Why do we have far more of our population in prison than anyone else in the whole world? Why are so many of them black men? Why are so many black men killed by police? Why does the black population have so many social problems? According to Republicans, it’s obvious: blacks are lazy and inferior.
There is certainly racial prejudice, which is true of literally everyone, but those of African descent experience the most by far. But ridding the country of racial prejudice is not going to happen, because it’s part of our DNA heritage, back when we were all Africans, when such discrimination served an actual survival purpose. What needs to be fixed is the practice of justice today.
As for questions about racial justice, some have obvious answers, some less obvious. We have so many black men in prison because of centuries of systematic injustice. Because of self-important politicians posturing as “tough on crime”, which means sending poor people to prison for many years for smoking pot, or for petty shoplifting, or because the penal code was unjustly biased against them, or because someone got a “third strike” and life in prison for some utterly inconsequential violation.
Those politicians are tough with other people’s lives, the ones who have no money and are easily identified by their skin color. We know that the trillion-dollar crimes of the suits on Wall Street are definitely not as important, because none of those who nearly destroyed the global financial system and caused enormous misery for billions of us went to prison. Surely they would have if it were as important as, say, smoking pot.
What needs to be fixed
is the practice of justice today.
Being tough on crime also means failing to help prisoners in any way, including health care. More than a few prisoners die because they are denied their prescribed medicine. Some who were supposed to be taken to the hospital were instead taken to police headquarters, where they died.
It also means failing to deal with mental illness, which is one of the most serious problems of the criminal justice system. The one out of four prisoners who are mentally ill come quickly back to prison because they are untreated, and not in control of their own lives.
Being tough on crime also meant purposely failing to help prisoners gain the skills and education they needed to build a life. Tough! Yeah!
What a great way to improve the country!
Police killings result from a combination of police brutality against presumed guilty black men who are easily identified by their color, and the stark social conditions and lack of opportunity under which many African-Americans live. It’s a national epidemic. Not that all brutality is against blacks. Some cops will even kick a white guy in the face, if he’s safely handcuffed and on the ground. Amidst all this evil it’s hard to remember that most of the police behave properly, and we are blessed to have them.
Economic injustice, however, is the most significant element of the social conditions that keep African-American families down generation after generation.
As I have written several times, social injustice can begin with pregnancy. (And by the way, the problem is not that black girls get pregnant very young. Such pregnancies, black and white, are a fraction of what they once were.) Drug and alcohol use and smoking will damage a developing fetus irreparably, and every school girl and boy should learn this early. Good nutrition comes next in fetal and infant health, and one of the most important markers of a child’s future success is adequate birth weight. Young people need to learn they will soon have a sacred role to play.
The whole social mess
comes to roost in the schools.
The whole social mess comes to roost in the schools: undernourished children, underfunded schools, underpaid teachers, students with various personal and social problems… There is no simple or quick way to solve these problems, although we seem to think teachers should be able to do it in their “spare time” (as if they had any). But the main difficulty is that this toxic mix, when it is in the black community, is seen as the entire fault of African-Americans themselves, ignoring the centuries of slavery and injustice that have characterized the black experience, and the effects of ongoing economic injustice on their lives today.
Poor neighborhoods are a mess, and won’t improve as long as the few jobs available are low-pay part-time work in fast food. We have desperately needed living wage laws for decades, and if we ever get them poor neighborhoods will improve markedly.
Real needs require real money,
Our gross injustice and inequality can’t be fixed without tackling everything all at once, meaningfully and consistently. The problems can’t be fixed with a few pennies for a while, and certainly won’t be fixed by GOP money transfers to the rich. Real needs require real money and real action over generations. Far from being the money sink Republicans think it would be, fixing our social ills would be an investment that pays big dividends, because well educated, healthy people who earn a decent living return far more money to the economy and to their neighborhoods than they cost, improving everyone and everything. We will have a vibrant economy only when everyone earns a decent living.
These things will not be fixed as long as Republicans and their supporters continue to believe that all the problems of the poor are caused by themselves, that if only they weren’t so lazy and dependent on welfare, there would be no problem.
Conservatives have from the beginning been locked into a mindset that dictates that our common needs must be perpetually underfunded because those things would destroy our economy if they were fully fun funded. The opposite is true. Our economy suffers from lack of investment of all types of social needs, for infrastructure, education, health care—everything that would make our lives better. How conservatives can fail to understand this, in view of the continuous flow of evidence, casts doubt on the reasoning powers of those who endorse starvation budgets.
President Obama’s announcement of a goal to provide free community college to every deserving student was immediately followed by numerous ugly online comments about freeloaders on welfare, meaning African-Americans, of course. These are blatantly racist remarks. Such thinking completely ignores the fact that many nations have long had four years of free college for everyone, including all expenses, and the best have free professional and medical training as well. In the US, community college is a path that many very accomplished people of all cultural backgrounds have followed.
Soon after the president’s announcement
a number of conservatives who attended colleges
subsidized by taxpayer money
complained about the use of taxpayers’ money
to subsidize colleges.
Unfortunately, no matter how intelligently and how many times the economic maladies that constrain the poor are demonstrated, GOP true believers remain immune to facts, and continue to imagine that everyone already has the same opportunity, and all difficulties are result of laziness, especially the natural laziness of blacks.