So, with everything going on right now, I really wanted to find some way to try and help among my own social circles. I figured maybe one of the best ways to do that is to show the steps that I'm taking to try and educate myself on the social issues going on within our society.
My hope is that others out there will find this interesting, and hopefully take similar steps in trying to understand these problems too.
Studying these topics may be a bit uncomfortable for some, I understand. But I believe that there comes a point where you have to face those uncomfortable feelings in order to evolve as a person. I fully admit, I was that person that would say "I don't see race", but I've now come to realize that in itself is part of the problem.
I started reading some books. I want to talk about each book as I finish it, and explain what it's about and what I've learned from it.
So, the first book I've finished is 'The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness' by Michelle Alexander.
This book was honestly pretty eye opening for me, and despite having been released 10 years ago it is extremely relevant even to this day when looking at things. In the book, it discusses topics related to race-related issues specific to black american males, and how our criminal justice system has morphed into this tool to enforce new modes of discrimination and oppression that are strikingly similar to the time of jim crow laws.
The book primarily focuses on the discrimination faced by black Americans, but mentions how it also applies to other minorities and even poor white populations.
The author goes over a wide range of topics like a road map discussing how we got to this point. The primary argument is that this system creates an under caste that is hidden from view and rationalized by everyone among all races. Those in this under caste become trapped in a never ending cycle of marginalization where they can't move up in society and become trapped. Some of the other things I learned included things like:
- How the media and television has severely warped our perception of how the justice system works. That the whole idea of you saying “I want a lawyer” and they back down is false. That in some places you can’t even be granted a court appointed lawyer if you don’t meet requirements to be considered “low-income”. In some places simply making $3000 a year is enough to not grant you a court appointed lawyer. And even if you do meet that requirement, public defenders typically have large caseloads and cannot dedicate large amounts of time to you. This basically results in people taking plea deals because they can’t afford to take it to trial.
- How even after you finish your prison sentence, in some states you still cannot vote until after parole, probation, or sometimes even until people petition for you to have your rights reinstated. And in many states you are not allowed to serve on a jury for life if you have ever been convicted of a crime. This essentially strips away people’s rights if they have ever been convicted of a crime. They lose their voice as Americans even after fully serving their punishment.
- How drug possession and usage can be a gateway into the criminal justice system for first-time offenders. Resulting in both physical and virtual forms of imprisonment, such as needing to find a job to stay good for your probation, but not being able to find one due to nobody wanting to hire somebody that has been convicted of a crime.
- How black Americans and white Americans sell and use drugs at similar rates, but black Americans are more likely to be arrested for drug-related offenses and are more likely to be incarcerated because of it.
- How when we are presented with an accusation of possible racial biases within the system, we become outraged. Forms of race discrimination that were open and notorious for centuries have been transformed into something that is considered “un-american”. And that when trying to challenge the idea that the system is not biased, often statistics of violent crimes among blacks are used to explain why so many are behind bars. However when you look at the statistics, more people are convicted of drug offenses than violent crimes.
- How the Supreme Court has essentially closed the door to any appeals based on any claims of racism. The author presents several examples on how these decisions by the supreme court have failed to offer protections to those harmed by racial biases in the system. So you can’t even challenge the system.
It was honestly an absolutely amazing read and I really learned a shit ton from it. I understand now how the criminal justice system does not treat everyone equally and how we even have laws that prevent us from holding people accountable for being racially biased in the justice system.
Reading this really made me see many things in a different light now that I cannot un-see. The author does a really great job framing her idea and explaining all the elements of it and how they link together to create this biased system.
I highly recommend reading this book if you've ever been like "how can it be unfair? look at this example as to why it's not unfair". It breaks down many of those walls and explains that we pretty much are all to blame for how this system has come to be. It almost feels like a monster that we've created that's just eating it's way through people that we try not to pay attention to because it paints those within the system as an embarrassment to society because they’re now criminals.
The next book I've started is "How to Be an Antiracist" by Ibram X. Kendi. I'll try to post again once I've finished that one to discuss my thoughts on it.