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Institutionally sanctioned slavery -- the war on drugs.

Dan's picture

"More African American Adults are under correctional control today-- in prison or jail, or on probation parole --than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began" (180).

I'm definitely feeling a lot of things reading The New Jim Crow. The War on Drugs seems like such a rhetorical farse to keep black American's enslaved. When I was living in North Carolina, I went to this Anarchist conference, and in a lecture on harm reduction, we were told that there are more prescriptions for high potency painkillers (such as oxycodone or percocet) than there are number of people living in the state. So -- the drug usage has changed -- in a way that allows white middle class people to avoid being seen as drug users.

The "Prisoner's of a Hardlife" comic mentioned the sentencing distinction between Crack and Cocaine as reflecting class and racial oppression. Who do we think of when we hear the terms drug-user or addict? I imagine there are hundreds "high functioning" and legally sanctioned drug addicts and users who work on wallstreet or as Ibankers, who just fill their prescriptions of morphine and thus are considered upstanding, contributing members of society. Obviously the system is targeting certain people. 



HSBurke's picture

Forgive me for straying here,

Forgive me for straying here, but when I read your post I realized something about the War on Drugs being an extension of sorts of the enslavement of African-Americans (an idea that was hit home by Alexander's use of the phrase "locked in cages" to describe the inmates). As I was mentally comparing the two experiences, I began to wonder why it was that the victims of this modern mass incarceration were primarily men (this is the idea that I got from the first chapter in The New Jim Crow). As I began to problematize this, I couldn't help but thinking about whether or not this striking difference weakened the argument of mass incarceration as an extension of slavery. Or is it just that Alexander chose to focus only on men although African American women are being swept off the streets through the War on Drugs as well? As female focused as our class is, I can't help but wonder if the jails are filled primarily with African American men, leaving the successful black women to wonder where are the men are, maybe it is lesser so a case of race and more so a case of gender? I feel like I'm going to incite some anger for throwing that out there, and in no way am I meaning to devalue or misrepresent the racial inequality that is still present in America, but it is food for thought. 

Also, something that stuck out after our conversation in Anne's class about the accessibility of academic texts: The New Jim Crow was easy to understand but still incredibly academic and enlightening. I really appreciated not feeling like I was being dragged through the reading. 

jhunter's picture

Intersectionality, Women, and The War on Drugs

The idea of intersectionality, particularly when we're talking about an issue as complex as the imprisonment of African Americans in the U.S. Criminal "Justice" system is one I keep in mind when doing readings like Alexander's.  Though much of her argument regards how race impacts incarceration, I think she would acknowledge (but could be wrong) that race is incredibly difficult to completely isolate as a category of analysis from gender and/or class.  As you pointed out, it is black males who are disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs and the criminal justice system.  Alexander says at one point that "one in three young African American men is currently under the control of the criminal justice system--in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole..." (9).  Later in her introduction, Alexander acknowledges that, in order to present the clearest argument, she hasn't included the experience of African American women (16).  If anyone is interested in a book that does this, you should read Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women's Prisons.  I could certainly be remembering incorrectly as I don't have the book with me, but I remember the authors citing statistics that women were the fastest growing population in prisons in recent years.  Of course, women are still imprisoned at rates far below men, and both genders have different experiences once inside the criminal justice system.  It's really difficult for me to understand exactly how various factors impact incarceration, and I'm sure I'll continue to grapple with these issues throughout the semester.

HSBurke's picture

I didn't read the

I didn't read the introduction so thanks for pointing that out!  

jo's picture

race and gender

In answer to your question, I think it is a case of both race and gender, because, though I don't know the exact statistics, I assume the majority of men in prison are black and the majority of women in prison are black as well. Since there are far more men than women in prison, it makes sense that there would be more black men than women in prison, and that there are overwhelmingly more black men in prison than any other group. And I would say that, though the higher numbers of black people in prison reflects the oppression of blacks by whites (that apparently originates to even before slavery), the higher numbers of men than women in prison cannot represent oppression of women by men. That said, I think it might represent oppression of men by society in general. I am a huge femenist, but I still recognize that mens' oppression is a thing. The ways in which boys are raised compared to girls and the things they are taught by society about power greatly impact the difference in numbers of men incarcerated versus women.