I’m reading this from a different lens and I’m not sure if this is relevant but I think its important to recognize we are not all getting the same things from these readings, they have different significance/meaning for people. I am reading this as a person is familiar with drugs, jail, prisons, police raids, and poverty. I am getting background information about things I see and why/how they came to be that way. I am reading this and when I argue things by using experience, my experience is validated by the facts in her book. I am also learning some history that I wasn’t necessarily familiar with. This is not theoretical, this is real life.
Random thoughts are provided below:
So, starting with Michelle Alexander, the introduction and first chapter introduce her argument that mass incarceration is The New Jim Crow in the sense that it’s a continuation of social control in order to keep black people inferior and take away their rights. This is all institutionalized through our laws and punishments for felons, which just so happen to be young black males (who have been targeted after a declaration of war on drugs). Race is socially constructed and there are structures in place to ensure that separation continues and people are treated differently based off of that. There’s also this idea of an underclass-“a group so estranged from mainstream society that is no longer in reach of the mythical ladder of opportunity”, there is social exclusion and people see this as okay because they look at these people like they deserve it.
Random Thoughts on Alexander:
· The implications of this kind of punishment for felons are stated early on in her book where Alexander says what these people are deprived of. People cannot vote because of legalized discrimination based off the fact that they’re felons. “Once labeled a felon, the old form of discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits…” (2) The idea is that these people committed crimes; if they commit these crimes they no longer have a right to these “privileges”. It’s seen like they don't deserve it anymore, which makes it hard to fight because it’s argued in that way. I don’t know if it’s understood what this could create. When released from jail/prison (which are different) you have a harder time adjusting to the real world, your record follows you not only with jobs but also with public assistance. So if you can’t find a job when you are out of jail and the government refuses to support you, you are pretty much screwed. You are trapped in a cycle of poverty and stigma without much support leading to the kind of second class citizenship Alexander describes.
· The idea of the War on Drugs as a conspiracy is really interesting. It’s described as the effort to address rampant drug crime in poor minority neighborhoods. The fact that it was announced before crack became an issue implies this was a conspiracy. Declaring war on something that wasn’t necessarily an issue is sketchy. I also thought it was really interesting how at the time he declared the new war, less than 2 percent of the American public viewed drugs as the most important issue facing the nation. (49) As soon as I saw this I thought about the word war and what it implies. I was confused because you can’t have a war with something inanimate right? Who were the two sides fighting in this war? Drugs are merely catalysts, then later Alexander points out how there was a justification for an all-out war on an “enemy” that had been racially defined years ago. (52)
· I also thought the media’s role in this was interesting, especially after our section on photography/media. It was pointed out a few times when stalking about how the war on drugs got really popular and the social construction of stereotypes regarding black people, welfare and crack. Media’s role “saturated with images of black ‘crack whores’, ‘crack dealers’, and ‘crack babies’, seemed to confirm the worst negative racial stereotype.” (5) I thought about who’s controlling these images and stories and who’s watching it and the long term effects of this. I also thought about how this shames people on welfare and how white people seeing this felt (who are also on welfare). Did they internalize this or did they displace themselves from these images because they’re white. How about middle class or upper class black people? Were they challenging these images or did their class privilege blind them? “They repeatedly raised the issue of welfare, subtly framing it as a contest between hardworking blue collar whites and poor blacks who refused to work. Reagan’s colorblind rhetoric on crime, welfare, taxes, and statuses rights was clearly understood by white (and black) voters as having a racial dimension."
· Alexander describes this war on drugs and mass incarceration as a genocidal plan on page 5- I’m not sure what she meant by this but it thought the choice of words were interesting because genocide is intent to eliminate a specific group of people. Even though in the context of this conversation language seems menial, I still thought the choice of words needed to be reflected and explained more to make sure it wasn’t to dramatize anything, but that she really believed this was a form of genocide people were trying to do.
· Use of punishment as social control where the severity of punishment is unrelated to the actual crime patterns (7). Who decides which crime is worse? It’s frustrating because there are times where people have had more time in jail for jumping someone or stealing than rape. What crimes are seen as worse and why? In order to level it out are there people voting to see how much the minimum years should be for a particular crime?
· Prison doesn’t deter crime so why the heavy reliance on it to help decrease some of the crimes?
· I’m not sure I agree with one of her statements on page 9. She said that virtually every progressive national civil rights organization rallied in defense of affirmative action leading the public to believe affirmative action is the main battlefront in the US. I thought that was an overgeneralization even though I don't know much, I know there are organizations that fight hard for health care, jobs, and education. Also, on the next page she lists all the issues people were discussing, besides affirmative action. Although criminal justice reform wasn’t a part of the fight, I guess that doesn’t mean you should say they all only focus on affirmative action because I felt like she was delegitimizing or ignoring all the other work these organizations were doing. Maybe I just read it weird.
· Barack Obama and Oprah with black exceptionalism is always a conversation that gets intense. I guess referring to Rachel’s blog post, it seems like the American dream is achievable since we have those few people make it. They are not a reflection of the entire race though, and there were specific circumstances that allowed them to move across class. I like the way Alexander acknowledges their strides yet critiques it without critiquing them as individuals. There are Obamas and Oprah’s but that shouldn’t make people dismiss the issues that still exist in society for black people.
· The focus on eliminating the risk of future alliances between black slaves and poor whites was really interesting. Especially when thinking about the Poor Movement and the way that was dismantled. Every time there’s hope for building coalitions with intersectional oppression something comes up that further the gap and difference between people.
· Constitution is colorblind, what does it say about our country. Black people were not really people so the rights didn’t necessarily apply to them.
· Vagrancy laws, what’s the difference between rules and legit crimes?
· Interesting to think about with the enforcing these rules where the black people had to take their cases to federal courts, waste their time, money, risk threats and violence. It wasn’t worth it. (30)Do you think this still applies to things that happen today?
· Convict leasing? Is this for real? Selling these people,, were they comfortable doing this to white people as well/ were they auctioned off/ the people were treated badly because they were seen as replaceable, disposable tools. Slavery remained an appropriate as punishment for a crime. I was just really upset about it. It also made me think about if white people were a part of this leasing as well? Who practiced this, and where? From what Alexander said it didn’t seem like anyone was regulating the treatment of prisoners being leased, they had no protection, that’s dehumanizing and just wrong.
· I didn’t understand what she was talking about on p. 32. I didn’t completely understand what was happening with the conservatives blaming liberals for the aggressive ‘war’ with black people. Were they arguing that this hostility they’re facing I because the liberals are waging rights in the wrong way? I’m not sure.
· Arguing civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime because people were choosing which laws follow and not. Harsh responses to lawbreakers, it’s funny because the crimes against these people are worse than the crimes they’re actually committing.
· FBI antidrug funding increased from $8 million to $95 million. This got me really upset because we waste so much money on things that are just selfish and stupid.
· This is a little personal but this is slowly helping me make sense of some of the things I see in real life. For example I live in the south Bronx, in Hunt’s Point which is 640 acres, with over ½ the population below the poverty line, 90% Black and Latino. Three detention centers exist: Spofford Juvenile Center, Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center and Rikers Island which is between the Bronx and Queens. There was also rallying to prevent another jail to be made. In addition to that, in this area the narcotics police bought three apartment buildings (621-624 Manida Street) in order to catch those who sell and use drugs. I thought about how that money could’ve gone to books for a school but instead we prioritize drugs. We prioritize wars, those outside the US and inside, we prioritize/fund terrorism and it’s beyond frustrating. The book is helping me make sense of why we have so many jails in such a small area that’s poor and filled with people of color. It’s an interesting argument she’s making, and I’m not completely convinced but look forward to the rest of the book.
That Kafka story was really sad to me. That was my initial reaction. I’m still processing the story though. (it takes me a while sometimes)