(Excerpt from ghostwritten essay on racism and incarceration)
Imagine that one day you were arrested. What would your family do? Would they be able to support themselves without you? Would they be looked at differently because you were incarcerated? Would your incarceration hinder them in any way? Or think about it the other way around, would you be able to support yourself if an important member in your family was arrested? Would you be looked at differently or hindered in any way? Now think about all these questions, but imagine that your nationality is African American, do some of your answers change? Unfortunately, the reality is that some of those questions do change simply because of someone’s nationality and this happens a lot more than most people are aware of. The nation as a whole wants to believe that racism is far behind us, but after taking a closer look at incarceration numbers, one can see that that’s not entirely true. In the end, we see that African Americans outnumber other nationalities in prisons and that these results also have an adverse affect in their communities and families.
People tend to think that if something isn’t affecting them directly or at least if they don’t witness it, that it’s not really happening. So when one says that there are more African Americans males in prison than there are white, or even hispanic men, some people simply don’t put two and two together. However, in the article “The Social and Moral Cost of Mass Incarceration in African American Communities,” written by Dorothy E. Roberts, sheds some light on the actual numbers and percentages of men of color in prison.
“By 1995, the Sentencing Project reported that the national rate had risen to one-in-three. In Washington, D.C. and Baltimore more than half of young black men were then under criminal supervision. Prison is now a common and predictable experience for African American men in their twenties,” (Roberts, 2004, p 1274).
With this quote Roberts shows that a large portion of the African American population is at risk for incarceration and it’s growing higher and higher each year. What’s even more revolting is that it’s now become expected, as Roberts states, for men of color to be in prison. This can cause a lot of problems and stigmas. This may make African American men not want to try as hard, to not want to be a better version of themselves. Not only that, but the men who are incarcerated are part of families. They are sons, fathers, brothers, cousins etc, they play a role in their families and communities, but when they are incarcerated, they are torn away and cannot complete the role that they were given.
As previously stated, it’s largely believed that racism is far behind us. Sure, we’ve made a huge improvement from having to use separate bathrooms, water fountains and being told where to sit on the bus, but that doesn’t change the fact that racism does exist. The Rev. Dr. J. Carl Gregg, the author of the article The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, explains how the system may not be as “colorblind” as one would think.
“At this point, colorblindness comes into play. The perception that justice is blind — and the belief that in our advanced society laws are applied evenhandedly without regard to age, sex, class or race — can block us from seeing that: “No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid” (Gregg, 2013, p 3).
This is a very important fact to acknowledge. Over 75 percent of South Africa is made up of black people. Meanwhile, in America, the black population is almost 18 percent. Yet, according to Gregg, America imprisoned a larger percentage of black people than South Africa. This is such a baffling statistic, that it’s almost unbelievable. How does a country made up of almost all black people imprison less people than a country who has only a quarter of their black population? Unfortunately this is a very sad, yet true fact. The justice system is not as colorblind as we’d like to believe.
Roberts, Dorothy E., “The Social and Moral Cost of Mass Incarceration in African American Communities” (2004). Faculty Scholarship. Paper 583. http://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/faculty_scholarship/583
Gregg, T. (2013). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from http://www.frederickuu.org/sermons/NewJimCrow.pdf
Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2018, from http://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/
Strauss, V. (2017, March 15). Mass incarceration of African Americans affects the racial achievement gap – report. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/03/15/mass-incarceration-of-african-americans-affects-the-racial-achievement-gap-report/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0ae3185bc780
Kajstura, A. (2017, October 19). Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2017women.html
Thomas, L. (2017, April 18). Incarceration creates more mental health concerns for African-American men. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://news.umich.edu/incarceration-creates-more-mental-health-concerns-for-african-american-men/