The Disfranchisement & Re- Enslavement of Black America
African America and the Legacy of Slavery by: V. Lyn
The Disfranchisement of Blacks in America continues…despite the much ballyhooed claim by white America, optimistic blacks, liberals of all races, those who claim it for political expediency as well as those who want to move on from the reality of racial inequities for their own motives such as guilt and/ or frustration and the out right deniers. To rectify the disparities that blacks continue to face, the rise of crime, poverty, absent fathers, rise in teen pregnancy, drug use, poor health etc. ; we as a nation have to look at beyond the symptoms as I previously described but at the root cause, the disease itself, in order to facilitate a cure. A cure that both the black community and ultimately the nation needs because the oppression of blacks is systemic and all to often flows unchecked and/ or labeled incorrectly.
1) The oppression of Blacks can be found in our educational system, schools that are overcrowded, ill equipped, and underfunded and which passes ill prepared black children forward for the sake of expediency. The aftermath is that it is leaving black children far behind their counterparts both in school as well as in the work force, dooming many to mediocrity or failure.
2) The continued high unemployment which is significantly higher in the black communities than anywhere else. An old black saying is that when there is a recession in America there is a depression in Black America. Unemployment for Americans is at a record 9.8 percent for Blacks in America that number is at 16.7. In some states black unemployment is even higher. We are the last to be hired and the first to be fired. 50% of Black children live in Poverty.
3) Inequities in health care are prevalent in our society. Poverty is a major component for the diminishing quality of our health. Blacks who in the past typically were the most physically fit, because of poor eating habits much of it due to the expense of eating right has rocketed and can be seen in the black obesity rates increase as well as diabetes and heart disease. Poverty coupled with the cutting of school funds that encouraged recess, food programs and sports contribute to this. The lack of playgrounds and safe play areas in inner cities is another contributing factor.
4) Zoning laws that allow liquor stores, gun stores and companies that create pollutants in inner city communities and not suburban communities contribute to black health disparity as well as to crime.
5) And most blaringly seen in the incarceration rates of our young black males as noted by Michelle Alexander‘s in her book the New Jim Crow. Every significant study has shown that blacks are 6 times more likely to be arrested than his white counterpart. 75% more likely to receive jail time for the same offence as their white counterpart. Black’s jail time on average is 61 days longer than whites. Blacks are more likely to serve prison time for minor offences versus their white counterpart. The impact of the incarceration of blacks especially of our males is evident in the fact of single parent households, absent fathers due to incarceration, recidivism since it is difficult for people with felony convictions to find work, they are disfranchised because they lose the right to vote and thereby are not represented. Then there is negative the social impact to children and the family as a whole.
(As noted, several reviews of this research report that minority, especially black, youth and adults are overrepresented at most stages of the system,31 beginning with the decisions by police agencies to target certain high-crime neighborhoods, which tend also to be high-minority neighborhoods, and to target certain crimes, both of which bring the police into more contact with minorities, especially blacks, than whites.32 Adverse race effects hold in the bail and pre-trial release decision stage as well.33 Several studies of the disposition and confinement process show that black youth in the system are given more restrictive dispositions than their white counterparts even when they have committed the same offense and have the same prior record—a finding that has also been made with respect to minorities, especially blacks, being sentenced more harshly than whites.34 Evidence also shows that black youth are more likely than white youth to be transferred to criminal court, regardless of offense type and age category35 though some contradictory evidence also exists) from Journal Issue: Juvenile Justice Volume 18 Number 2 Fall 2008 Disproportionate Minority Author: Alex R. Piquero
The ramifications of this is that a race of people and it’s culture is being destroyed from within and from outside by a system long ago designed to do just that…to ensure that we would never achieve true equity and that white hierarchy is maintained. Therefore our ongoing enslavement continues.
From Slavery to Black codes that were established in Antebellum Confederate States, to Jim Crow laws, to laws designed that put free blacks in chain gangs and labor camps as a free source of labor for large corporations such as the railroad, steel companies and mines, for the pettiest of crimes such as vagrancy, to segregation policies to current laws like the 3 strike laws that incarcerate Blacks and Latinos at record numbers for often minor offenses the enslavement of blacks continues.
From 1880 to 1920 whites in Southern states circumvented the Plessey laws that gave blacks the right to vote by enacting laws that they KNEW blacks could not meet. One such law was a literacy law requiring that blacks who often newly freed and uneducated as required by slave laws that made it a crime to TEACH/ EDUCATE a slave, because an intelligent slave was a dangerous slave. Even after slavery some states mandated that blacks could not be educated past the 5th grade. Blacks were also required to show that they owned property, to pay a poll tax and held white only primaries. However it should be noted that Northern States also adopted this same system.
Another component of the Black Codes was that orphaned black children once hired could not leave the property for any reason of their boss and would be provided a place to live, food, and a nominal wage just enough to say they were employing these children. Other than the fact that these children were given a token wage they were in essence still enslaved. It was also illegal for anyone to try and induce these children away by offer of new employment because in fact these children were the property of their “employer”.
“The Mississippi legislature next passed a vagrancy law, defining vagrants as workers who “neglected their calling or employment or misspent what they earned.” Another Mississippi law required African Americans to carry with them written evidence of their present employment at all times, a practice that was hauntingly reminiscent of the old pass system under slavery. The final piece to the puzzle came when Mississippi established a system of special county courts to punish blacks charged with violating one of the new state employment laws. The law imposed draconian punishments, including “corporal chastisement” for blacks who refused to work or otherwise tried to frustrate the system. African Americans who committed real crimes, such as stealing, could be hung by their thumbs.” from encylopedia.com. But the law also allowed blacks both male and female to be jailed if they could not prove their employment or if they stood around a porch or corner to long on vagrancy charges. From there it was an easy step to put them to work with large corporations such as U. S. Steel who paid the county or state for this free disproportionately black labor force. This practice continued until 1951 with the knowledge and sanction of the United States government because it helped to drive the economy of the country. Bereft of the knowledge and expertise of now freed blacks the South went about finding ways to re-enslave a valuable and needed work force. American corporations both in the north and the south were quick to take advantage of the forced and free labor force. During the period of 1863 until its end in 1951 millions of black Americans just disappeared into forced labor camps undocumented or recorded, gone from their families, many of these men died under the harsh treatment and long labor hours and excerpt from Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon
“Instead of thousands of true thieves and thugs drawn into the system over decades, the records demonstrate the capture and imprisonment of thousands of random indigent citizens, almost always under the thinnest chimera of probable cause or judicial process. The total number of workers caught in this net had to have totaled more than a hundred thousand and perhaps more than twice that figure. Instead of evidence showing black crime waves, the original records of county jails indicated thousands of arrests for inconsequential charges or for violations of laws specifically written to intimidate blacks—changing employers without permission, vagrancy, riding freight cars without a ticket, engaging in sexual activity— or loud talk—with white women. Repeatedly, the timing and scale of surges in arrests appeared more attuned to rises and dips in the need for cheap labor than any demonstrable acts of crime. Hundreds of forced labor camps came to exist, scattered throughout the South—operated by state and county governments, large corporations, small-time entrepreneurs, and provincial farmers. These bulging slave centers became a primary weapon of suppression of black aspirations. Where mob violence or the Ku Klux Klan terrorized black citizens periodically, the return of forced labor as a fixture in black life ground pervasively into the daily lives of far more African Americans. And the record is replete with episodes in which public leaders faced a true choice between a path toward complete racial repression or some degree of modest civil equality, and emphatically chose the former. These were not unavoidable events, driven by invisible forces of tradition and history.”
The enslavement of blacks did not happen to blacks charged with a crime but also too black people who were on their way home kidnapped off the street and roadways and placed into forced labor camps. These people were not just forced to work but treated in the most horrific, cruel and deplorable manner and conditions. “The slave mines and forced labor camps of the South were places of pestilential conditions and unwavering violence. Thousands of men and women died as a result of beatings, torture, disease, and malnourishment.” quote from the Blackmon’s book Slavery by Another Name. The mistreatment of millions of blacks in America, mistreatment that kept African-Americans in shackles of the body and mind long after slavery had officially ended. The decades of “re-enslavement,” Blackmon argues, must be taken into account when trying to assess the damage done to African-Americans.
Slavery: . . . that slow Poison, which is daily contaminating the Minds & Morals of our People. Every Gentlemen here is born a petty Tyrant. Practiced in Acts of Despotism & Cruelty, we become callous to the Dictates of Humanity, & all the finer feelings of the Soul. Taught to regard a part of our own Species in the most abject & contemptible Degree below us, we lose that Idea of the dignity of Man which the Hand of Nature had implanted in us, for great & useful purposes. GEORGE MASON, JULY 1773 VIRGINIA CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
It is important that we as parents and as a nation emphasis the importance of education not just to black students but all students across the board because we as a nation and as parents are failing them, and in response they are letting themselves down as well. I believe while racism is endemic in many of our institutions, and hold some responsibility to what is going on in our community and nation that must not be the excuse to give up, or worse yet to not even try! While the Obama’s and the Oprah’s as Michelle Alexander state there are millions of Michelle’s, Elizabeth’s, Earl’s, Leon’s, Marissa’s, Clifford’s, Akhiems, Dawn’s, Wes’s, Stanley’s and Pam’s who are the successful norms in the black communities.
Last Father’s Day, presidential Barack Obama wagged a finger at all the missing black fathers. At the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago he stepped to the podium and said: “If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that too many fathers are missing — missing from too many lives and too many homes. Too many fathers are MIA. Too many fathers are AWOL. They have abandoned their responsibilities. They’re acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. You and I know this is true everywhere, but nowhere is this more true than in the African American community.”
The next day, social critic and sociologist Michael Eric Dyson published a critique of Obama’s speech in Time magazine. He pointed out that the stereotype of black men being poor fathers may well be false. Research shows that black fathers not living at home are actually more likely to keep in contact with their children than fathers of any other ethnic or racial group. Dyson chided Obama for evoking a black stereotype for political gain, noting that “Obama’s words may have been spoken to black folk, but they were aimed at those whites still on the fence about whom to send to the White House.” Dyson’s critique was a fair one, but like other media commentators, he remained silent about where all the absent black fathers could be found.
Here’s a hint for all those still scratching their heads about those missing black fathers: Look in prison.
The mass incarceration of people of color through the War on Drugs is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Hundreds of thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites.
Most people seem to imagine that the drug war — which has swept millions of poor people of color behind bars — has been aimed at rooting out drug kingpins or violent drug offenders. Nothing could be further from the truth. This war has been focused overwhelmingly on low-level drug offenses, like marijuana possession — the very crimes that happen with equal frequency in middle class white communities.
In 2005, for example, 4 out 5 drug arrests were for possession and only 1 out of 5 were for sales. Most people in state prison for drug offenses have no history of violence or significant selling activity. Nearly 80 percent of the increase in drug arrests in the 1990s — the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war — was for marijuana possession, a drug less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. In some states, though, African Americans have comprised 80 to 90 percent of all drug convictions.
This is The New Jim Crow. People of color are rounded up — frequently at young ages — for relatively minor drug offenses, branded felons, and then relegated to a permanent second-class status in which they may be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and subjected to legal discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits. Those who are lucky enough to get a job upon release from prison find that up to 100 percent of their wages may be garnished to pay fees, fines, and court costs as well as the costs of their imprisonment and accumulated child support. What, realistically, do we expect these folks to do? When those labeled felons fail under this system to make it on the outside — not surprisingly, about 70 percent fail within 3 years — we throw up our hands and wonder where they all went. Or we chastise them for being poor fathers and for failing to contribute to their families. It’s a set up. This system isn’t about crime control; it about racial control. Yes, even in the age of Obama.
During this year’s Black History Month, like last, we will be treated to celebrations of Obama’s presidency — the ultimate symbol, we are told, of America’s triumph over its ugly history of discrimination, exclusion, and racial caste. This is a time to rejoice, it is said, though we still have a long way to go.
That is the dominant racial narrative today among those who claim to care about racial justice: Look how far we have come, but yes we still have a long way to go.
Here are a few facts that run counter to that racial narrative:
* There are more African Americans 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 disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
* If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas, like Chicago, have been labeled felons for life. These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — a group of people who are permanently relegated, by law, to an inferior 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 once were during the Jim Crow era.
There is a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates. But 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 past few decades — and currently are at historical lows — but imprisonment rates have soared. Quintupled. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth.
That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders.
The clock has been turned back on racial progress in America, though scarcely anyone seems to notice. All eyes are fixed on people like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey who have defied the odds and achieved great power, wealth and fame.
But what if Obama, who has admitted to violating our nation’s drug laws, had been treated like a common criminal — what if he hadn’t been insulated by growing up in Hawaii and attending a predominately white university — where would he be now? Most likely, he would be cycling in and out of prison, trapped in the parallel social universe that exists for those labeled felons. Far from being president of the United States, he might be denied the right to vote. He would be subject to many of the same forms of discrimination, stigma, and social exclusion that we supposedly left behind. How many black men and boys are trapped in this undercaste who might have been president of the United States? We will never know.
This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. As described in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness the cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.