What’s poppin Generation Y? It’s me again. I recently came across a book that captivated me and I wanted to share my thoughts. I know reading books may seem a little old fashioned, but I assure you, it’s very informative. Furthermore, the information I came across inspired me to create this blog post. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is a great read about the harsh reality of America’s prison system. Alexander is a civil rights lawyer who has devoted her career to fighting racial injustice in America’s criminal justice system, and throughout The New Jim Crow, she illuminates the racism that taints each phase of that system. She uses her book to increase public understanding about criminalization and its implicit agenda for the entire nation.
When it comes to mass media and information that is spread about the status of America’s prison and criminal justice systems, the truth is hardly told. And when it is told, the information is not promoted, received by its target audience, or highlighted in media and publications as it should. Sadly, as is the case with many things in our society, what we see is not what we get.
What is the truth behind the truth about America’s criminal justice system? Alexander argues “Mass incarceration is a form of racialized social control that creates an undercaste—a lower caste of individuals who are permanently barred by law and custom from mainstream society” (Alexander 13). America’s criminal justice system is not an institution that promotes racial equality. Consequently, prison is not an environment that supports racial equality. If media outlets are going to broadcast something, they should broadcast this: America uses its prison system to support its economy by allowing businesses and interested capitalists to buy the services of inmates, who are disproportionately African-American, Latino-American, Asian-American, and Native American (Google “Prison industrial complex”. Moreover, the criminal justice system is being used as a means to disenfranchise those who are imprisoned, and to create and promote both a stigma and taboo that prevents former inmates from participating in non-criminal activity.
They should also broadcast that slavery and Jim Crow were obviously discriminatory forms of social control, but criminalization enables mass incarceration to pretend to be a set of unbiased practices intended to secure public safety. Or in Alexander’s words, “Throughout the criminal justice system, as well as in our schools and public spaces, young + black + male is equated with reasonable suspicion, justifying the arrest, interrogation, search, and detention of thousands of African Americans every year” (Alexander 194).
Mass incarceration works to achieve the goals of previous, despicable forms of racialized social control. Disenfranchisement has taken various forms throughout generations. As a black man, this is my reality, think about it: my great-great-grandfather was enslaved, my great-grandfather was demoralized and abused by the Ku Klux Klan and an explicit segregated society, my grandfather was subjected to poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent voting, and unfortunately my father himself was convicted of a felony and is on parole. Regardless of the diverse means used to prohibit these men from democracy and society, the oppressive results are one in the same.
Alexander cautiously sheds light on the strong influence that the criminal justice system has over impoverished people of color (HEY THAT’S ME!J). This population is subjected to surveillance and restrictions on our freedoms in the form of police and correctional procedures, prosecutorial discretion, mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, unyielding conditions of parole, AND laws limiting access to employment, public housing, and welfare for convicted felons. I hope I am making this clear –a prison sentence is only one aspect in which the U.S. criminal justice system exercises control over African Americans.
Many people are aware of this information. I only believe this is significant because of the high level of general unawareness of millennials. Our generation is younger than the rest of our country. Therefore, those who make the decisions about America’s prison system are in a particular cohort. This group of individuals was born before 1979. Let’s put this into perspective. Before 1979? There are not many people born between 1980-2000 (our generation) who casually or formally speak about the state of our prison system. In addition, there are not many outlets in media that promote the realities of the prison system.
The relevance of this information is unquestionable, and I am using this post as a mere appeal to our generation’s stream of consciousness. The “have-nots” continue to face extraordinary oppression, while the “haves” are perpetuating a system of falsehood. In order to see the bigger picture, one’s mind must not be limited by the frame/borders of the picture – i.e. think outside of the box.
Mass incarceration is real; I can feel it in the air…