Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"The House I Live In"

Dayna mentioned the documentary "The House I Live In" during her class presentation last week. I encourage the class to watch this film. It provides important statistics as well as shocking personal anecdotes regarding the War on Drugs. I think it is a good visual aid to the issues Michelle Alexander brings attention to in her book The New Jim Crow. Here is the film's official website.

Heroin and Angela Davis: Two Reflections on The Black Power Mixtape

     I've just finished watching The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975, a compilation documentary available on both Netflix and Youtube, that we mentioned in class just yesterday. The film uses archival footage from Swedish TV to retell the story of the black freedom movements. Director  Olsson takes us through each year of the non-year timeline, focusing on leading figures like Carmichael and Davis, and significant events, including the Attica Prison riot. I was especially struck by two parts of the movie: the interview with a detained Angela Davis, and the segment on drug addiction among returning soldiers.

     The film's cover features a shot of Angela Davis, her face bent forward, eyes obscured by her hair. The photo is taken from arguably the best interview in the movie. conducted during Davis' incarceration. When questioned about the Panthers and the justification of violent means to enact revolution, her reaction is incredulous.
     Davis describes the violent reality of her childhood experience in Birmingham, Alabama. She goes on to stress that violence from an oppressive apparatus has shaped the African-American experience for centuries. Davis had clearly been shaken at the time of the interview, but rather than weakening her response, it only feeds her passion and fervor. You can check out the  interview here, where it starts at around 11:13. The conclusion of the interview is here.

II. The film also devoted a portion of screen time to a discussion of the impact of drugs on the black community. We have read several sources describing the experience of black soldiers returning to a country they had fought for, only to be refused basic rights, chances for employment, and often crippled by drug addiction. 
     The film mentions the large portion of Vietnam soldiers who came home with a serious heroin addiction. I decided to do some more research into the issue and found this fascinating article on the history of American drug use in the Vietnam War:
     Marijuana use became extremely prevalent among US soldiers during the early years of the war. As Brush describes:

"A comparison has been made between Vietnamese use of marijuana and the manner in which the French treat wine and sex: there are cultural regulations for use, sale, and protocol but no inherent sense of "illicitness" as in the United States." 

     That "sense of illicitness" led the US military to crack down on marijuana use among Marines. As Brush argues, it was a cultural stigma that caused the military to enforce such strict regulations on the drug:

"Use of marijuana did not constitute an operational problem. Smoking in rear areas did not impact operations. Use among combat personnel came when units stood down rather when in the field. The Commanding General of the 3d Marine Division noted "there is no drug problem out in the hinterlands, because there was a self-policing by the troops themselves." Life for combat soldiers depended on their being clear-headed."

The consequence of this misdirected regulation soon became apparent, once heroin use became a major factor among soldiers. The opium trade was a significant force in Orientalist trade efforts between the East and West, tracing back centuries. Now, the drug was only becoming more potent: 

"In late 1969 and early 1970, Golden Triangle laboratories instituted a more sophisticated opium refinement process, allowing them to produce high-grade (80 to 99 percent pure) no. 4 heroin."

The purity of heroin in Vietnam meant that it could be smoked casually, not necessarily injected. It soon became a common ritual for all new troops to at least try the drug: an estimate 90% had smoked heroin within their first four months in Vietnam. The statistics only continued to worsen: " in 1973, 34 percent of American soldiers in Vietnam had commonly used heroin."

The Army attempted to enact a detoxification process for all returning soldiers, but the program couldn't handle the massive volume of addicts. At one point, "the market for heroin among U.S. military personnel was worth $88 million dollars to South Vietnamese drug traffickers," in addition to the market for Vietnamese addicts. And to bring us back to its influence on the black community, "the United States was unable to end its heroin problem in Vietnam even by ending its participation in the war: heroin came home with us."

I'm still trying to digest the implications of this - the fact that a large section of our domestic narcotics problem originated in a foreign war. What do you guys think?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Reflections on "Snow on tha Bluff"

 So, in class a few days ago, Dayna referred us to a movie called “Snow on the Bluff”, and I had some time on my hands so I thought I'd watch it on Netflix. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the movie, it follows the life of Curtis Snow, an Atlanta gangster who lives in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Atlanta, the Bluff, after he steals a camera from a few college kids looking to buy drugs off of him. From there we become privy to “everyday” life on the bluff. We see Curtis's drug raids, his drive-bys, and his angry moments but we also see the care he has for his community and his family.

The opening scene of the movie is brilliant. It starts from the point of view of the college kids that originally bought the video camera. The first line is, “No, I wouldn't want to raise my kids in Georgia” and sets up the movie as directly against this entitled, college-kid culture. The insertion of these college kids does not take up a lot of time, but it contextualizes the movie. By showing these other college kids, the movie makes it harder for viewers to trivialize the events of the movie by thinking, “well, that's just how life is in this world” because there are people who don't live like that.

I also think it is important that it originally sets up Curtis as “the bad guy”. In the first scene he robs these kids, and the emotional impact of that scene is multifaceted. On the one hand, I think it is natural to feel bad for the kids, and that emotional reaction is later brought into question. The viewer must ask if there is a difference in emotional response between watching the kids get robbed and watching Curtis and his family suffer, and if there is a difference, then why? On the other hand, it identifies Curtis as he would be seen by society, as some nameless bad guy. The movie brings him a humanity that is marginalized by the mainstream parts of society and specifically white society.

What makes this movie so affecting is how real and surreal it feels simultaneously. While watching, I was constantly questioning the veracity of the film; was Curtis Snow a real guy, or an actor? Were those real guns and deaths, or were they dramatized? These, I think, are not the right questions, but they are the questions that an audience who has never experienced gang life will ask. What I personally need to recognize is that “Snow on Tha Bluff” seems surreal to me because it is very far removed from the things I experience on a day to day basis. I am luck to not have to experience the level of violence that is so common place in “Snow on The Bluff”.

I would highly recommend this movie, and I thank Dayna for pointing me towards it. Watching it was a crazy experience. A few questions I would like to ask the class: Do you think movies like “Snow on Tha Bluff” should have a social justice imperative? What role do you think the question of reality and our understanding of reality plays in interpreting the film? And, if you've watched it, how do you feel about the film's portrayal of violence?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Jim Crow (and the death of Len Bias)

 Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow was one of themost important books we have read in this class because it deals with an issue that blacks are facing today, and more alarmingly an issue that is continuing to worsen while laregely going unnoticed. In a supposed “post-racial society” where people point to black exceptionalism like Oprah and Barack Obama as examples of black’s escaping the expectations of inner city blacks, Alexander’s work is important for the fact that it brings us back to reality.
In regards to the use of the term Caste I think it is appropriate because she is not literally comparing the class system in America to the historical caste system in India, but rather making reference to the myth of social moblility in America. For millions of black youth that face the threat of imprisonment they are trapped into a low socio-economic status that it is in many ways as inescapable as the caste system in India.

Another important figure that we did not discuss in class is Len Bias. Bias was a basketball prodigy who overdosed on cocaine two nights after being drafted by the Boston Celtics. This was an event that would forever change the NBA but also drug use and drug laws across the country.

This link covers much of the aftermath of Bias’s death. While Bias’ mother tries to put a positive spin on everything and claims that many people have come up to her and told her that the night Bias died is the night they stopped using cocaine, however the Anti-Drug Use Act of 1986 would worsen the situation.
The Article specifically references a work called “Drug Policy: A Challenge of Values” by Eric Sterling, in which Sterling highlights the post-tragedies of Bias’ death.
“Within a few years, it appeared that blacks were being disproportionately sentenced for the crack cocaine offense. Congress called upon the U.S. Sentencing Commission to study the impact of mandatory minimum sentences (P.L.101-647, Nov. 29, 1990, Sec. 1703). The Commission found that the disparity in sentencing harshness between white and black offenders had increased (U.S. Sentencing Commission, 1991, p. 82). Congress and the Administration did nothing to address this problem.
By 1995, no white person had been prosecuted in federal court under the 1986 crack mandatory minimums in Los Angeles and other major cities, although hundreds of blacks had been (Weikel, 1995). Another study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (1995) found the 100-to-1 powder cocaine-crack cocaine variation seemed to have an invidious impact on black offenders. For example, 88.3 percent of the mandatory crack sentences were imposed on blacks in FY 1993. The Commission recommended changes in the guidelines (60 Fed. Reg. 25,074, May 10, 1995), but for the first time Congress voted to disapprove the Commission’s proposed amendments to the sentencing guidelines (P.L. 104-38, Oct. 30, 1995).”

Also worth watching is the 30 for 30 entitled Without Bias (Available on NetFlix), which goes into depth about the life and death of Bias, as well as the implications of his death.

Even though it wad determined that Bias died after using 98% pure fish scale, the government and DEA used this an excuse to heighten the War on Drugs by going after crack dealers rather than 5 grams of crack.

In class I offered a personal example of A FRIENDS experiences with the D.C. penal system, but was unable to finish my point. I went through a year of pre-trial and two more years of probation. If this friend was black AND poor, and unable to afford a lawyer he would have gone to prison for 270 days as that was the punishment prosecution sought. I say this to highlight that the penal system does not only go after low-income minorities, but also to show that low-income minorities have the odds stacked against them and will not be able to squeeze their way out of imprisonment. Rather as Alexander points out the penal system is actively looking to warehouse these young low-income minorities. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Incarceration and Education — Problems with "De-Segregated" America

Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crowe, examines the systemic problems surrounding the mass incarceration of Black males in the United States.  With a particular focus on the War On Drugs and the discriminatory tactics of this "war," Alexander troubles the belief that America is presently free of institutionalized racism.  Beyond this, she asserts that we ought not even talk about this massive influx of men into prisons as a phenomenon separate from race.  She states, "[A]ny movement to end mass incarceration must deal with mass incarceration as a racial caste system, not as a system of crime control" (224).  If I was not sold on this point prior to Dayna's presentation this week, I can certainly say I am sold now.  Beyond the ways in which the police might target lower income, predominantly Black communities in their searches, there is clearly a legal, abhorrent class discrimination regarding drug sentencing, as evidenced by the legal penalty for carrying a smaller amount of crack cocaine (or cocaine base) being roughly equivalent to carrying grams more of pure — more expensive — cocaine.  Precedents like this are horrifying, because they are indicative of huge flaws in our legal system.

We've talked a lot about colorblindness in this class, and I think Alexander does a solid job highlighting the flaws with this paradigm.  In saying "our blindness [...] prevents us from seeing the racial and structural divisions that persist in society: the segregated, unequal schools, the segregated, jobless ghettos, and the segregated public discourse," Alexander agitates the notion that the United States has attained equality, for equality in spite of race is not equality at all (228).  On a more personal note, Alexander's mention of segregated schools reached me on a deep level.  Having volunteered or worked in the DCPS system for about two years, I have become increasingly sensitive to how important reading in particular is for future-building.  I'm going to link two short articles from Forbes and the Indiana state government website that talk about reading levels as early as third grade and their effect on how states perceive and project crime statistics.

P.S.  I have small problems with the ways in which both of these articles contextualize the given information, but the basic information is in keeping with what I have read elsewhere.

The Paradox of Legal Representation in America

A couple weeks ago I flew out to the University of Oregon to interview for a fellowship as well as to visit the Law School as an admitted student. While I was there I attended a talk that I found very interesting which I believe relates somewhat to Alexander’s argument in The New Jim Crow. In her section describing how the system of mass incarceration works in chapter 5, Alexander brings up the issue of the difficulty defendants have in finding meaningful legal representation. Alexander states:

“Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty whether they are or not. Prosecutors are free to ‘load up’ defendants with extra charges, and their decisions cannot be challenged for racial bias.”

The issue Alexander discusses here ties directly into the issue discussed at the talk I attended in Oregon, the issue of legal access. Legal access refers to the ability of an average citizen to obtain information about their legal rights, essentially to gain proper legal representation. This is an area where the US consistently ranks poorly on Freedom House rankings. It is largely due to the overwhelming cost of quality legal representation. Most students out of law school, though they may have had the most admirable of intentions before entering, seeks high paying jobs at major firms. It is somewhat understandable that law graduates do this as they often rack up massive amounts of debt to obtain their legal education and look for jobs that will help pay off those debts quickly. Nonetheless this results in a small portion of law school graduates, particularly top tier graduates, going to work as public defenders. 

Those few who do wind up going to work as public defenders find themselves overwhelmed with cases, particularly in poor urban areas that are the target of the discrimination Alexander describes. Though these defenders may have every desire to provide the best possible representation to their clients, the sheer workload they face makes it next to impossible logistically. The result is a legal system which is structurally designed in a way that prevents the defendants targeted by the system of mass incarceration from obtaining meaningful legal representation.

The system I have described at least made economic, if not moral or social, sense when the legal field was booming in the 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s. Today, however, the legal industry is in a state of disarray. Articles abound with predictions of the end of the traditional legal system in the US and the end of jobs for lawyers (as someone entering law school next year I have been unable to avoid hearing from just about every person I know that I won’t be able to find a job). There is evidence to back up these gloomy predictions, last year only about 50% of law grads found jobs within 9 months of graduation. The cause of this ‘crisis’ is primarily an over-saturated legal market with more lawyers than there are law jobs.

But wait! 

Didn't I start this post describing the shortage of legal professional available to represent the defendants Alexander describes? Wasn't there a story about overworked public defenders somewhere in that mess of text above here? 

Yes, that’s the paradox. At a time when only 50% of law grads are able to find a job because they are entering a over-saturated job market there remain millions of defendants in desperate need of proper legal representation. Why is this? The answer is unclear. Part of it is an unwillingness among law grads to take jobs as public defendants in urban area. Part of it is an unwillingness of states to provide equal funding to public defendants as that to to district attorneys. Part of it is the lack of an effective way to pair these graduates with the defendants who need their expertise. 

Some programs are popping up to connect members of the unemployed legal market with the underrepresented defendants. These are often not public programs though. They are funded largely by private contributors and universities who want to find jobs for their graduates in order to improve their employment statistics. Where funding does not come from is from state and local governments. There has been little to no effort in the public sector to tap into the saturated legal market to provide representation to defendants who need it. Alexander did not explicitly mention this in the sections we read, but I think it is part of the problem she addresses when she points out the need for public support for reforming the justice system. If the legal market remains over-saturated for an extended period, more programs may pop up. We can hope so anyways, but it is unlikely to happen if people are unaware of the issue. 

Side Note: Another issue I wanted to bring up, but found more difficult to tie into our current discussions is a recent supreme court decisions. Essentially what happened was that in a unanimous opinion littered with conflicting concurring opinions with varying rationale, the Supreme Court nullified the ability of a 1789 law to be used as a means of bringing international human rights violations to the US court system. Its a major setback for international human rights. If you want to know more about it there is a solid New York Times opinion piece on it.

"We the People"

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander argues that America’s current system of mass incarceration has replaced the Jim Crow laws that came before it, but are nevertheless just as damaging in some ways. While the details of how this system oppresses communities of color are overwhelming, what is even more terrifying is the institutional inertia that perpetuates the system and prevents us from changing it. We have erected an entire private prison industry in order to cope with the large number of those imprisoned, we have police departments that rely on the seizure of drug-related assets/money for funding, we have many industries that sell equipment to prisons, and a variety of other institutionalized interest groups. Each of these groups stands to lose enormous amounts of money should we end the drug war, which Alexander argues is essential to overturning the mass incarceration paradigm.  

Unfortunately, most Americans have been socialized/conditioned into believing that our system of mass incarceration is normal. However, I think people are beginning to question the status quo more. When the White House began an initiative called “We the People” where people could sign petitions on issues they wanted the administration to respond to, marijuana legalization was the first petition to gain the requisite amount of signatures to get a response from the White House. In fact, at almost every event where President Obama has held forums that solicit questions from the public through the Internet, marijuana legalization and questions related to the drug war continually top the list of most asked questions. Yet each time that these questions come up, Obama either ignores the questions altogether or provides a simplistic defense of why we should not end the drug war without defending the underlying philosophy of imprisoning millions of Americans.

Given this institutional inertia, it is encouraging that 2 states (Washington and Colorado) have pushed back against the philosophy of the drug war. Hopefully, other states will see the benefits of such a policy and we can begin to reverse a policy that has destroyed so many lives.   

Caged Bird

I would like to further build on Alexander's idea of the caged bird.  While we focused on the War on Drugs and the growing disparity of African Americans in jail, I would like to call attention to the communities from where these Black men are being plucked.

Earlier in the semester, I posted about my being native to the city, and if you've travelled outside of Foggy Bottom into my neighborhood, or the "lower income" part of the District also known as Ward 8, you'd probably agree with this hypothetical.  While in recent years, gentrification has become more evident, prior to this influx of White residents, the city has largely existed in segregation; the White population remained in the limits of the Northwest quadrant in neighborhoods like Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, Georgetown and Tenleytown.  There's shopping, grocery, restaurants, florists, metro access, you name it-- they've got it.  However, on a drive down Martin Luther King Avenue, the only thing you can bet on seeing on every block in a liquor store and a carry out.  Needless to say, MLK Avenue runs through Southeast.

Aside from Sidwell Friends, Banneker and The School Without Walls, all of which are in Northwest DC, High Schools in the district fail to prepare students for college.  There are growing numbers of Teach for America members in schools who do not know how to reach the children and they are being promoted in order to make it seem like the school systems are improving. Thus you have large numbers of young Black males who have either not made it to college or have dropped out because they were not prepared academically.  Their fathers? They may or may not be present in their lives, but let's focus on this generation.

Now there's Black males hanging out in their "low-income" neighborhoods during most of the day and night.  If they're working, it's for minimal pay, because we all know that a high school diploma isn't enough to gain employment for a decent salary.  Like your average college student, they probably smoke weed. BUT, there's patrol cars and jump outs in this neighborhood because a congregation of Black people means trouble, apparently.  One of the guys gets arrested for possession of an illegal substance, does a small sentence and then is released.  He's lost his job and is having trouble finding another one because of the felony.  There are no small businesses or retail stores in HIS neighborhood that might hire him, but there are liquor stores.  So now he's drinking, if he wasn't already.  Finds a job in Georgetown, but can't afford the uniform or the travel expenses to and from work, so he starts selling drugs in order to get himself on his feet.

A crime alert is issued for a suspect near Foggy Bottom snatching iPhones, he's Black and thus fits every detail of the description "Black Male", and is stopped, questioned and frisked.  No iPhone, but they find more drugs, and he's arrested yet again.  If he had a child or family, the struggle and need for money would increase, and thus the cycle continues.

REFORM. REHABILITATION. Unlock the cage.  

The United States vs. The Netherlands

My favorite reading so far has been Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" because I have found it so enlightening. Although I have long recognized the generality that the US has a lot of jails and a lot of people filling them, I never been aware of systematic racism involved. I am now conscious of the fact that mass incarceration unfairly targets black communities and that going to jail for petty, non-violent crimes can ruin lives by barring individuals from mainstream society. The cycle that has arisen from The War on Drugs is more than disturbing.

The War on Drugs began before I was born and I was not aware of its existence before doing the reading. This approach to ameliorating the drug situation in the United States is so characteristic of American policies for "fixing" problems.  The War on Drugs creates more problems just as abstinence-only education causes more teen pregnancies and prohibition caused more organized crime.  By ignoring the root causes of social problems and by inflicting the most serious punishment for these non-violent acts, the drug problem is not alleviated in the United States.

Our class discussion reminded me of the first time I visited the Netherlands in 2008.  I was visiting my sister while she studied abroad, and I ended up learning a lot about the country while I was there.  Although the Netherlands is perhaps best known for its legalization of marijuana, what I found more shocking was the over all approach to drug problems.  In opposition to the US policy, the dutch policy focuses on "diversion to care".  If a person is found with drugs the approach is to seize the drug with no further prosecution.  If prosecution takes place, the goal is not to punish but to enter the drug user into a rehabilitation program so that he or she can re-enter society.  In addition, there is a public program in the Netherlands to provide drug users with clean needles as to prevent the transmission of such diseases as HIV.  This approach may seem very radical to Americans, but statistics demonstrate that it is an effective program:

Social IndicatorComparison YearUSANetherlands
Lifetime prevalence of marijuana use200540.6% (ages 12 and up)122.6% (ages 15-64)2
Past year prevalence of marijuana use200510.3% (ages 12 and up)15.4% (ages 15-64)2
Lifetime prevalence of heroin use20051.5% (ages 12 and up)10.6% (ages 15-64)2
Incarceration Rate per 100,000 population2008756 3100 4
Per capita spending on criminal justice system (in Euros)1998€379 5€223 5
Homicide rate per 100,000 population20095.061.16
- See more at:

As you can see, a comparison between drug policy in the United States and the Netherlands is astounding in many ways. Why wouldn't the United States use an approach that is more effective, if the concern is to help the drug problem in the United States? 

My response to this question is that the War on Drugs in the United States combines some seriously flawed notions of capitalism and racism. An increase in jails and the incentive given to police officers to round up as many drug users as possible has created many issues. Most importantly, as Alexander points out, this unstoppable system specifically targets people of color and destroys communities.  It is astounding that, although white men are just as likely or more likely to do drugs, it is black men who are targeted.  

The United States and the Netherlands are different, in my opinion, because they have two different objectives.  The Netherlands wants to rehabilitate drug users and enter them back into society.  The United States wants to destroy drug users and hide them away from society --- especially if those drug users come from low-income communities of color. The War on Drugs demonstrates just one way that institutionalized racism still exists in America. 

Why do you think that the United States and Netherlands approach drugs so differently? 

Same Face, New Mask

This blog post is in response to Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. After reading portions of the novel, it is apparent to me that majority the American population continues life as usual instead of demanding and protesting the justice system that has become a systematic industry of social control. In the introduction Alexander refers to the adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Society has gone through several eras of racial and gender inequality in the hopes of achieving equally. Regardless of the strides that were made, the status quo of society reappears in different forms. Much like voter disenfranchisement that occurred during the Jim Crow era, convicted persons often lose their right to vote in local and state elections even after completing their sentence. This issue is pertinent in Florida where individuals who have completed their sentences, parole and probation have to be granted their right to vote; which may be drawn out over a year. The argument is made that individuals who commit crimes forfeit their rights to vote. However if the criminal justice system claims to rehabilitate incarcerated persons, it should be understood that once their provisions are completed they can reenter in society. Withholding the voting rights of formerly incarcerated persons adversely affects the community’s ability to gain and protect their rights. A population with weak voting power often leaves it vulnerable to a sub par education system, and low environmental standards. It needs to be acknowledge that allow the grandfather clause is now longer in effect having a significantly large portion of African American males and other males of color in the correctional system has the same effect. Alexander calls for urgency and action in regards to the justice system. It is the fastest growing private industry in the country. Many studies have shown that the system is biased and targets effects particular individuals. Once an individual has gone through the system, there are lastly effects which makes it difficult for them to get permanent housing, jobs and healthcare. The reality of the justice system can longer be ignored.Open and honest conversations about protocol,policing and sentencing may lead to the root of the biased system then leading to real change.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

White role in Black Freedom Movement

What is the role of whites in the black freedom movement? Is there and should there be one? What should the role look like?

The role of white people in the black freedom movement between the 1950’s and 1970’s and even now is one that I honestly ponder on. As a white person, I wonder what is the role for me. To what extent should I lend my voice and hand to the movement? I certainly do not by any means desire to degrade people of color, rather I desire to foster an environment that allows for them to be seen and treated as fully equal with any other human being. At the same time, I understand that the black freedom movement is a black one. The rhetoric and actions in the black freedom movement can certainly influence, aspire, and strengthen other movements, but in the end, one must not forget its uniqueness and goals.

In Alice Walker’s Meridian, the character, Lynne Rabinowitz, interested me the most because I gained some insight to the role of whites in the 1960’s black freedom movement (although I by no means view Lynne as acting the sole representative as to how whites acted in the movement). One passage from the book stuck with me [Trueman’s thought after Tommy shuts him up for mentioning Lynne’s name]:
            By being white, Lynne was guilty of whiteness. He could not reduce the logic any further, in that direction. Then the question was, is it possible to be guilty of a color? Of course black people for years were “guilty” of being black. Slavery was punishment for their “crime.” But even if he abandoned this search for Lynne’s guilt, because it ended, logically enough, in racism, he was forced to search through other levels for it. For bad or worse, and regardless of what this said about himself as a person, he could not –after his friend’s words –keep from thinking Lynne was, in fact, guilty. The thing was to find out how. (Walker 140)

The questions raised by Trueman are valuable ones in my opinion. It’s slightly dismal for me to think about though. By being white, am I automatically going to be racist on some level of interactions with people of color, even in my best interest to not be racist?

Not just an American phenomenon.

In class today we touched on the debate surrounding of 'missing' African American father figures and Michelle Alexander’s views on Obama’s mentioning of this issue. She discusses Obama’s speech and indicates that it played upon the shallow and damaging stereotype that African American men are incapable or neglectful fathers. She indicates that the president did little to address the historical significance of his statements or to offer a solution. Her assertion that these missing fathers are in prison and that while white America perpetuates the image of the absent black father it is the intrinsically racist penal system that is causing this issue. The point she raises, that more black men are in prison today than were enslaved in 1850, was particularly shocking (though not surprising) to me. As was mentioned in class, the American justice system has manufactures a mode of legalised dehumanisation that is instilling the same form of hopelessness in African American men as slavery.
The debates raised in class encouraged me, once again, to assess whether the situation is comparable in my own country. Is this purely an American phenomenon or has is the hangover from slavery still very much present in the UK? My first search into Google brought up an article from a 2010 copy of The Guardian, a reputable left-wing newspaper.
                The article has since been amended as it originally stated that the UK had a higher proportion of black people in prison than the US. While the paper was quick to correct itself it does provide some useful insights into a contrasting punitive system which experiences an overrepresentation of minorities but on a smaller scale. The article indicates that, like the US, the UK has “not got prison right.” A prominent issue in England in the past few years, particularly in London, has been ‘stop and search.’ Unsurprisingly black people are subjected to a much higher proportion of this interference, as although they make up only 3% of the population they experience 15% of stop and searches.
                One thing I found interesting in this article which is comparable to topics we have discussed in class is the rate at which persecuted young black British men are converting to Islam in prison, particularly in the south east. This is something I found reminiscent of black power.
                There are countless comparable incidents that have occurred in the UK. In class we have discussed the Rodney King, Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin cases which sparked justified outrage in the US. The UK is not without similar events. As some of you may remember, in August 2011 mixed-race father of four Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police in an event surrounded by controversy. The official story is in a state of flux and the immediate aftermath of his death was country-wide riots. The London Riots brought the UK closer to fully discussing the racial biases of the Metropolitan Police, a notoriously discriminatory organisation. Duggan’s young family now adheres to the stereotype of the missing black or mixed-race father yet is clearly the victim of a crime committed by an inherently racist society.

War on Drugs, War on Terror

Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is generative for many of the reasons Elizabeth flagged for us in class today, not the least of which is the question of audience. As we noted from the preface, Alexander desires to consciousness raise, edify, and support in solidarity her different expected readers. From this perspective, her elision of one major issue is understandable; specifically, the role of US racist incarceration practices domestically in relationship to incarceration abroad. I think that in order to grasp the enormity of this disciplinary project of the modern neoliberal carceral state, we must grapple with the simultaneous explosion of domestic incarceration, mainly of men of color, with international incarceration of mostly Muslim men of color (think the current hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay). These two projects cannot remain in isolation lest the international scope of freedom movements, a theme we’ve discussed all semester, eludes our discussion. I think especially in light of the class discussion on Tuesday, we need to consider the ramifications of wider trends of securitization under the War on Terror and the War on Drugs to theorize how state apparatuses (including private sector contractors/co-conspirators) work to control racialized bodies.
As one consideration for future discussion, I want to suggest reading the media coverage of the recent attacks in Boston as a psychic synthesis of two sorts of national traumatic imaginaries: the foreign Muslim/Arab terrorist (conflated in coverage, not in lived experience of course) and the domestic criminal black male. What does the flurry of reports on a “Saudi national” in custody juxtaposed with the description of a “dark-skinned male” wearing a hoodie reveal about the ways Americans conceptualize crime within and outside the nation? I suggest inhabiting this space between two issues typically treated as discrete concerns as a way to understand the issue of U.S. Black Freedom Movements as already-always international in scope. Especially after reading the article Elizabeth posted about the "person of interest" debacle, I'd like to consider the ways in which racialization operates in an age of colorblindness and mass incarceration.