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Blacks, Prison, And Institutional Racism Essay, Research Paper
Blacks, Prison, And Institutional Racism
Description: The title pretty much says it all in this one. This paper addresses
the issue of blacks in prison and explores the socio-economic causes and
solutions. This paper uses many govermentally commissioned reports.
Blacks, Prison, and Institutional Racism
Introduction Criminal justice and security is one of the largest industries in
the United States. Such a statistic is (and rightly so) of great concern to
Afro-Americans because a disproportionate percentage of individuals under the
control of the US Criminal Justice System are from the Black community. This
paper will look at the alarming statistics and attempt to trace the roots of the
disparity. It will then consider the affects and explore possible solutions to
the expanding problem.
The Imprisoned Black Youth Black communities throughout the U.S. are witnessing
the institutionalization of their youth. Of course institutionalization is
nothing new to Afro-Americans, it is something Blacks have faced since their
existence in this country. In the beginning Blacks were forced into the
institution of slavery. After the abolition of slavery Blacks faced
institutional racism, that is, racism legitimated by the whole of society
directed against the few of society. As a facet of that institutional racism
Blacks are now forced to persevere the increasing trend of control by the US
Criminal Justice System. Control by the USCJS includes the probation, parole,
imprisonment, and death of Blacks. A study conducted by the Sentencing Project
in 1989 found tat more than one-fourth of all Blacks between the age of 20 and
29 are under the control of the USCJS . This alarming figure becomes more so
when you consider their are more Blacks in prison in this age group than their
are all Blacks in college . This clearly reveals what is meant by the
institutionalization of our Black youth. Black communities are being legally
robbed of their youth by a system that locks up those who pose a threat to the
status quo of institutional racism. The consequences of this are detrimental
indeed. The children are the future, but what future does a community have whose
children are all locked up. By virtue of robbing the Black community of their
youth, the USCJS robs Black communities of their future leaders and role models .
With such a condition at hand entire communities are lost and the ills of the
urban ghettos are augmented. To help explain why Blacks are being locked up, and
what part of imprisonment plays in institutional racism it would be helpful to
first look at the roots of institutional racism.
Institutional Racism And It’s Roots Institutional racism was a term first coined
by Stokley Carmichael in his book Black Power. Concerning racism, Carmichael and
co-author Charles V. Hamilton made the following observation:
Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms; individual
Whites acting against individual Blacks, and acts by the total of White
community against the Black community. We call these individual racism and
The authors go on to state that it is the covertness of the second type, the
institutional racism, that makes it so dangerous. Because institutional racism
is less obvious and it is less apparent were it is emanating from (and it is
emanating from everywhere) creeps up on you and overwhelms you when you are not
looking . Institutional racism, though coined by Carmichael, existed long before
it was conceived of in Black Power. As I have stated it has existed since Blacks
were first brought to this country. The leaders of early America sought
intentionally to oppress Blacks and do so legally. Of course back then they did
not bother with probation, parole or even long prison sentences. Back then
Blacks who went against the grain and objected to his treatment in even the
slightest was simply killed. Public lynching were a crowd drawer and a crowd
pleaser in the early American South. Blacks were not imprisoned as much because
they were seen as either useful our useless. A good "field hands" or
"house niggers" tended to their chores, did as they were told, and
never caused a problem, and were therefore worth their weight in gold. An
"uppity nigger" was no good to anyone and was either beaten into
submission or put to death . This reveals a very important aspect about the
imprisonment of Blacks today. During the period of slavery in the US Blacks were
needed as workers and were therefore used as so . What are Blacks needed for
now? Despite the many accomplishments of such great inventors as Granville T.
Woods and Benjamin Bannicker, it would seem that White society would have no use
for Blacks. During the period of slavery Blacks deemed useless were killed. In
today’s society Blacks are less often killed, but are very often imprisoned. And
by virtue of doing so Blacks are again used. As I stated in the beginning
criminal justice and security is one of the largest industries in the US. The
prison system is a multi-billion dollar industry and it is rapidly increasing.
So in an attempt to isolate and control the pariah, the poor Black, an economic
niche was filled. There is almost an incentive to lock up Blacks because in
doing so two birds are killed with one stone; the threat to status quo and its
members is contained and a buck is made in the process. It seems the US has
matriculated very little from the barbarism of the early 19th century. Again
White society is using Blacks for economic gain, again the system is legitimated
and legalized by the US Government, and again the burden on Blacks is severely
The Value Of Black Life Slavery in the 90’s? A scary, but none the less real
condition. But what about when Blacks go beyond their usefulness. What about
when the threat that Blacks pose is a greater consideration than the economic
prosperity they bring? Just as in the period of slavery Blacks are killed. A
study conducted by the United States General Accounting Office (USGAO) found
that the death of Whites was the single greatest determinant in imposing capital
punishment . In other words, you are more likely to be legally killed, if you
murder a White man than if you kill a Black man. It would seem then that the
value of a White life is diametrically greater than that of a Black life. To
fully understand this you must look at it from all vantage points. If you kill a
White you are worth more dead; if you kill a Black you are worth more alive.
Another way to view the perceived greater wealth of a White life is this: a
White man who kills a Black man has a greater chance of living. A Black man who
kills a White man has a greater chance of dying. From every vantage point the
value of White life is greater than that of Black life. This is the single most
fundamental aspect of institutional racism. The belief that White life is
greater than Black life is the source of the problem. So much effort is put into
maintaining this status quo that Blacks find themselves time and time again put
in the position of subjection they are in today, and have been in since they
first arrived in the United States 400 years ago.
Looking For Solution Solutions to the problem of the institutionalization of
Black youth will not come easy. To plea for White society to stop imprisoning
our future leaders would likely fall on deaf ears. Most leaders do not look past
their term of government so they take the time to consider the long term
implications of their legislation. In other words, leaders do not consider the
results of having the future leaders of the Black communities imprisoned. Also
most do not care. In the sentencing project it was pointed out that the
"get tough" approach to crime in which there was an increase of
arrests, convictions and lengthy sentences has decreased victimization rates
less than 5% since 1973 . Despite the statistics the "get tough" trend,
which is disproportionately aimed against Blacks, has continued. What I feel the
only solution is, degrading as it may be, is for Blacks to prove their worth.
Blacks must prove that they are worth something to White society beyond the
economic niche they help fill in prison. Blacks must prove that they are a
benefit which Whites cannot do without. Once We have established ourselves as
benefactors then We can begin to break down the walls of institutional racism,
stop the digression of our communities, and truly advance.
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