Poverty In Black And White

It is unfair to all poor people of all races that poverty and other economic problems become racialized. Race becomes blamed for that which race is just an excuse. Worse still, the powerful hope to turn the poor people against each other using racial divisiveness.

It is inspiring that some Americans have been able to see beyond this. I was reading a book about the activism and organizing of poor and working class whites during the 60s: Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power by Amy Sonnie and James Tracy. It is about how these white groups formed alliances with black groups in common cause, both groups dealing with poverty and oppression.

The book is eye-opening. This isn’t any history you were ever taught or even likely to have come across. As far as I know, this is the first book written about it. In one instance, the Klan provided protection to a black group during a strike that blacks and whites were organizing together. That is hard to imagine, but it happened (Kindle Locations 149-154):

“We organized a meeting of Movement organizers, including members of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), for the Patriots delegation. At the time, the New Orleans chapters of the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF) and the RNA were working together supporting a strike by pulp mill workers in Laurel, Mississippi, not far outside New Orleans. Virginia Collins , the local RNA leader and one of the organization’s founders, told the Patriots about the white and Black workers who had been enemies before the strike but were now working together. She shared that the local Klan actually provided security for the SCEF and RNA organizers when they came to hold meetings, and that sometimes they met in the Black Baptist church, sometimes in the white Baptist church.”

One group was the Young Patriots. They were lower class white Southerners who had moved North. They all lived in a neighborhood in Chicago where poverty and unemployment was rampant. These were the poorest of the poor whites. So, just like poor blacks, they organized. But they never got the attention from the MSM. Even the middle class white activists largely ignored them. Poor Southern whites were supposed to be the bad guys, but some blacks were able to empathize. It took the Black Panthers to acknowledge these struggling whites (Kindle Locations 262-266):

“The Young Patriots’ own chairman, William Fesperman, even let some heartfelt gratitude show in between jibes about the “pig power structure” when he explained how the Patriots came to be at the conference: “Our struggle is beyond comprehension to me sometimes and I felt for a long time [that poor whites] was forgotten … that nobody saw us. Until we met the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and they met us and we said let’s put that theory into practice.” Summing up why they had all come to Oakland, he added, “We want to stand by our brothers, our brothers, dig?””

Those in power don’t care about poor whites any more than they care about poor blacks. Racism sucks and should be dealt with, but we have to realize that the ignoring of poor whites is part of the racial equation of oppression. If all poverty is seen as a black thing, then the poor whites don’t have to be recognized. Poor whites with the same social problems as poor blacks can be swept under the rug. Instead, we can simply blame all social problems on blacks with the assumption that blacks are just inferior and so nothing can be done about it.

Racializing social problems is how the mostly white upper class argues that it isn’t their problem. The mythical black that ruins all that is good about white society becomes an explanation for everything. Blacks are the scapegoat for what we don’t want to face. Race is a distraction, a justification for an oppressive social order. Race is an idea that blinds us to reality. The social problems caused by racism become justified by that very same racial ideology.

If enough people ever realized that there are no blacks and whites, just people struggling, a real threat to the status quo might develop.

TIFs, Gentrification, and Plutocracy

The most recent issue of my local alternative publication, Little Village, had two articles that caught my attention (Vol. 17, Issue 162, Sept. 17-30 20014). Taken together, they made an important point. I suspect that wasn’t an accident for they were printed close together as the first two articles presented.

The first article is, “The Truth About TIFs”. It is written by Matthew Byrd.

Like many other places, TIFs have been a big issue around here, as they should be since TIF funding comes from the money taken from the taxpaying public.  Here is how it has played out in this local area. A neighboring town, Coralville, has used TIFs to draw businesses away from the town I live in, Iowa City. A TIF has been used for the the large mall built in Coralville which had major impact on Iowa City’s downtown. Iowa Citians like to call it the Death Star. We used to have a nice downtown that had normal stores, but now it is filled with mostly bars, restaurants, art galleries, and expensive gift shops. The TIF-funded mall played a role in gentrifying Iowa City.

That said, Iowa City’s government has embraced this gentrification with its own TIFs. A highrise was built in downtown Iowa City using a TIF. It is a big fancy building that will add yet more expensive apartments to downtown and with room for yet one more expensive shop on the ground floor. In building this highrise, the city got rid of the benches in front of this new highrise. The area where those benches were used to be called the “People’s Park” and it was an important public space that has now been made into the front yard for the wealthy inhabitants of the highrise.

This wasn’t the original intent for TIF funding.

As the article explains, “the image of TIFs is considerably less rosy in execution than it appears in conception, particularly when it comes to the intellectual core of TIF law: the focus on blighted neighborhoods. T?he idea that TIF funds are supposed to be used to revitalize poor neighborhoods is paramount, to the point that it’s written into Iowa State Code. As the Iowa Department of Revenue explains, “Iowa code recognizes two primary purposes for [TIF funding]; namely, to eliminate slum or blight and to promote economic development.””

TIFs help blightned neighborhoods about as much as the war on poverty helped the poor. In the end, public money always seems to get redirected to the already well off. The poor get underfunded schools, unemployment, and mass incarceration while the rich get privatized education, outsourcing, and government contracts to build and operate the prisons. One of the purposes of TIFs was to create and maintain low-cost housing in neighborhoods where investors wouldn’t otherwise build or renovate.

This brings me to the article immediately following the above one, “High Rises and Higher Rents”. This article is by Shauna McKnight.

Basically, there is too little housing for too many people. Also, the housing available is simply too expensive. The article begins by pointing out that “[a]pproximately 30%” of Iowa City’s population lives below the poverty line, “compared to Iowa’s average of 12%”. On top of that, “55.6% of renters in Jonson Country are cost burdened” which is “the highest rate in all of Iowa”.

Affordable housing isn’t keeping up with the demand of population growth, specifically an increasingly impoverished population because of the recession and other factors: “the vacancy rate in Iowa City sits at half of one percent. In a normal, healthy market there is typically a five percent vacancy rate.” As the article continues a bit further on, “the problem is that the wages in the area haven’t kept up with the cost of living.” This forces many poor working class people to look for housing further away in the nearby rural areas and small towns. Cheaper housing just means more expensive travel costs. Also, where someone lives determines their opportunities such as the school their children will attend.

Many people can’t win for losing. This isn’t limited to Iowa City, that is for sure. Still, rural farming states like Iowa are being hit harder than the states in other regions. This is why the younger generation is fleeing which creates a death spiral for the local working class communities. A particularly disheartening piece of data is how, “one in five working families in Iowa have incomes that cannot meet their basic needs. This can lead to a cycle of poverty that persists across generations.”

This is where the TIF issue comes in. Why is the local government giving money to promote the building of housing and shopping for the wealthy?

“The issue of affordable housing has thrown a spotlight on The Chauncey building—which will hold both commercial spaces for area business and luxury housing units. The city plans to pay &1 million to set aside five units of affordable housing in the complex (the remaining units will be luxury condos and apartments).”

That is the official solution for the housing problem, really? We the public will pay a million dollars to get five more units of affordable housing in this town. We are being fleeced. I sometimes feel like this town has been taken over. If the local government isn’t serving most of the local population, then who is it serving?

Slavery and Capitalism

Slavery and capitalism. The twin pillars of American history. This pairing forces us to question exactly what we mean by capitalism.

Many argue that the South was originally pre-capitalist or at least had strong pre-capitalist traditions (see my post about the book The Mind of the Master Class). It is true that there were clear economic differences that led to regional conflicts. Also, it is true that pre-capitalist practices such as subsistence farming and bartering held out longer in many communities in the rural South. But all of this was contained in a larger capitalist system that dominated Anglo-American culture since the colonial era of the British Empire.

Here is something I wrote getting at some of this conflict within the US economy (Sin of the North, sin of the South):

The South had two agricultural traditions. They had the slave-based plantation model that came from Barbados and they had the yeoman subsistence model that came from the Scots-Irish. Both the plantation tobacco farming and the subsistence slash-and-burn ended up depleting the soil which wasn’t as rich to begin with.

This relates to an economic difference. Plantation farming and subsistence farming helped create an economy in the South that was less like modern capitalism. The plantation owners were so vastly wealthy that they didn’t build their own local industry, choosing instead to buy products shipped in from elsewhere. As an aside, the wealth of plantation owners wasn’t capitalist wealth (i.e., wasn’t fungible capital) because plantation owners tended to be heavily in debt as their wealth was invested in their land and their slaves. The subsistence farmers never harvested enough crops to make much in the way of profit, fungible or otherwise; and, as Joe Bageant points out, many of the small Southern farming communities were mostly cashless societies where people bartered and kept store tabs.

Modern industrialized capitalism was only strongly established in the South with Reconstruction following the Civil War. In being introduced, capitalism built upon the framework of the economic system already established in the South. This meant that capitalism incorporated the plantation mentality and the class-based rigidity. There were high rates of poverty and economic inequality in the Antebellum South and there are still high rates of poverty and economic inequality in the South today.

In one sense, you can blame the North for forcing modern industrialized capitalism onto the South. It’s possible that, if the South had successfully seceded, Southerners might have transitioned into a better kind of economic system… then again, maybe not. It’s not like capitalism wasn’t already beginning to gain footholds in the South prior to Reconstruction. It would be surprising if a Confederate South could have avoided capitalism’s ascent. Anyway, it wasn’t the North that forced onto the South a poverty-based, union-busting form of capitalism.

I just came across another book on this topic, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist. This author is making a stronger argument for the connection between slavery and capitalism. I’ve barely begun to read it, but I thought I’d present a passage from it that summarizes the case being made.

The following passage is from the introduction (Kindle Locations 173-220). It puts slavery not just in the context of classical liberal economics but also in the context of liberal society in general. It implicates liberalism, in the broad sense. Maybe this view would fit into Domenico Losurdo’s harsh criticism, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Of course, this ‘liberalism’ is pretty much a category including all post-Enlightenment ideologies, including American conservatism. It is liberalism as a pervasive social order, not a mere partisan ideology limited to a particular group.

Baptist questions about the true nature of freedom in a society with a long history of unfreedom. When we speak of free markets, what kind of freedom are we speaking of and whose freedom is it?

* * * *

The way that Americans remember slavery has changed dramatically since then. In tandem with widespread desegregation of public spaces and the assertion of black cultural power in the years between World War II and the 1990s came a new understanding of the experience of slavery. No longer did academic historians describe slavery as a school in which patient masters and mistresses trained irresponsible savages for futures of perpetual servitude. Slavery’s denial of rights now prefigured Jim Crow, while enslaved people’s resistance predicted the collective self-assertion that developed into first the civil rights movement and later, Black Power.

But perhaps the changes were not so great as they seemed on the surface. The focus on showing African Americans as assertive rebels, for instance, implied an uncomfortable corollary. If one should be impressed by those who rebelled, because they resisted, one should not be proud of those who did not. And there were very few rebellions in the history of slavery in the United States. Some scholars tried to backfill against this quandary by arguing that all African Americans together created a culture of resistance, especially in slave quarters and other spaces outside of white observation. Yet the insistence that assertive resistance undermined enslavers’ power, and a focus on the development of an independent black culture, led some to believe that enslaved people actually managed to prevent whites from successfully exploiting their labor. This idea, in turn, created a quasi-symmetry with post– Civil War plantation memoirs that portrayed gentle masters, who maintained slavery as a nonprofit endeavor aimed at civilizing Africans.

Thus, even after historians of the civil rights, Black Power, and multicultural eras rewrote segregationists ’ stories about gentlemen and belles and grateful darkies, historians were still telling the half that has ever been told. For some fundamental assumptions about the history of slavery and the history of the United States remain strangely unchanged. The first major assumption is that, as an economic system— a way of producing and trading commodities— American slavery was fundamentally different from the rest of the modern economy and separate from it. Stories about industrialization emphasize white immigrants and clever inventors, but they leave out cotton fields and slave labor. This perspective implies not only that slavery didn’t change, but that slavery and enslaved African Americans had little long-term influence on the rise of the United States during the nineteenth century, a period in which the nation went from being a minor European trading partner to becoming the world’s largest economy— one of the central stories of American history.

The second major assumption is that slavery in the United States was fundamentally in contradiction with the political and economic systems of the liberal republic, and that inevitably that contradiction would be resolved in favor of the free-labor North. Sooner or later, slavery would have ended by the operation of historical forces; thus, slavery is a story without suspense. And a story with a predetermined outcome isn’t a story at all.

Third, the worst thing about slavery as an experience, one is told, was that it denied enslaved African Americans the liberal rights and liberal subjectivity of modern citizens. It did those things as a matter of course, and as injustice, that denial ranks with the greatest in modern history. But slavery also killed people, in large numbers. From those who survived , it stole everything. Yet the massive and cruel engineering required to rip a million people from their homes, brutally drive them to new, disease-ridden places, and make them live in terror and hunger as they continually built and rebuilt a commodity-generating empire— this vanished in the story of a slavery that was supposedly focused primarily not on producing profit but on maintaining its status as a quasi-feudal elite, or producing modern ideas about race in order to maintain white unity and elite power. And once the violence of slavery was minimized, another voice could whisper, saying that African Americans, both before and after emancipation, were denied the rights of citizens because they would not fight for them.

All these assumptions lead to still more implications, ones that shape attitudes, identities, and debates about policy. If slavery was outside of US history, for instance—if indeed it was a drag and not a rocket booster to American economic growth —then slavery was not implicated in US growth, success, power, and wealth. Therefore none of the massive quantities of wealth and treasure piled by that economic growth is owed to African Americans. Ideas about slavery’s history determine the ways in which Americans hope to resolve the long contradiction between the claims of the United States to be a nation of freedom and opportunity , on the one hand, and, on the other, the unfreedom, the unequal treatment, and the opportunity denied that for most of American history have been the reality faced by people of African descent. Surely, if the worst thing about slavery was that it denied African Americans the liberal rights of the citizen, one must merely offer them the title of citizen— even elect one of them president— to make amends. Then the issue will be put to rest forever.

Slavery’s story gets told in ways that reinforce all these assumptions. Textbooks segregate twenty-five decades of enslavement into one chapter, painting a static picture. Millions of people each year visit plantation homes where guides blather on about furniture and silverware. As sites, such homes hide the real purpose of these places, which was to make African Americans toil under the hot sun for the profit of the rest of the world. All this is the “symbolic annihilation” of enslaved people, as two scholars of those weird places put it. 2 Meanwhile, at other points we tell slavery’s story by heaping praise on those who escaped it through flight or death in rebellion, leaving the listener to wonder if those who didn’t flee or die somehow “accepted” slavery. And everyone who teaches about slavery knows a little dirty secret that reveals historians’ collective failure: many African-American students struggle with a sense of shame that most of their ancestors could not escape the suffering they experienced.

White Violence, White Data

Here is my response to those who like to argue that blacks commit a higher percentage of violent crime. Such data simply shows the how many blacks were convicted, and not the actual racial rates of criminal activity. Besides, we know many other things as well.

We know that blacks are disproportionately targeted and profiled, stopped and frisked by the police. We know that blacks are more likely to be arrested more often and convicted more harshly than whites for the exact same crimes. We know blacks are more likely to be charged, convicted, and incarcerated for gun-related crimes and drug-related crimes, despite the fact that whites are more likely to carry illegal guns, to carry illegal drugs, and to use illegal drugs. We know that, when convicted, blacks are sent to prison for longer sentences, even for the exact same crimes. We know this was even institutionalized with drug laws which made the sentencing longer for drugs commonly used by blacks than drugs commonly used by whites.

The police focus most of their time in poor minority communities. It is unsurprising that they find more poor minority criminals. We tend to find what we look for. The data makes it obvious that many whites disproportionately get away with crimes because the police are mostly concentrated in the poor minority communities. A white person can shoplift and walk out of a store at the same time as a black person, and yet the black person will more likely get stopped when the alarm goes off. Whites have the privilege to more often get away with crimes.

Whites commit most of the white collar crimes. These crimes cost untold millions of dollars of damage every year.  They destroy lives and sometimes entire communities when untold numbers of people lose their life savings. Yet these crimes are the least likely to go to court or to lead to conviction and incarceration.

Whites also have a long history of mass violence that dwarfs all the individual violence of blacks combined. Most large-scale wars, wars of aggression, and world wars are started by majority white countries with white-dominated governments. The largest genocides were committed by whites. Most school shooters and serial killers are whites. Most of these acts of violence by whites rarely lead to trial, much less conviction, for the simple reason that much of this is state-sanctioned violence. The government doesn’t even keep good data about police corruption and police brutality. When police kill innocent people who were a threat to no one, typically the officer gets paid leave. Even when whites commit war crimes, there are rarely any consequences, except in the most extreme cases such as the Nazis. As long as they were on the winning side, they get accolades, parades, and medals.

Nonetheless, even ignoring the racial prejudice, in terms of raw numbers most homicides and other violent crimes are committed by white Americans. So, numerically speaking, an American is on average far more likely to be harmed by a white than by a black. This is even more true for anyone living in a white majority community for most crime against whites is committed by whites, and most communities in this country are white majority. Of course, most whites live in white majority communities. This is the very reason most crime in this country, violent and otherwise, is committed by whites. If racial prejudice in policing and the courts were ever to end, if we were to ever know the real number of white crime, it would be even higher still.

Racists have no response to all of this overwhelming proof of widespread racism. There can be no response to such political evil except to either demand justice or remain in silent shame.

* * * *

This has been on my mind for a long time. I want to write a detailed post about this one day. The data used by racists (or racialists or race realists or whatever, same difference) is frustrating because it isn’t honest data being used to make an honest argument.

There is one telling detail that I decided to leave out of the above summary.

White Southerners show the strongest support, of any demographic, for illegal wars of aggression and illegal torture. White Southerners, especially in the poor rural South, are among the most violent and crime-ridden in the country. They also are the most supportive of state violence used in policing, in the War on Drugs, and through mass incarceration. Whites in general and white Southerners in particular are strongly supportive of the harsh racial prejudice used against minorities by police and the courts. Most of the police, judges, and jurors convicting minorities harshly are white.

None of this gets included in rates of violence. Support of state violence is considered normal and acceptable, at least by whites who are disproportionately less likely to be the victims of it. When the victimizers keep the data, it is unsurprising what kind of official data is kept and shown to the public. And it is unsurprising what gets ignored and whitewashed. Most of the data is kept by whites for the purposes of a white majority society.

We need to be more careful and more honest about what data we use and for what purpose we use it. Data never speaks for itself. Instead, data speaks for those who control how the data is gathered, measured, and used. We need to keep that in mind, if we care about morality and justice, if we hope to ever create a free and fair society.

M. John Harrison On Umwelts

“The material universe, it would appear, has little absolute substance. It hardly exists. It is a rag of matter, a wisp of gas, a memory of some former state. Each sentient species perceives the thin evidence of this state in a different way, generating out of this perception its physical and metaphysical Umwelt: its little bubble or envelope of ‘reality.’ These perceptual systems are hermetic and admit of no alternative . They are the product of a particular set of sense organs, evolutionary beginnings, and planetary origins. If the cat were to define the world, he would exclude the world of the housefly in his mouth. Each species has its fiction, and that fiction is to all intents and purposes real; and the actual thin substance of the universe becomes more and more debatable, oneiric, hard to achieve, like the white figures that will not focus at the edge of vision. . . .”

by M. John Harrison
Kindle Locations 4729-4735

Black Majority in America

I have a question that I hope someone can answer. It is about the issue of a black majority.

For much of its history, South Carolina was majority black going back to the colonial era (see “Black Majority” by Peter Wood). So, when did South Carolina stop being a black majority state? What was the exact year or decade?

That is my basic question. I had some other related thoughts.

Frederick Douglass predicted the Deep South would have eventually become black majority. This failed to happen because of all the mass migrations of Europeans during the mid and late 1800s and into the early 1900s.

Now, the black population is growing again. It is possible that some state might become a black majority in the coming generations, depending on demographic patterns. Then again, there might be another mass migration from Europe to re-establish the white majority stronghold.

Hispanics are also growing faster as a population than are blacks. Many Hispanics are increasingly choosing to identify as white. They will probably go the way of other ethnic Americans and assimilate into American whiteness.

What will that mean for the black population? Will blacks still remain the official minority scapegoat for the nation? Why don’t blacks do what the Mormons did and start their own separate society?

If all the blacks moved to a single state, they would then have a majority and they could gain political control and self-governance. As a symbolic act, they could regain the majority they once held in South Carolina, but this time it would be different. It would be an interesting experiment.

Western Society and Collective Trauma

I see Western society as possibly the most traumatized society on the planet.

Europe was once a place of tribal people with polytheistic and animistic religions. Almost everything we think of as Western was introduced to the West from elsewhere, mostly from North Africa and the Middle East, but also from Asia: imperialism, colonialism, high art, philosophy, mathematics, astrology, science, etc. None of that originated in Europe.

Instead, Europe’s native society was destroyed through genocide. What was left was a wounded people. Europe is a war-ravaged land and the scars of violence have never healed. Even war-ravaged Africa has survived more intact with its original cultures than Europe has. The East as well has maintained more of its native culture. Few populations on the planet were as utterly decimated by cultural genocide as happened with Europeans.

The dysfunction seen in Western society is that it is a traumatized society. Trauma at that scale doesn’t heal easily, if ever. There is no way to turn back. The cultural genocide was so complete that almost all of the native traditions have been lost forever. When cultural genocide is committed, the soul of a people is murdered. Europeans are the walking wounded, the descendents of the victims of one of the world’s largest genocides.

I’m very serious about that. The past millennia of war and occupation really fucked up Europe. America then inherited that fucked up society. We Westerners are a maimed and scarred people.

To Know Racism

The reality of races can be argued about to a certain extent. The argument doesn’t go very far because of the lack of evidence. The reality of racism, on the other hand, is quite different. There is no debate to be had because the evidence is so overwhelming.

The challenge of debate is that the evidence is only overwhelming to the extent one knows the evidence. So, debating the reality of racism becomes a game of presenting data while the other side refuses to acknowledge or dismisses it. It is like trying to build a block tower with a toddler who just wants to knock it down.

I meet people who are overtly and intentionally anti-intellectual. Others are just situationally and opportunistically anti-intellectual. Most people, though, aren’t anti-intellectuals in the normal sense, even when they are uninformed and misinformed.

The fact of the matter is that schools and the media don’t do much in the way of helping people understand the nitty-gritty everyday reality of commonplace racism. Not bigotry, just the racial bias that seeps into ever cranny of society and every crevice of our minds.

It isn’t as if racism is hard to grasp intellectually. The basic data isn’t all that complicated either. Almost anyone could be given a basic education of the subject in a short period of time.

I went for walk with a friend. This topic was on my mind. So, I discussed it with him.

He isn’t the type of person who reads about race, crime, and other social science subjects. Like me and like most Americans, he didn’t learn much if anything about systemic and institutional racism from his public education or even from his college education. As we walked along a wooded trail, I read some statistics from a book. It was specifically about crime and incarceration, and it is a good primer for understanding how racism is systemic and institutionalized.

Within a few minutes of pleasantly chatting, he became more informed than the majority of Americans on this subject. Even if you read the entire chapter slowly while deeply contemplating it at most it would take you a half hour to get through it all. If we sat all Americans down, we could inform the entire population in a few minutes. Not a in-depth education, but we could bring most Americans up to speed with a basic groundwork of knowledge.

This isn’t rocket science.

From Slavery to Mass Incarceration

Here is one of the greatest stories unknown to most Americans.

It is about the post-Emancipation backlash of legally institutionalizing racism. This involves early mass incarceration and early industrialization, a carryover from the last decades of slavery when enslaved blacks were increasingly being used in the first major factories. Thomas Jefferson experimented with turning from agriculture to industrial products in his use of his own slaves.

The problem of industrialization was always how does the ownership class get people to do work for long hours that is both dangerous and boring. In a country with a surplus population of oppressed blacks, the answer seemed obvious for the areas with large black populations. Mass incarceration served two purposes: 1) as a means of social control once slavery was abolished, and 2) a cheap source of labor that re-created the conditions of slavery.

This puts the present system of mass incarceration into perspective. This is why some have called it the New Jim Crow.

* * * *

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War Two
Douglass A. Blackmon
pp. 51-57

To the enterprising industrialists who would reshape the southern economy in the half century after the Civil War, the new concepts of industrialized black labor had taken firm hold. Long before the end of chattel slavery, Milner was in the vanguard of that new theory of industrial forced labor. In 1859, he wrote that black labor marshaled into the regimented productivity of factory settings would be the key to the economic development of Alabama and the South. Milner believed that white people “would always look upon and treat the negro as an inferior being.” Nonetheless-indeed for that very reason-blacks would serve a highly useful purpose as the clever mules of an industrial age, “provided he has an overseer-a Southern man, who knows how to manage negroes.”42 Milner’s intuition that the future of blacks in America rested on how whites chose to manage them, whether in slavery or out of it, would resonate through the next half century of national discourse about the proper role of the descendants of Africa in American life.

Milner was no mere theorist. He was a dogged executor of his vision. It was men like Milner who would seize the opportunity presented by convict leasing to reclaim slavery from the destruction of the Civil War. As Alabama began selling its black prisoners in large numbers in the 1870s, he scrambled to acquire all that were available-plunging them by the hundreds into a hellish coal operation called the Eureka mines, and later illegally selling hundreds of these new slaves in the 1880s, along with another coal mine, to the Georgia Pacific Railroad Co.

In every setting that Milner employed convict slaves in the late nineteenth century, he and his business associates subjected the workers to almost animalistic mistreatment-a revivification of the most atrocious aspects of antebellum bondage. Records of Milner’s various mines and slave farms in southern Alabama owned by one of his business partners-a cousin to an investor in the Bibb Steam Mill-tell the stories of black women stripped naked and whipped, of hundreds of men starved, chained, and beaten, of workers perpetually lice-ridden and barely clothed.

Milner took center stage in Alabama’s new industrialization, urging southerners to “go to work…eradicating the diseases that are destroying us.” Part of that eradication would be to successfully re-regiment freed slaves. “I am clearly of the opinion, from my own observation, that negro labor can be made exceedingly profitable in rolling mills,” Milner had written of steel production in 1859. “I have long since learned that negro slave labor is more reliable and cheaper for any business connected with the construction of a railroad than white.”43

Milner and others had seen his theory of the black slave as an effective industrial forced worker vividly fulfilled during the war. The system emerging with the end of Reconstruction would mimic it repeatedly. African Americans driven by the right men, in the correct ways, could be the engines of far more complex enterprises than the old bourbon-soaked planters would ever have believed possible. Black laborers might not quite be men, the industrialists reasoned, but they recognized that African Americans were far more than apes. The renting of slaves, as much as anything, had taught them that masses of black laborers brought under temporary control of a commercial enterprise could be powerfully leveraged in commerce.

The attitudes among southern whites that a resubjugation of African Americans was an acceptable-even essential-element of solving the “Negro question” couldn’t have been more explicit. The desire of white farmers to recapture their former slaves through new civil laws was transparent. In the immediate wake of emancipation, the Alabama legislature swiftly passed a measure under which the orphans of freed slaves, or the children of blacks deemed inadequate parents, were to be “apprenticed” to their former masters. The South Carolina planter Henry William Ravenel wrote in September 1865: “There must…be stringent laws to control the negroes, & require them to fulfill their contracts of labour on the farms.”44

With the southern economy in ruins, state officials limited to the barest resources, and county governments with even fewer, the concept of reintroducing the forced labor of blacks as a means of funding government services was viewed by whites as an inherently practical method of eliminating the cost of building prisons and returning blacks to their appropriate position in society. Forcing convicts to work as part of punishment for an ostensible crime was clearly legal too; the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1865 to formally abolish slavery, specifically permitted involuntary servitude as a punishment for “duly convicted” criminals.

Beginning in the late 1860s, and accelerating after the return of white political control in 1877, every southern state enacted an array of interlocking laws essentially intended to criminalize black life. Many such laws were struck down in court appeals or through federal interventions, but new statutes embracing the same strictures on black life quickly appeared to replace them. Few laws specifically enunciated their applicability only to blacks, but it was widely understood that these provisions would rarely if ever be enforced on whites. Every southern state except Arkansas and Tennessee had passed laws by the end of 1865 outlawing vagrancy and so vaguely defining it that virtually any freed slave not under the protection of a white man could be arrested for the crime. An 1865 Mississippi statute required African American workers to enter into labor contracts with white farmers by January 1 of every year or risk arrest. Four other states legislated that African Americans could not legally be hired for work without a discharge paper from their previous employer-effectively preventing them from leaving the plantation of the white man they worked for. In the 1880s, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida enacted laws making it a criminal act for a black man to change employers without permission.

In nearly all cases, the potential penalty awaiting black men, and a small number of women, snared by those laws was the prospect of being sold into forced labor. Many states in the South and the North attempted to place their prisoners in private hands during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The state of Alabama was long predisposed to the idea, rather than taking on the cost of housing and feeding prisoners itself. It experimented with turning over convicts to private “wardens” during the 1840s and 1850s but was ultimately unsatisfied with the results. The state saved some expense but gathered no revenue. Moreover, the physical abuse that came to be almost synonymous with privatized incarceration always was eventually unacceptable in an era when virtually every convict was white. The punishment of slaves for misdeeds rested with their owners.

Hardly a year after the end of the war, in 1866, Alabama governor Robert M. Patton, in return for the total sum of $5, leased for six years his state’s 374 state prisoners to a company calling itself “Smith and McMillen.” The transaction was in fact a sham, as the partnership was actually controlled by the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad. Governor Patton became president of the railroad three years later.45 Such duplicity would be endemic to convict leasing. For the next eighty years, in every southern state, the questions of who controlled the fates of black prisoners, which few black men and women among armies of defendants had committed true crimes, and who was receiving the financial benefits of their re-enslavement would almost always never be answered.

Later in 1866, Texas leased 250 convicts to two railroads at the rate of $12.50 a month.46 In May 1868, four months after Henry and Mary’s wedding, the state of Georgia signed a lease under which the Georgia and Alabama Railroad acquired one hundred convicts, all of them black, for $2,500. Later that year, the state sold 134 prisoners to the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad and sent 109 others to the line being constructed between the towns of Macon and Brunswick, Georgia.

Arkansas began contracting out its state convicts in 1867, selling the rights to prisoners convicted of both state crimes and federal offenses.47 Mississippi turned over its 241 prisoners to the state’s largest cotton planter, Edmund Richardson, in 1868. Three years later, the convicts were transferred to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the former Confederate general, who in civilian life already was a major planter and railroad developer. In 1866, he and five other former rebel officers had founded the Ku Klux Klan. Florida leased out half of the one hundred prisoners in its Chattahoochee penitentiary in 1869.

North Carolina began “farming out” its convicts in 1872. After white South Carolinians led by Democrat Wade Hampton violently ousted the last black government of the state in 1877, the legislature promptly passed a law allowing for the sale of the state’s four hundred black and thirty white prisoners.

Six years earlier, in 1871, Tennessee leased its nearly eight hundred prisoners, nearly all of them black, to Thomas O’Conner, a founding partner along with Arthur Colyar of Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co.48 In the four decades after the war, as Colyar built his company into an industrial behemoth, its center of operations gradually shifted to Alabama, where it was increasingly apparent that truly vast reserves of coal and iron ore lay beneath the surface.

Colyar, like Milner, was one of those prominent southern businessmen who bridged the era of slavery and the distinct new economic opportunities of the region at the end of the nineteenth century. They were true slavers, raised in the old traditions of bondage, but also men who believed that African Americans under the lash were the key to building an industrial sector in the South to fend off the growing influence of northern capitalists.

Already, whites realized that the combination of trumped-up legal charges and forced labor as punishment created both a desirable business proposition and an incredibly effective tool for intimidating rank-and-file emancipated African Americans and doing away with their most effective leaders.

The newly installed white government of Hale County-deep in the majority-black cotton growing sections of Alabama-began leasing prisoners to private parties in August 1875. A local grand jury said the new practice was “contributing much to the revenues of the county, instead of being an expense.” The money derived from selling convicts was placed in the Fine and Forfeiture Fund, which was used to pay fees to judges, sheriffs, other low officials, and witnesses who helped convict defendants.

The prior year, during a violent campaign by Ku Klux Klansmen and other white reactionaries to break up black Republican political meetings across Alabama, a white raiding party confronted a meeting of African Americans in Hale County. Shots were fired in the dark and two men died-one white and one black. No charges were brought in the killing of the African American, but despite any evidence they caused the shooting, leading black Republicans R. H. Skinner and Woodville Hardy were charged and convicted of murder. They were sent to the Eureka mines south of Birmingham in the spring of 1876.49

By the end of 1877, fifty convict laborers were at work in Milner’s Newcastle Coal Company mine outside Birmingham. An additional fifty-eight men had been forced into the Eureka mines he founded near Helena. A total of 557 prisoners had been turned over that year to private corporations by the state of Alabama.50

By the end of Reconstruction in 1877, every formerly Confederate state except Virginia had adopted the practice of leasing black prisoners into commercial hands. There were variations among the states, but all shared the same basic formula. Nearly all the penal functions of government were turned over to the companies purchasing convicts. In return for what they paid each state, the companies received absolute control of the prisoners. They were ostensibly required to provide their own prisons, clothing, and food, and bore responsibility for keeping the convicts incarcerated. Company guards were empowered to chain prisoners, shoot those attempting to flee, torture any who wouldn’t submit, and whip the disobedient-naked or clothed-almost without limit. Over eight decades, almost never were there penalties to any acquirer of these slaves for their mistreatment or deaths.

On paper, the regulations governing convict conditions required that prisoners receive adequate food, be provided with clean living quarters, and be protected from “cruel” or “excessive punishment.” All floggings were to be recorded in logbooks, and indeed hundreds were. But the only regularly enforced laws on the new slave enterprises were those designed primarily to ensure that no black worker received freedom or experienced anything other than racially segregated conditions. In Alabama, companies were fined $150 a head if they allowed a prisoner to escape. For a time, state law mandated that if a convict got free while being transported to the mines, the sheriff or deputy responsible had to serve out the prisoner’s sentence. Companies often faced their strongest criticism for allowing black and white prisoners to share the same cells. “White convicts and colored convicts shall not be chained together,” read Alabama law.51

In almost every respect-the acquisition of workers, the lease arrangements, the responsibilities of the leaseholder to detain and care for them, the incentives for good behavior-convict leasing adopted practices almost identical to those emerging in slavery in the 1850s.

By the late 1870s, the defining characteristics of the new involuntary servitude were clearly apparent. It would be obsessed with ensuring disparate treatment of blacks, who at all times in the ensuing fifty years would constitute the vast majority of those sold into labor. They were routinely starved and brutalized by corporations, farmers, government officials, and small-town businessmen intent on achieving the most lucrative balance between the productivity of captive labor and the cost of sustaining them. The consequences for African Americans were grim. In the first two years that Alabama leased its prisoners, nearly 20 percent of them died.52 In the following year, mortality rose to 35 percent. In the fourth, nearly 45 percent were killed.53

Are Blacks More Criminal, More Deserving of Punishment and Social Control?

Before recent decades of decrease of crime, there was decades of increase of crime or rather increase of criminalization.

We know that the growth of incarceration has happened through drug convictions, not from homicide, theft, etc. We also know that most of the drug convictions are for small amounts of drug possession for personal use. You could still argue that at least mass incarceration has been the cause of the decrease of drug use, but even that isn’t supported by the facts.

We also know that whites are as likely or more likely to use and carry illegal drugs. Just as we know that blacks are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for drug-related crimes. This is because blacks are racially profiled, targeted, and stopped and frisked more often.

Nonetheless, most of the crime in the US has always been committed by whites. So, most of the crime increase and crime decrease involved whites. If you look at poor whites in poor neighborhoods, you see the same social problems as found with poor blacks living in poor neighborhoods, including the problems of crime and police targeting. The police go after poor people in general, because wealthier people do their crimes behind closed doors where police don’t see it happening. Poor people are an easy target and they can’t fight  back legally and politically.

Most of this issue of crime and incarceration has had to do with the War On Drugs. As I’ve pointed out, it is no different than what happened during Prohibition. Back then, the minorities targeted were Italians, Germans, Irish, and Scots-Irish. Today, along with poverty-stricken descendants of those ethnic Americans (such as in Appalachia), the minorities targeted are blacks and Hispanics. These minorities weren’t committing more crimes. Instead, laws were created to criminalize and target these minorities.

White and wealthy people commit crimes as well. But even when these crimes are known, authorities have little interest in going after them. It is costly for the government to try to convict people who have the money to buy the best lawyers in the country. Plus, these people have political connections. White collar crimes are rampant in our society and do far more harm to far more people, but they mostly go unpunished. Even when the wealthy do drugs, it rarely leads to negative consequences. The last three presidents did drugs and it wasn’t any big deal, but a poor black kid will have their life ruined for the exact same behavior. Even many child molesters get off easier than many of those convicted of victimless drug-related crimes.

There is no excuse for any of this. The injustice should be intolerable, assuming one lived in a moral society.

* * * *


In 1980 the U.S.’s prison population was about 150 per 100,000 adults. It has more than quadrupled since then. So something has happened in the past 30 years to push millions of Americans into prison.

That something, of course, is the war on drugs. Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase. More than half of America’s federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.


What all that money has helped produce — aside from unchanged drug addiction rates — is the world’s highest incarceration rate. According to the Sentencing Project, 2.2 million Americans are in prison or jail.

More than half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and that number has only just dipped below 50 percent in 2011. Despite more relaxed attitudes among the public at large toward non-violent offenses like marijuana use, the number of people in federal prison for drug offenses spiked from 74,276 in 2000 to 97,472 in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The punishment falls disproportionately on people of color. Blacks make up 50 percent of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes. Black kids are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white ones — even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs.


Black youth are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of whites. But new research shows that young African Americans are actually less likely to use drugs and less likely to develop substance use disorders, compared to whites, Native Americans, Hispanics and people of mixed race.

* * * *

African American Families Today: Myths and Realities
By Angela J. Hattery and Earl Smith
Kindle Locations 2664-2665

As a point of reference, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens on drug convictions alone than the entire incarcerated population of the European Union, which has a population significantly greater than the United States.

Kindle Locations 2681-2707

Many Americans assume that African American men commit more crimes and therefore it is logical that they make up the bulk of the US prison population. And , in fact in opinion poll after opinion poll , including one conducted in 2011 by New Century Foundation (Color of Crime), white Americans say they believe blacks commit more crimes than whites. If everything were equal, this would be a logical conclusion for any thinking person. Yet, as it turns out, the picture is far more complicated than what it appears to be. Once we examine the data, we see that although African American men may be somewhat more likely to commit crimes, especially of certain types, the real cause of their overrepresentation in the prison population is the discrimination they face at every stage of the process, from being identified as suspects to being arrested, charged, and sentenced. We devote the next section of the chapter to a discussion of these issues.

African Americans do commit certain crimes more often than whites . For example, homicide is now one of the leading causes of death for African American men. The data on homicide indicate that more often than not the perpetrator in these homicides is also an African American male. In fact, an examination of the data on all violent crimes (rape, homicide, assault) reveals that violent crimes are primarily intraracial; in other words both the victim and the offender are of the same race. However, when one examines the range of statistics on crime, one finds that just as African Americans are disproportionately likely to commit certain crimes (homicide), whites are disproportionately likely to commit others. Though some of these are nonviolent, financial crimes like those that executives such as Bernie Madoff (the ponzi scheme master ) and Ken Lay (Enron Corporation) were convicted of, their nonviolent nature does not mean these crimes do not have victims. In fact, these crimes harm millions of American victims; many of whom have lost their life savings. For those unsuspecting folks who were employed in these firms, they lost their weekly paychecks, health insurance, and indeed their livelihoods when the firms collapsed as a result of the scams. Perhaps more perplexing is the fact that whites are also more likely to be serial murderers, child molesters, and school shooters. In fact the dominant profile of the perpetrators in all of these horrible crimes is not just white , but male. White men commit these crimes at disproportionately high rates. When we look closely at the treatment of child molesters- who are primarily white men- by the criminal justice system, we learn that the average child molester serves shorter sentences than crack offenders, who are primarily African American men. Child molesters are sentenced to an average of six years, and serve, on average, only 43 percent of their full sentences whereas the average person convicted of possession of crack is sentenced to eleven years and serves 80 percent of his sentence. In practical terms this means that the average child molester serves just under three years where as the average person convicted of possessing a small amount of crack serves nearly three times longer, just under nine years. Because the length of the sentence shapes the overall number of people in prison-those serving longer sentences contribute more to the overall incarcerated population than those who serve shorter sentences, the racial gap in incarceration rates cannot be explained entirely by the rate of committing crime. Part of the incarceration rate is driven by differences in sentencing that keep certain people in prison for longer periods of time than others.

Kindle Locations 2723-2733

Along with differences in traffic stops and arrest, there is also substantial evidence to support the argument that African Americans receive stiffer sentences than their white counterparts who commit the same crime. For example, among people convicted of drug felonies in state courts, whites were less likely than African Americans to be sent to prison. Specifically, in his testimony to the US Sentencing Commission on Racial Disparity in 2012, Marc Mauer reported on his research on sentencing demonstrating that in state courts 33 percent of convicted white defendants received a prison sentence whereas 51 percent of African American defendants received prison sentences for the same drug convictions. 2 In addition , in a review of forty recent and methodologically sophisticated studies investigating the link between race and sentence severity, many of the studies, especially at the federal level, found evidence of direct discrimination against minorities that resulted in significantly more severe sentences for African Americans than their white counterparts. 3 Therefore, we conclude that part of the explanation for differential rates in incarceration is racial disparities in sentencing. More African American men are in prison than their white counterparts because when convicted of the same crime they are more likely to receive harsher prison sentences.

Kindle Locations 2758-2762

Though for a variety of reasons- including a lack of DNA evidence in most crimes- there is no way to estimate the number of wrongful convictions; some scholars who study the issue estimate that 6 percent of those in prison were wrongly convicted. To be clear , this does not mean people who were sent to prison for the wrong charge- armed robbery instead of simple robbery- this refers to people who are factually innocent; they did not commit any crime. Even if only 6 percent of the half a million African American men in prison are actually innocent, the years of life lost in prison is supremely significant to those men and to their families.

Kindle Locations 2767-2790

Across the twentieth century, Americans’ attitudes around drugs (and alcohol) have changed in terms of both drug and alcohol use as well as in terms of the use of the criminal justice system to regulate drugs and alcohol . One common misperception is that the dramatic rise in arrests, convictions, and incarceration for drug charges reflects an overall increase in the number and percent of Americans using controlled substances . In fact, research by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Information Clearinghouse, 5 which has collected data on drug use, from 1975 to the present, shows overwhelming, in every category, that drug use rose from 1975 to 1979 and then dropped off significantly in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. These declines occurred in every age group and for every period for which data were collected . For example, the percent of Americans over the age of twelve who reported using an “illicit substance ” in the last thirty days declined from 14 percent in 1975 to 7 percent in 2002. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that the threefold increase in drug convictions between 1980 and 2008 are not in response to increased drug use, but rather to changes in the criminalization of substances (which occurred slowly across the entire twentieth century) and changes in the policies designed to address drug possession.

Drug Policies

The “War on Drugs” officially began in 1972 with a formal announcement by President Richard Nixon. The “War on Drugs” was significantly ramped up under the administration of President Ronald Reagan who added the position of “Drug Czar” to the President’s Executive Office. The War on Drugs did not so much criminalize substances as that had been happening across the early part of the twentieth century. What these laws did do was put into place stiffer sentencing guidelines that required (1) longer sentences, (2) mandatory minimums, (3) moving certain drug offenses from the misdemeanor category to the felony category, and (4) the institution of the “Three Strikes You’re Out” policy. Taken together, these drug laws result in:

*Longer initial sentences: Today crack cocaine defendants receive an average sentence of eleven years.
*Longer overall sentences that result from “Mandatory Minimums”: The most frequently cited example is the sentencing guidelines for possession of crack-cocaine. As part of the War on Drugs, a conviction of possessing five grams of crack now mandates a five-year minimum sentence.
*Felonizing drug offenses: Small possession convictions, particularly of crack cocaine, were recategorized from misdemeanors to felonies in the 1986 Drug Abuse Act.
*”Three Strikes You’re Out”: This law allows for life sentences for convicts receiving a third-felony conviction. Coupled with the recategorizing of some drug possession offenses (i.e., crack cocaine) as felonies, the result has been that many inmates serving life sentences are there for three drug possession offenses; in effect, they are serving life sentences for untreated addictions.

Kindle Locations 2791-2817

One of the most important and decisive changes to the drug policies that began implementation in the 1980s revolved around drawing distinctions between two forms of cocaine: crack (or rock) and powder. Crack is created by cooking powder cocaine with baking soda; the residual, or “rocks,” are what we commonly refer to as “crack.” It is commonly believed that crack was developed as a way to deliver a similar high in a cheaper form. Because crack is less pure than cocaine its street value is significantly lower. Many men and women we interviewed about their drug addictions talked about buying or selling a “rock” for around $ 20. As a result, the crack epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s exploded with the heavy marketing of crack in low-income black communities, much as “meth” is today in rural white communities. By the early 1980s, around the same time that the Rockefeller Drug Laws were developed, crack had become associated with black urban ghettos and with that image of the “crackhead” being an African American man or woman. In contrast, the more expensive powder cocaine was largely associated with the upper -class professional community as well as with Hollywood. Readers may remember that by the late 1980s it was common to see the latest victim of a cocaine binge- often a child actor like Dana Plato who appeared in the television hit show Different Strokes-in handcuffs or in a mug shot displayed on the nightly news. 6 Those studying drug policy argue that as a result of racialized differential use of crack versus cocaine, drug policies regarding crack and cocaine developed in a racialized manner as well.

Additionally, New York City has a “zero tolerance” policy with police arresting individuals with as little as 25 grams of marijuana, causing an upsurge in arrests, from fewer than 1,500 in 1980 to 50,000 today. The human cost of zero tolerance has been devastating to New York City African American families. 7

In sum, federal drug policy draws a distinction between crack and powder cocaine and sets a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between the two forms. This means that possession of just five grams of crack cocaine (about a thimble full) yields a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same five-year sentence. Crack cocaine is the only drug for which there is a federal mandatory minimum sentence for mere possession. In contrast, the laws around the illegal possession of narcotic prescription drugs, such as oxycontin, for example , do not vary based on the number of milligrams of the drug per tablet. Yet, this is just what the crack cocaine laws do.

The impact of these drug policies on the lives of African Americans and their families are not only severe, but they are way out of line with other postindustrial nations. Currently, in the United States, 450,000 of the more than 2 million inmates (45 percent ) in state and federal prison are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. In contrast, this is more people than the European Union, an entity with a 100 million more people than the United States, has in prison for all crimes combined. States and the federal government continue to spend about $ 10 billion a year imprisoning drug offenders, and billions more on the War on Drugs. These costs do not include the impact incarceration has on the economic and social life of the country, individual states, and communities . Because inmates incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses are disproportionately likely to be African American, the impact on the African American family, and community, is devastating.

Kindle Locations 2836-2839

Thus, in a poor African American community-inhabited by the abandoned- perhaps as many as 50 percent of the men will have been to prison. If 50 percent of men in a single community have been incarcerated and have felony records, then half the families in this community will face the consequences of the chronic unemployment and underemployment these men face as a result of their incarceration.

Kindle Locations 2855-2862

Pager designed an experiment in which she sent out “testers” to apply for jobs. In one case the job applicant indicated that he had a felony record and in the other he indicated that he did not have a felony record. Both African American and white men played both roles. Her study revealed that whites were more likely to be called back for an interview regardless of incarceration history. White men without a felony were, not surprisingly, the most likely to be called back of all groups. The shocking finding from her research is that whites with a felony record were more likely to be called back than African Americans without a felony record. Fewer than 5 percent of African American men with a felony record were called back (compared to 15 percent of whites with a felony record). Incarceration is problematic for anyone, but the effects are devastating on the employability of African American men and ultimately on the families they are hoping to support.

Kindle Locations 2927-2954

Incarceration depletes political capital, both of the individual and of the community from which the individual comes. This depletion of political capital is critical both symbolically and practically . The disenfranchisement of felons has symbolic power because it takes away a right, the right to vote, that is the quintessential symbol of being an American citizen. Furthermore, because of the high rates of incarceration of African Americans , disenfranchisement also takes away the power of African American communities to choose their political representation at the local, state, and national level. According to sociologists Chris Uggen and Jeff Manza, the outcome of the 2000 presidential election was shaped in part by felony disenfranchisement. 9 Finally, the relocation of inmates from their home communities to prisons in other counties, in other parts of the states, changes the way that resources are allocated by the state and federal government. Though many people know that inmates are relocated for the purposes of incarceration, the way that this shapes resource allocation is less well known, but extremely important and thus worthy of discussion.

The Impact of Incarceration on the US Census

Currently, the Census, which is used every ten years to, among other things, redraw congressional districts to ensure that districts are proportional , allows rural communities with prisons to “count” inmates as citizens. In New York, like most states, prisons are in rural regions but the majority of inmates originate from urban communities, thus the relocation of inmates to rural prisons has significant outcomes for the Census and ultimately for both the counties that house the prisons and the counties from which the inmates originate. This practice allows rural counties to “grow” and thereby get more congressional representation while urban communities “dwindle” and get fewer representatives and fewer tax-based economic resources. This is despite the fact that the inmates counted as citizens of rural communities are disenfranchised and thus cannot vote. Therefore , they are in no way “citizens” of these rural communities. Again, New York State provides a useful illustration.

New York City loses 43,740 residents annually to the districts of upstate legislators where they are incarcerated in rural areas. Inmates have been moving up there for decades, but since 1982, all new state prisons in New York are built upstate . As a result of Census rules, rural upstate communities counting the prisoners as “citizens” are actually overestimating their populations beyond the 5 percent rule established by the US Supreme Court. In fact, the population of some upstate towns comprised mostly of inmates. The majority of the population of Dannemora, New York, is incarcerated in its “supermax” prison and almost half (3,000) of the town of Coxsackie’s population (7,000) is in prison.

As many as twenty-one counties in the United States have more than 21 percent of their population incarcerated as recorded by the Census. In four counties, the percentage is nearly one-third. We note that these counties are both rural and for the most part, southern; thus the poorest regions of the country are able to actualize and access government resources by decimating urban ghettos.

This process is racialized as well. For example, the majority of inmates coming from the boroughs of New York City are African Americans who live in predominately African American districts. They are relocated and counted in predominately white counties. Thus, congressional representation and federal and state resources are rerouted from predominately African American districts to predominately white districts.

Kindle Locations 2969-2974

How important was the disenfranchisement debacle in Florida in 2000? Uggen analyzed what he first identified as the demographic characteristics of the pool of wrongly disenfranchised and then examined the previous voting patterns for these groups. By extrapolating the voting records on top of the election outcome, his research demonstrates that had African Americans who were wrongly disenfranchised in Florida in the 2000 presidential election had their right to vote restored and recognized, the outcome of the election would have been clearly in favor of Vice President Gore. Thus, the consequences of felony disenfranchisement are significant and affect the lives of all Americans .

Kindle Locations 2996-3006

It is not hard to demonstrate that incarcerating young African American males, ages sixteen to thirty-five, directly affects family life. It can be underscored in a “what if” scenario: One in nine African American men between the ages of sixteen and thirty -five is behind bars. According to 2009 data from the Census Bureau we learn that 70.5 percent of African American women between the ages twenty and thirty have never married. Is this a direct correlation? Probably. If men and women marry mostly members from their own race group, something is going on here.

Stanford University professor Ralph Richard Banks, in his book Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone, sheds light on the reasons why African American women are the most unmarried group of people in the United States. The answer is not because African American men are with white women- as spouses or boyfriends- as some wrongly believe. It is, to be sure, what Harvard sociologist William J. Wilson means when he argues that the male marriageable pool is depleted. Women of all races, including African American women, don’t marry men who are jobless and they sure can’t marry them if they are in jail or prison or dead. 11 Thus, the over-incarceration of African American men contributes to many of the issues plaguing the African American family that we have explored elsewhere in the book, including low marriage rates for African American women, high rates of single-parenting, and poverty.

* * * *

The New Jim Crow
Michelle Alexander
pp. 181-182

The claim that we really know where all the black men have gone may inspire considerable doubt. If we know, why do we feign ignorance ? Could it be that most people really don’t know? Is it possible that the roundup, lockdown, and exclusion of black men en masse from the body politic has occurred largely unnoticed? The answer is yes and no.

Much has been written about the ways in which people manage to deny, even to themselves, that extraordinary atrocities, racial oppression, and other forms of human suffering have occurred or are occurring. Criminologist Stanley Cohen wrote perhaps the most important book on the subject, States of Denial. The book examines how individuals and institutions-victims, perpetrators, and bystanders-know about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts. They see only what they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest. This has been true about slavery, genocide , torture, and every form of systemic oppression.

Cohen emphasizes that denial, though deplorable, is complicated. It is not simply a matter of refusing to acknowledge an obvious, though uncomfortable, truth. Many people “know” and “not-know” the truth about human suffering at the same time. In his words, “Denial may be neither a matter of telling the truth nor intentionally telling a lie. There seem to be states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and don’t know at the same time.”

Today, most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration. For more than three decades, images of black men in handcuffs have been a regular staple of the evening news. We know that large numbers of black men have been locked in cages. In fact, it is precisely because we know that black and brown people are far more likely to be imprisoned that we, as a nation, have not cared too much about it. We tell ourselves they “deserve” their fate, even though we know- and don’t know- that whites are just as likely to commit many crimes, especially drug crimes. We know that people released from prison face a lifetime of discrimination, scorn, and exclusion, and yet we claim not to know that an undercaste exists . We know and we don’t know at the same time.