Shamelessly reposting this excellent post from Petey posted in The Something Awful Forums. Post can be located here If you have an account.
Some things you will learn about in this thread:
Fact: Black youths arrested for drug possession are 48 times more likely to wind up in prison than white youths arrested for the same crime under the same circumstances.
Source: “Young White Offenders get lighter treatment,” 2000. The Tennessean. April 26: 8A.
Fact: Black and Latino men are three times more likely than white men to be stopped by the police and have their cars searched – even though white men are four times more likely to have weapons or drugs.
Source: Matthew R. Durose, Erica L. Schmitt and Patrick A. Langan, Contacts Between Police and the Public: Findings from the 2002 National Survey. U.S. Department of Justice, (Bureau of Justice Statistics), April 2005.
Fact: White men with a criminal record are more likely to be called back for a job interview than black men with no record, even when their education and experience are the same.
Source: Pager, Devah. 2003. “The Mark of a Criminal Record.” American Journal of Sociology. Volume 108: 5, March: 937-75.
Fact: Students of colour are far less likely to be put in honours courses even after you take test scores and grades into account.
Source: Gordon, Rebecca. 1998. Education and Race. Oakland: Applied Research Center: 48-9; Fischer, Claude S. et al., 1996. Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press: 163; Steinhorn, Leonard and Barabara Diggs-Brown, 1999. By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion of Integration and the Reality of Race. NY: Dutton: 95-6.
Fact: Students of colour are more than twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school even though they are not much more likely to break school rules than whites.
Source: Skiba, Russell J. et al., The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment. Indiana Education Policy Center, Policy Research Report SRS1, June 2000; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System: Youth 2003, Online Comprehensive Results, 2004.
We live in the age of Obama (black president) (hooray) (we did it guys). In popular discourse, we are a postracial people; the plight of racial minorities is a thing of the past.
To many well-intentioned people this seems to be true. We are certainly a nation in which it is less acceptable to be openly racially bigoted (Mississippi excluded, perhaps) than it once was. Lynchings are way down. And, anecdotally at least, young people are less likely to fraternize and socialize in their own individual communities. It is probably fair to say that there is probably less naked, open racial prejudice now than there was decades ago, generally speaking.
But individual bigotry is only one kind of racism, and, while noxious, perhaps the least dangerous sort. Far more deadly is institutionalized racism: racism built into the structures and woven into the fabric of society, hidden racism that undergirds and supports the rest of society, that we do not perceive to be racist when in fact that is what it is and the effect that it has.
Brief timeline of American race relations:
* 1776-1865: slavery (sucked for black people)
* 1865-1877: reconstruction (still sucked for black people)
* 1877-1965: jim crow era (STILL sucked for black people)
* 1965-2011: civil rights era / obama (yay??)
Even more briefly: most people believe that America basically shat on black people from the founding until 1965, when Malcolm X scared white people into thinking MLK liked them and all of the civil rights era legislation passed, so things have been getting better ever since.
But things haven’t been getting better. They’ve been slipping sideways. The things that used to openly fuck black people over – segregation, sharecropping, etc – still exist. They now just exist in subtler ways that have the same – or worse – effect.
This is an educational thread about institutionalized racism, how it works, how it reproduces, and its effects on minority communities, especially African-Americans.
The War On Drugs As Racial Warfare
Maybe the single best example of institutionalized racism – fucking black people over in new and interesting ways – is the War on Drugs.
Basically at this point you should just go read this book: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.
But if you are too cheap to buy it / too lazy to huff it down to the local library, here it is in short form:
Michelle Alexander in the Guardian posted:
Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race”. There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalised, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.
Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.
Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colourblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:
• There are more African American adults under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the civil war began.
• As of 2004, more African American men were disfranchised (due to felon disfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the 15th amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
• A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.
• If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labelled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste – not class, caste – permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.
There is, of course, a colourblind explanation for all this: crime rates. Our prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few short decades, it is said, because of rampant crime. We’re told that the reason so many black and brown men find themselves behind bars and ushered into a permanent, second-class status is because they happen to be the bad guys.
The uncomfortable truth, however, is that crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the last few decades – they are currently at historical lows – but imprisonment rates have consistently soared. Quintupled, in fact. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the “war on drugs” and the “get tough movement”. Drug offences alone accounted for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal inmate population, between 1985 to 2000, and more than half of the increase in the state prison population.
The drug war has been brutal, but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought. This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of colour, even though studies consistently show that people of all colours use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youths are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youths. They also have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.
That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, overflowing as they are with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, African Americans comprise 80-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison.
This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that black men have higher rates of violent crime. That’s why the drug war is waged in poor communities of colour and not middle-class suburbs. Drug warriors are trying to get rid of those drug kingpins and violent offenders who make ghetto communities a living hell. It has nothing to do with race; it’s all about violent crime.
Again, not so. President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working-class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing and affirmative action.
A few years after the drug war was announced, crack cocaine hit the streets of inner-city communities. The Reagan administration seized on this development with glee, hiring staff who were to be responsible for publicising inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores and drug-related violence. The goal was to make inner-city crack abuse and violence a media sensation, bolstering public support for the drug war which, it was hoped, would lead Congress to devote millions of dollars in additional funding to it.
The plan worked like a charm. For more than a decade, black drug dealers and users would be regulars in newspaper stories and would saturate the evening TV news. Congress and state legislatures nationwide would devote billions of dollars to the drug war and pass harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes – sentences longer than murderers receive in many countries.
Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove that they could be even tougher on the dark-skinned pariahs. In President Bill Clinton’s boastful words: “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.” The facts bear him out. Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. But Clinton was not satisfied with exploding prison populations. He and the “New Democrats” championed legislation banning drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offence) and denying them basic public benefits, including food stamps, for life. Discrimination in virtually every aspect of political, economic and social life is now perfectly legal, if you’ve been labelled a felon.
But what about all those violent criminals and drug kingpins? Isn’t the drug war waged in ghetto communities because that’s where the violent offenders can be found? The answer is yes … in made-for-TV movies. In real life, the answer is no.
Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses. What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests. To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80% of the cash, cars and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.
The results have been predictable: with black people rounded up en masse for relatively minor, nonviolent drug offences. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales. Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity. In fact, during the 1990s – the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war – nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.
In this way, a new racial undercaste has been created in an astonishingly short period of time – a new Jim Crow system. Millions of people of colour are now saddled with criminal records and legally denied the very rights that their parents and grandparents fought for and, in some cases, died for.
Affirmative action, though, has put a happy face on this racial reality. Seeing black people graduate from Harvard and Yale and become CEOs or corporate lawyers – not to mention president of the United States – causes us all to marvel at what a long way we’ve come.
Recent data shows, though, that much of black progress is a myth. In many respects, African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King was assassinated and uprisings swept inner cities across America. Nearly a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line today, approximately the same percentage as in 1968. The black child poverty rate is actually higher now than it was then.Unemployment rates in black communities rival those in developing countries. And that’s with affirmative action.
When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our “colourblind” society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political, and economic structure – the structure of racial caste. The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.
LA Progressive posted:
The United States leads the industrialized world in incarceration. In fact, the U.S. rate of incarceration (762 per 100,000) is five to eight times that of other highly developed countries, according to The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice think tank.
Some of the key factors for the record imprisonment rate include:
Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.
The Sentencing Project has reported that more than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs,” in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.
The Prison-Industrial Complex: Slavery For The 21st Century
Alexander refers several times to the prison-industrial complex. Like its more famous cousin, the military-industrial complex, the PIC is a concept meant to encapsulate the material interests of business leaders and policy makers that drive more and more people into our prisons.
How does it work?
El Negocio posted:
This isn’t surprising since America has been using black prison labour as a substitute for slavery since the Reconstruction Era. Black prisoners would be hired out to plantations for a pittance to work in the same fields that they or their ancestors did as slaves. This situation was actually favorable to bondage from the perspective of the plantation owners since the plantations no longer had to pay the high cost of owning a person, were no longer obligated in feeding or housing their workers and had a virtually unlimited source of cheap labour to be worked to death.
Nowadays over 37 US States use prison labour in both the private and public sectors for as little as 21 cents an hour. In 1994 Oregon voters even mandated that all prisoners are to work 40 hours a week. The prisoners have even less rights than un-unionized American employees with no health or unemployment insurance, vacation time, sick leave or overtime. If a prisoner complains about their conditions or refuses, they are deemed “uncooperative” and are stripped of their good behaviour rewards and are probably placed in solitary confinement for good measure. Realizing what a good racket this is, private companies and the federal government are firing thousands of their employees and replacing them with prison labour.
The Daily Texan posted:
For 21 months, at 7:30 every morning, David Harpster would walk, together with about 100 men, onto the assembly floor of Lockhart Technologies Inc (LTI), and start work on computer and electronic components. What was unusual is that this factory is located inside a prison, and Harpster, like all the other men he worked with, were inmates.
“It’s like any other job,” says Harpster, “except that all the men are in the same uniform.”
LTI, a subsidiary of U.S. Technologies, is the company that contracts the labor from the prison, as well as work from companies such as Dell, IBM, and Texas Instruments. About 100 of the 500 inmates at Lockhart work with LTI.
As prison labor moves into the high-tech industry, both prison labor advocates and ex-prisoners disagree over the effectiveness of such an option. Though prisoners are taught technical skills and work for high-tech operations while incarcerated, the skills they learn are arguably out-dated and the salary is little. Meanwhile, other corporations that do not use such low-cost labor may have unfair competition to deal with.
Typically, inmates in work programs make license plates for cars or manufacture clothing. But at the Lockhart Work Facility, prisoners learn to build relay cards, upgrade motherboards, make computer cables, circuit boards and other electronic components. The facility also provides the manpower for Chatliffe, a company based in Buda that makes control systems and air-conditioners.
The Lockhart facility is owned and run by Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, a subsidary of Wackenhut Corporation – one of the nation’s largest firms dealing with security. Wackenhut also has private prisons in other countries including the United Kingdom, and has secured contracts providing security for domestic nuclear power plants.
The state contracts with private companies like Wackenhut to house and feed the prisoners. U.S. Technologies employs about 100 of the 500 inmates housed at the Lockhart facility, paying the minimum wage to the prison.
Lockhart Warden James Black said the prisoners are allowed to keep up to 20 percent of what they make, about $1 per hour. The rest of their income goes to pay for court fees, outstanding loans, Social Security, taxes, a restitution fund for crime victims, child support and to the prison for their stay there.
The idea was started to get prisoners to pay for their own incarceration, Black said.
Harpster says that he got to keep $2,000 for the time that he was there, and he calculated that prisoners were allowed to keep up to 14 percent of what they earned.
A portion of the salary of LTI inmates is paid back to Wackenhut, Black confirms, though he would not comment on the amount. Harpster says that he believes it comes out to between eight to nine percent of their gross salary.
Many of the inmates who had transferred from state minimum security prisons were surprised by the strict security at the Lockhart prison, said Harpster.
“We came in expecting something a little closer to civilization. Instead, we were put in a place where we were watched 24 hours a day,” he said. “The security was tighter than it had been in Texas Department of Criminal Justice.”
Black said that the facility is more stringent to teach the prisoners discipline.
In many instances, Black said, he sees repeat offenders go back to jail because they don’t have the skills to make an honest living. Black said that the work program is ‘the core of rehabilitation”giving the prisoners skills, a bank account and a chance.”
Edward Sills, spokesman for the Texas chapter of the AFL-CIO, said he’s concerned only when prison labor competes unfairly with free market labor.
“The incentive for companies to go into the prisons is pretty clear in some cases,” Sills said, “They don’t have to pay all the benefits, in some cases they pay very few of the benefits, that an outside company has to pay in the regular marketplace.”
Sills said, about seven years ago, a company that was known as American Microelectronics Inc. had close to 150 workers in both its Austin headquarters as well as their branch in Lockhart prison. After closing down for about 45 days, the same company opened solely at Lockhart with prisoners as their sole work force, eliminating the need to pay for benefits, and paying their new workers only minimum wage. A few years later, U.S. Technologies bought the company and renamed it LTI.
In 1993, legislation sponsored by Rep. Ray Allen offered tax credits to corporations, encouraging them to engage in prison industries.
More recently, Allen headed a legislative push to ensure that prison labor did not take away jobs of workers on the outside due to unfair competition, and also that prison workers receive the prevailing wage.
Scott Gilmore, spokesman for Allen’s office, maintains that the only benefit that a company will receive is the “outstanding productivity” that the environment provides.
“The company has a drug-free environment, the workers are rarely sick,” he says, “and never late for work or they’re replaced by someone who wants to work harder.”
But LTI enjoys more than just workforce benefits. Wackenhut rents the 25,000 sq. foot workspace to LTI for just $1 a year.
In 1997, the Texas legislature passed the Prison Industries Act, creating the Prison Industries Advisory Board to process all corporations wanting to engage in prison industry.
The Act also requires that companies using prison labor consider the labor markets in their region to make sure they aren’t doing the same kind of work as other companies.
In a way, this creates a contradiction in which prisoners are taught skills, but those skills are not necessarily those needed in the free world markets, since prison industries are not allowed to compete with them.
Harpster, who says that he had some experience in the computer electronics industry prior to going to Lockhart, believes that the skills taught there are at the most basic level and are inadequate in helping ex-inmates get good jobs in the free market. He also said that the machinery, bought by LTI is outdated and obsolete.
Harpster says that he used to work for the U.S. Airforce as a Special Weapons Technician from 1969 to 1971. Shortly after that he enrolled in a computer course at IBM and later on worked as a computer consultant.
Harpster said, prisoners with little or no experience in the high-tech industry are given a six-week training course with no pay prior to their employment with LTI. He said that nothing is taught to the inmates beyond what is needed for them to do the job at hand, hence limiting their effectiveness outside the scope of the work at Lockhart.
Corporations that contract with LTI seem to have little complaint. Their clients include Dell, Compaq, IBM, Chipsmart, and High End, an Austin-based company.
Alan McMinn, an LTI employee, said LTI has the flexibility to handle quantities of one unit upwards. Corporations with assembly lines would have to pay large sums of money to bring in the necessary equipment to do that kind of work for small quantities, and that would not be financially feasible, said McMinn.
U.S. Technologies is proud of its pilot project, now a booming business, says John Shapiro, Vice-President of National Accounts. He confirms that LTI is the first such project by U.S. Tech, and that they believe that they are doing good work in helping prisoners rehabilitate, the state get its money’s worth and companies benefit from good quality work at low cost.
Harpster says he believes that the LTI scheme has a long way to go. Though he admits that the program helped him earn some money to take care of himself after he was released, he feels he was led to believe that he could get a job in the computer industry after he left. After he was turned down by his seventh employment agency, Harpster gave up trying to work with computers again and now does construction work with a contractor.
“The program itself is sound in that it teaches inmates financial responsibility, financial freedom – it’s positive for the inmate,” he said, “but it’s not so positive for the ex-inmate. It gives him a false sense of security.”
“A lot of the guys thought they would be getting jobs working with computers after they got out. The employment agencies that screen potential employees made it clear that the employers wanted someone they could trust,” he says, “why should someone who has a prison record be chosen over someone who doesn’t?”
Harpster continued, “If you don’t give the ex-inmate the right chance out there, he’s just going to go back to what he did before, and end up in jail again.”
Who is investing? At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum. And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.” At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.
Thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets. A company that operated a maquiladora (assembly plant in Mexico near the border) closed down its operations there and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California. In Texas, a factory fired its 150 workers and contracted the services of prisoner-workers from the private Lockhart Texas prison, where circuit boards are assembled for companies like IBM and Compaq.
[Former] Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that “there won’t be any transportation costs; we’re offering you competitive prison labor (here).”
Profits are so good that now there is a new business: importing inmates with long sentences, meaning the worst criminals. When a federal judge ruled that overcrowding in Texas prisons was cruel and unusual punishment, the CCA signed contracts with sheriffs in poor counties to build and run new jails and share the profits. According to a December 1998 Atlantic Monthly magazine article, this program was backed by investors from Merrill-Lynch, Shearson-Lehman, American Express and Allstate, and the operation was scattered all over rural Texas. That state’s governor, Ann Richards, followed the example of Mario Cuomo in New York and built so many state prisons that the market became flooded, cutting into private prison profits.
After a law signed by Clinton in 1996 – ending court supervision and decisions – caused overcrowding and violent, unsafe conditions in federal prisons, private prison corporations in Texas began to contact other states whose prisons were overcrowded, offering “rent-a-cell” services in the CCA prisons located in small towns in Texas. The commission for a rent-a-cell salesman is $2.50 to $5.50 per day per bed. The county gets $1.50 for each prisoner.
What are these prisons like? Read this report from Angola prison, in Lousiana, once called the “bloodiest prison in America”:
Guard/employee Village: A small “town” — built by inmates of course — house about 200 employees that live and work there with their families. Kids are bused in and out of the prison gates to outside schools. The town sits in the shadow of the Warden’s new mansion atop a high hilltop — built again by inmate labor.
* The Dog Kennels: Angola is very proud of their dog breeding and training
operation, which includes Bloodhounds, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, and wolves. They are attempting to breed a more “vicious” attack dog by crossing Shepherds with the metaphoric “black wolf” they have. It is Mengelian really. Dogs are trained to track and attack unruly and escaping inmates. Some are trained to sniff drugs and contraband — some sold to law enforcement.
* Visit With the Editor of The Angolite: This takes place in the Visitor Center where inmates are bused to meet their guests and where parole hearings and other legal proceedings take place. Since the release of Wilbur Rideau, Kerry Myers has been the editor and the inmate who speaks to tours. He is a white middle-class man who is serving life without parole for the 2nd Degree Murder of his wife. Myers told 2 different versions of his crime when I visited so I looked up his case which is actually infamous — the subject of a book and TV movie. Unlike most inmates who spend at least 3 months and in many cases 10 years toiling in the fields planting by hand, Myers was offered a 20 cents an hour job at The Angolite just 45 days into his incarceration there. Race and class privilege rule even here.
If allowed to, inmates also offer a critique of The World Famous Angola Rodeo, where inmates participate for cash prizes at great risk. There have been several inmate deaths at the rodeo as well as extreme injuries and on-going chronic conditions. Inmates are allowed to sell crafts at the rodeo but the Warden/prison takes a 20% cut. The rodeo makes approximately $1 million each weekend in October as the new arena (built by inmates in short order under Cain’s directive) seats 10,000. This is just one of several money-making endeavors at Angola that depends on neo-slave inmate labor starting at 2 cents per hour — the minimum wage had been raised to 4 cents per hour but was recently returned to 2 cents, according to the tour guide. The highest available wage for a few rare jobs is 20 cents per hour.
Despite the supposedly benign tour, both students and I were horrified. There is a cavalier attitude, a blasé acceptance of capital punishment, mass incarceration and of course little critique of the class and race dynamics of the inmate population — 80% of whom are black and nearly all of whom were poor, under-educated and dependent on a public defender at trial. There is passive acceptance and even sometimes celebration of Louisiana’s harsh sentences — it has the highest incarceration rate in the US — and of the fact that 90% of the inmates will die there and 80% will receive no visitors after 5 years.
Absolutely. Angola was and is still is very much a plantation. At 18,000 acres, it is the largest prison in the US — the only prison with its own zip code. Mostly black men are still maintaining the same agricultural activity — planting, hoeing, picking cotton and other crops by hand — that slaves did originally. And they are doing so as captives who are compensated for their back-breaking labor with mere pennies per hour. While Warden Cain may not be Simon Legree, he is still a plantation master — albeit one who uses Christianity as a means of controlling the neo-slave labor under his watch. The very same practices and social control mechanism that existed under slavery persist — just under a new name.
Slave Codes became Black Codes and criminalized a range of activities if the perpetrator was black. The newly acquired 15th Amendment right to vote was curtailed by tailoring of felony disenfranchisement laws to include crimes that were supposedly more frequently committed by blacks. And, the liberatory promise of the 13th Amendment — “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the United States”- contained a dangerous loophole- “except as a punishment for crime”. This allowed for the conversion of the old plantations to penitentiaries, and this, with the introduction of the convict lease system, permitted the South to continue to economically benefit from the unpaid labor of blacks.
The patterns established in the old south have proliferated and expanded throughout the US, as African Americans are disproportionately policed, prosecuted, convicted, disenfranchised and imprisoned in the prison industrial complex. There has been a corresponding shift from de jure racism codified explicitly into the law and to a de facto racism where people of color, especially African Americans, are subject to unequal protection of the laws, excessive surveillance, extreme segregation and neo-slave labor via incarceration — all in the name of “crime control”. It is the current manifestation of the legal legacy of the racialized transformations of plantations into prisons, of Slave Codes into Black Codes, of lynching into state-sponsored executions. The “imputation of crime to color” that Frederick Douglass warned of 125 years ago continues to the present.
In essence, we have reverted to a system of slavery, except now, the slaveholders don’t even have to pay the full costs of housing, feeding, and caring for the slaves. Taxpayers do. The slaveholders just reap the profit of their labor. Capital wins again.
But…what about Obama! Surely some black people are doing better now!
Sure, there are outliers among African-Americans who are doing well now, as Alexander mentions. But overall, African-Americans are much poorer than their white counterparts, despite saving more money and generally being more responsible with it.
Boston Globe posted:
ON THE SURFACE, the American Dream for African-Americans has risen on a steady slope right into the White House. Not only did the United States elect its first black president in 2008, that was also the same year, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, that the percentage of African-Americans who live in the suburbs crossed the 50 percent mark. “Within metropolitan areas,’’ the report said, “the 2000s indicate that the nation is well on its way toward achieving greater city-suburban racial and ethnic integration.’’
But below the surface, there remains a terrible silent segregation. Yesterday, Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy released a report that found that the wealth gap between white and African-American families more than quadrupled in the last quarter century. In 1984, the median value of financial assets for white families in America — not including home equity — amounted to $22,000. The median value for African-American families was $2,000.
By 2007, white families had a median value of $100,000 in financial instruments, such as retirement accounts, pension funds, stocks, bonds, and CDs. But the median value of African-American family financial holdings grew to only $5,000. Thus, the gap grew from $20,000 in 1984 to $95,000 in 2007. The study said the gap in 1984 amounted to a couple years of public college tuition. Today, the gap would fund “full tuition at a four-year public university for two children, plus tuition at a public medical school.’’
The gap is so huge that white middle-income families far outpace high-income African-American families. High-income African-Americans have a wealth of $18,000, barely more than for middle-income African-Americans. The respective median wealth of high-income and middle-income white households are $240,000 and $74,000.
“It wasn’t just surprising, it was shocking,’’ said study co-author Thomas Shapiro. That says a lot coming from him, a long-time researcher on racial wealth gaps and co-author of the award-winning 1995 book, “Black Wealth, White Wealth.’’ He said the new data is poignant because it follows the same set of families over 23 years. Previous reports on wealth gaps were derived from statistical “snapshots’’ from single points in time. “We were taken aback because we assumed that whatever baseline a particular family started from, things are going to naturally get better for them,’’ Shapiro said. “But for African-American families, it didn’t.’’
Shapiro has interviews planned over the next two years to find out why. The data belie the stereotype that African-Americans are less wise with their money, since savings rates of black and white households are similar by income. While the study does not look at home values, the asset gap is probably embedded in America’s housing and lending structure, which still rejects African-American households at higher rates than similar-earning white households for housing and home equity loans. That disproportionately forces black families into more onerous financial arrangements. In a domino effect, such families may have to take on higher debt or pay more out of pocket for education. Other factors may include a stronger need to help out extended family.
“It is not that wealth has not accumulated for African-American families,’’ Shapiro said, “What we’re showing is that along the way, they have to spend it.’’
Shapiro said the gap is so wide that the government has to help narrow it. He pointed out that, according to the Pew Economic Mobility Project, the vast majority of federal deductions and benefits to enhance upward mobility ended up in the hands of the wealthiest Americans. For instance, between 72 percent and 98 percent of deductions for retirement savings, health insurance, home mortgages, self-employed health insurance, and preferential rates on capital gains in 2006 went to the top 20 percent of income-earning Americans.
“We need a national portfolio shift in that investment,’’ Shapiro said. “Right now, we have a broken chain of achievement. African-Americans are achieving. But the payoff that gets passed on to the next generation is not the same.’’ For too many achieving families, the American Dream is still a restless night.
Women of all races bring home less income and own fewer assets, on average, than men of the same race, but for single black women the disparities are so overwhelmingly great that even in their prime working years their median wealth amounts to only $5.
In a groundbreaking report released Monday by a leading economic research group, social scientists turned a spotlight on the grave financial challenges facing an often overlooked group of women, many of whom could not take an unpaid sick day or repair a major appliance without going into debt.
“It’s rather shocking,” said Meizhu Lui, director of the Closing the Gap Initiative based in Oakland, Calif., who contributed to the report “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America’s Future.”
Among the most startling revelations in the wealth data is that while single white women in the prime of their working years (ages 36 to 49) have a median wealth of $42,600 (still only 61 percent of their single white male counterparts), the median wealth for single black women is only $5.
“Even for those of us who have been looking at the wealth gap for a while, we were shocked and amazed at how little women of color have,” Ms. Lui said.
Researchers at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, based in Oakland, Calif., analyzed data from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, a voluminous report the Federal Reserve Board issues every three years that examines household finances in this country.
Wealth, or net worth, measures the total of one’s assets — cash in the bank, stocks, bonds and real estate; minus debts — home mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and student loans. The most recent financial data was collected before the economic downturn, so the current numbers likely are worse now than at the time of the study.
Black women, in general, were more likely to have participated in the subprime loan crisis with upper-income black women being five times more likely to have received a high-cost mortgage than upper-income white men.
“The popular image is they spend too much, which is the reason they are running up credit card and consumer debt, but the cost of living has risen faster than income, and they need to go into debt for basic daily necessities,” Ms. Lui said. “It’s compounded because unemployment is twice as high in the black community than it is in the white community.”
For all working-age black women 18 to 64, the financial picture is bleak. Their median household wealth is only $100. Hispanic women in that age group have a median wealth of $120.
“That means half of [black women] have a net worth of more than $100 and half have a net worth of less than $100,” Ms. Lui said. “So that gives you an idea of how far in debt some women of color are.”
Married or cohabitating white women have a median wealth of $167,500. Married or cohabitating black women have a median net worth of $31,500.
The reasons behind the daunting financial challenges black women face are numerous and complex.
“There are excuses and circumstances that have evolved in society, which put black women where they are,” said Esther Bush, executive director of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, who said in Pittsburgh more than 70 percent of African-American families are headed by single women.
The recession has hit single mothers especially hard.
According to a recent report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, more than four out of 10 families headed by single mothers in Pittsburgh and more than one in three in Pennsylvania, live in poverty.
In Pittsburgh and across the country, the financial burdens of single parenthood fall mostly on women, but black women are more likely to endure the work and responsibility of raising children on their own. They are more likely to be the backbone of their families and communities, with greater responsibilities to support struggling friends and families.
In a 2008 study of black women and their money, the ING Foundation found that black women — who frequently manage the assets of their households — financially support friends, family and their houses of worship to a much greater degree than the general population.
They also are more likely to be employed in jobs and industries — such as service occupations — with lower pay and less access to health insurance. And when their working days are done, they rely most heavily on Social Security because they are less likely to have personal savings, retirement accounts or company pensions. Their Social Security benefits are likely to be lower, too, because of their low earnings.
High unemployment and high incarceration rates for black men also lower the likelihood of single black women finding a partner to help build a more secure financial future.
Surprise! For the better part of two centuries African-Americans were the poorest of the poor. And they haven’t climbed because:
Intergenerational income mobility in the United States is at its lowest level since 1929.42% of people born into one income quintile remain at that level of wealth for alll their lives, and only 6% of people born poor (bottom 20%) ever become “rich” (top 40%). Education and healthcare are are how to solve this, but are not realistically available to the poor, who are required to pay more than the rich for basic necessities.
In the United States of America, the world’s fabulously wealthy hegemon, the top 1% of people have 40% of the money. The next 19% have the next 55%, leaving 5% for the bottom 80%.
We are a nation of prison slave labor which wages racial warfare on an entire underclass through weaponized laws. Things have not gotten better for black people since the civil rights era. In many respects, they have gotten worse.
Everything is terrible. Remember this always.
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Graphs & Charts
Prison Population per 100,000 people: