Those who shout from the rooftops that the United States is colorblind because we now have an African-American president will do well to compare that fantasy with this reality: “A black man was on his knees in the gutter, hands cuffed behind his back, as several police officers stood around him talking, joking and ignoring his human existence.
People poured out of the building; many stared for a moment at the black man cowering in the street and then averted their gaze. What did the election of Barack Obama mean for him?”
Those words are taken from the introduction to Ohio State University Professor Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
She is describing a scene she witnessed as she left an election night party in 2010. Her book goes on to shine a bright spotlight on the harsh realities of Africans in America, facts that bear repeating as many times as necessary to jolt people out of their comfort zone:
• More African Americans are in prison or under criminal justice supervision now than were kept as slaves in 1850.
• More African-American men were denied the right to vote due to racist ex-felon disenfranchisement laws – including especially Florida’s – in 2004 than in 1870.
• The chances of an African-American child born today being raised in a two-family home are less than during slavery, mainly due to the mass imprisonment of African-American fathers.
• The wholesale labeling of African-American men as felons for life has created an American caste whose members are denied the right to vote, sit on juries, obtain jobs, housing, education and public benefits, similar to what happened during the Jim Crow era.
Prof. Alexander’s book first came out in 2010 and immediately generated a buzz with its searing conclusion that since President Richard Nixon launched his “war on drugs,” the law enforcement establishment and the criminal justice system have become the instruments through which social control is maintained over America’s African citizens.
The implication was clear – that while politicians and civil rights activists may consider it their duty to seek to force the authorities to improve the condition of African Americans, the real struggle is to free Africans in America from the yoke of neo-slavery we have had to endure for a half-century.
A number of groups have engaged the system with precisely that goal in mind, notably the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, a national network of thousands of African-American churches.
Now comes news that a group of 20 people have started meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Oakland Park in Broward County to discuss The New Jim Crow. They plan to formulate an action plan afterward. Good for them.
But there has not been an overall response that is commensurate with the urgent imperative which we face to confront the evil system that continues to keep us under the yoke of an establishment which, even with an African American at the head, has been unwilling to really let our people go. It is really up to us to make it happen.