The Prison-Industrial Complex Is Anti-Man

This article in AlterNet makes a compelling case for a new American racial caste system built on the back of the drug war. Where Americans comfort ourselves that we are a post-racial society due to affirmative action, black CEOs, and Obama, in reality the average black person is at a far higher risk of being imprisoned than the average white person.

In fact, as of 2004, more African American men were unable to vote because of felony disenfranchisement laws than in 1870, when the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids laws limiting voting based on race, was passed. Admittedly, some of that is due to population growth, but the fact that the situation hasn’t improved any is certainly an indictment against the racist American society.

If you take into account prisoners, in some urban areas a majority of African American men are felons– in the Chicago area nearly 80%. These men can be denied the right to vote, to serve on a jury, and to equal access to housing, employment, education, and public benefits.

And make no mistake: this is a gender issue, as well as a race issue. While women of color are more likely to be imprisoned than white women, men of color are vastly more likely to be imprisoned than any other group. The prison-industrial complex and the drug war are not only systematically directed against black people, they are systematically directed against black men. When the average white person imagines a scary threatening black person, are they imagining the person as male or female? When the average white person imagines a drug dealer or an addict, do they imagine them to be male or female?

Exactly my point.

And that sort of racist and sexist stereotyping has a tremendous effect on young black men. While young white people are slightly more likely to use drugs and have three times the rate of drug-related emergency visits, black people are overwhelmingly more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for drug crimes– in some states they are 80-90% of those imprisoned for drug crimes, and most of them are men. Even when crime rates decline, the rate of imprisonment soars, mostly because of these young black men being imprisoned.

But really, can you blame the police? They get to play with all kinds of shiny toys, like SWAT teams and tanks and grenade launchers! It’s like their own action movie! They get federal funding if they arrest lots of drug offenders, even if it’s just for possession! Drug forfeiture laws mean that they can keep the majority of the cash, cars, and houses they get from drug suspects!

Never mind all the lives being ruined. Because it’s not simply about imprisonment– although the imprisonment is bad enough. And it’s not simply about the effects on the men themselves, although call me a radical, but I believe that once someone has served their sentence, they should have the rights that any other full member of society does, especially if their crime was “having cocaine” instead of something that actually matters. I mean, how exactly do you expect someone to take non-criminal jobs if no one wants to give a job to a felon? Christ.

It’s about the community. Because men are important. They’re half of the potential workforce in a community, and with the rates of unemployment for felons they either are forced into a life of crime or face being more of an economic drain than a boon. As children, they were invested in (however poorly, given the quality of many inner-city schools), but ended up not amounting to much more than fuel for the prison-industrial complex. The consequences of missing men affect more than just themselves.

Perhaps most tragic is the consequence of missing fathers. While all families can be good families and a good single parent is certainly better than a bad or abusive nuclear family, children are a lot of work and generally need multiple people to take care of them (where “take care of” includes providing as well as more conventional forms of caregiving). Unfortunately, a black child’s chance of growing up with two parents today is less than their chance during slavery, in a large part because of the drug war. Who knows how many good, caring fathers are now in prison, separated from their children? We can’t know.

Men matter. We cannot use a generation of black men as food for racist ideologies. They deserve more than that.

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About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.

Comments

  1. highlyeccentric says:

    And make no mistake: this is a gender issue, as well as a race issue. While women of color are more likely to be imprisoned than men of color, men of color are vastly more likely to be imprisoned than any other group.

    *frowns* While this could be accurate, I’m wondering if it’s a typo – did you mean that women of colour are more likely to be imprisoned than white women? If women of colour are more likely to be imprisoned than men of colour, that… doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the argument.

  2. “While women of color are more likely to be imprisoned than men of color, men of color are vastly more likely to be imprisoned than any other group.”
    You seem to have mistyped the first part of that sentence.

  3. I picture white females when I think of drug addicts, actually. Probably because it’s useful to campaigns to show how how far their beauty has degraded.

  4. Skull Bearer says:

    While women of color are more likely to be imprisoned than men of color, men of color are vastly more likely to be imprisoned than any other group.

    I’m sorry, that first paragraph pretty much contradicts what you say later. Mistype?

  5. “In fact, as of 2004, more African American men were unable to vote because of felony disenfranchisement laws than in 1870, when the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids laws limiting voting based on race, was passed.”

    It’s an alarming number of people, and none of what I’m going to say should not detract from that – I simply believe that the way this is presented undermines the argument.

    There were a total of 38.6 million people of all kinds in the United States in 1870 (according to the US Census), and only 4.9 million “coloreds.”

    As of the 2010 census, there were 37.2 million people of all kinds in California alone, and 308.7 million in the entire country. Since 12.6 percent of the country’s population identifies as “black/African America,” that would work out to 38.9 million blacks in America (also from the US Census). “Only” (and I put that in parentheses because it’s an outrageously large percentage) 12.6% of the current black population would be needed to exceed the entire black population of 1870.

  6. That’s a good posting and a good article, the war on drug was very bad for black people and it destroyed most gains made by them in the 1970s and 1980s.

  7. This is something I’ve seen and known for a long time but it just seems like people never really wanted to listen. Maybe they will listen now.

  8. Oooops. Typo corrected. I choose to blame that I wrote this immediately after seeing the Hunger Games. :P

  9. I completely agree. I really hope this issue picks up steam. Michelle Alexander’s book is spectacular.

  10. While I applaud and substantially agree with the post, ozy, you pointedly sidestepped the fact that, broadly speaking, white women are more privileged than white men in this arena.

    This is important, because white men are typically (and inaccurately) held up as the privileged group in this society. When it comes to being murdered for example, white women are by far the most protected, with white men and African American women being close to even, and African American men being far and away the group to have its lives most likely to be cut short by violence. African American men suffer from a double disprivilege of being both black and male. As of 2004, men were being incarcerated at a rate of over 7 times that of women. African American were far more likely to be jailed than white men … but there were still more white men in jail at that point than African American men.

    Your final closing — as laudable as it no doubt was intended — thus elides this fundamental fact. It’s certainly true that we should not “use a generation [generations, really] of black men as food for racist ideologies” … but we should also not use generations of men — of whatever race — as food for sexist ideologies.

  11. One more thing to add to a great listing of the harms of the criminal injustice system: the toxic effect of imprisonment on the human psyche and soul. My brief experience with jail opened my eyes to this in a big way. I have never felt such a black weight on my heart. Absolutely everything about the way things are run in jail is abusive, designed to take away every vestige of humanity and personal power from inmates.

    AND that was my experience of county jail – men’s prison is far, far worse. A friend recounted his experiences to me, and showed me some documentary clips, about how men are forced (by the other inmates, under threat of violence) to join a (racial) gang in prison, and to fight against the other gangs whenever the leaders tell you to. It basically forces you to become racist, even if you weren’t at all when you went in. I remember one inmate saying (paraphrased) “if you’re in for 10 years, you will be lucky if you come out even halfway sane.” And from my experience, there is no doubt in my mind that imprisonment slowly destroys the heart, mind, and soul.

    Our modern system of crime and punishment (the courts and jail) does not provide any sort of justice, because to me, justice is healing wrongs, not vengeance. All prison does is perpetuate the wrongness, in a continuing cycle of abuse. When people come out they are worse off (and thus society is worse off) than before, just like how anyone is worse off after experiencing violence and abuse.

    We need to find a different way. Luckily, hundreds of other cultures had (and have) traditions of healing and restorative justice, that we can look to – if we choose.

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