This week’s readings dealt with the elaborate systems of control in place in our society, which are embedded, discriminatory, biased, and powerful suggesting that we need to move away from ideas such as reforms or reorganizations and towards a revolution. Alexander discusses this system of control through the criminal justice system, claiming that it is wrought with political disenfranchisement and legalized discrimination in multiple realms. (Alexander 191) Although these ideas have been discussed throughout Alexander’s book, what became apparent in chapter 5 and the other readings is that these systems that perpetuate racial discrimination are not new but rather have adapted to modern times. These systems, such as The Jim Crow Laws and the present justice system, have consistently defined race in different time periods. Black once meant slave, but now means criminal (Alexander, 193). The issue remains then that not only do these issues exist, but they are so embedded into our society and culture that they continue to morph and change in order to get around the new laws created to attempt to eradicate racial discrimination. By having prisoners “out of site, out of mind” both within the prison and the places they tend to be released to afterwards, our society becomes blind to the reality behind what our criminal justice system is doing: using its power, in ways that are not explicitly discriminatory, to keep blacks repressed (Alexander, 183) Alexander discusses Young’s birdcage example explaining how each wire represents a different way of oppressing an individual, and the multiple wires woven together build a trap almost impossible to escape from (Alexander, 184). In my opinion, one main issue that keeps perpetuating this birdcage of oppression, and therefore allowing discrimination of different races to occur, is the ignorance of our society. Perhaps we claim knowledge of overarching problems like the rate of mass incarceration, but the level and numerous subsystems (how arrests, prosecution, imprisonment etc. works) that deepen the discrimination often remain invisible. This is not to shame anyone for not knowing, for I myself am naïve in many areas. So what then needs to happen if these systems keep getting “fixed” and then resurface? Jackson would state that a revolution, not reform, should to occur.
Perhaps the issue with our solutions to fix inequalities is that we just rearrange systems in place, when what we need to do is completely change them. As Jackson states, “revolution within a modern industrial capitalist society can only mean the overthrow of all existing property relations and the destruction of all institutions that directly or indirectly support existing property relations.” (Jackson, 7) Reform, he claims, is merely reordering and reshaping the systems that are already in place. What needs to happen is the creation of a completely new form of economics and culture, built from a recognition that it is not only the actual practices in place that are discriminatory, but the systems themselves. Jackson calls for an appreciation of improvements from the past and the attempts made to fight for equality, but also demands new actions that do not rely on old practices; actions that tend to hold more force and violence, as it is time to stop using words and time to fight. (Jackson, 12) In order to deal with some of the ignorance I mentioned above, people need to work on raising consciousness not only on the discrimination and oppression that is occurring, but also the idea that each person is part of a universal action and interaction. (Jackson, 22) Revolutions rely on the connectedness of all those involved to challenge and expose the discrimination such as the criminal justice system. However, revolutions are not always pretty things, and there also needs to be an acceptance that systems need to completely change, an idea that will inevitably be met with large resistance.
What strikes me the most when discussing ideas such as the discrimination embedded in the criminal justice system and the revolution needed to change these systems is how easy it is to forget the fact that you are talking about people and the treatment they are receiving. As Newton discusses, people are not inanimate objects but are beings that are filled with human spirit, beliefs, and ideas of freedom. When we discriminate and incarcerate people in prisons, we are not just locking up a body behind bars, but a mind as well. This is where our criminal justice system becomes problematic if people who should not be behind bars are put there. Newton claims that, “the human whole is much greater than the sum of its parts” and “walls, bars, and guards cannot conquer or hold down an idea”, yet those same bars that trap someone and give them a prison label can break down that human spirit. I begin to really see the importance of not just looking at these discussions as ones involving themes, systems, and policies, but directly affecting the lives of many human beings.