while whites and blacks use drugs at similar rates, blacks are incarcerated for drug offenses at nearly 10 times the rate of whites. According to a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s “No More Trayvon Martins Campaign,” 120 blacks were killed by either law enforcement or in self-defense in the first half of 2012. Of those killed, 46 percent were not carrying a weapon. In 36 percent of the cases, it is still unclear whether or not they had a weapon. This leaves only 18 percent who were confirmed to be armed.
According to Dylan Rattigan’s blog, black males have a one-in-three chance of spending time in jail at some point in their lifetimes. In 2010 the Sentencing Project reported 2.9 percent of blacks were incarcerated, as opposed to 0.7 percent of Hispanics and 0.4 percent of whites. The facts are clear.
Institutional racism has evolved from segregation into a complex web of social structures and laws that makes it exceedingly difficult for minorities to succeed. Social mobility has decreased dramatically over the past few decades, making the cycle of poverty that perpetuates the struggle of minorities even harsher.
In recent years states have taken aim at minorities. Many states passed voter ID laws which disproportionately affect minorities’ right to vote. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott attempted to purge 180,000 people from the voting rolls before the election. The purge list had a disproportionately high number of minorities. This is the same governor who signed a law requiring welfare recipients to pass a drug test. The American Civil Liberties Union has called the drug test requirement unconstitutional, and courts have put a stay on the legislation. The Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law that would have forced anyone asked by police to provide proof of citizenship to comply.
We, as a nation, have never remedied the institutional racism that has been a part of this nation since its birth. Our generation has before it a moment of opportunity that it must make the most of. We must be the generation that gets it right. We must demand better. We must become socially conscious enough to see short comings of this nation.
We are all citizens, we are all human beings and yet social injustice is all around us. I love America, but our nation has blood on its hands. Our efforts to correct societal injustice toward minorities must continue. The demons of our past continue to follow us, and we must be aware of them.
Today I ask my readers not to fight for or against any particular law, but to be aware of the injustice that surrounds us. A doctor cannot mend a wound he or she does not look at, nor can a nation. We can only decide to do what is right when we see how what we are doing is wrong. As our generation comes into power, we must be aware of reality so we can truly put an end to injustice.
Spencer Lindsay (email@example.com) is a sophomore majoring in political science.