In doing last Thursday’s reading as well as this weeks reading, I began to form a connection between Lind’s article Imprisoning Women: The Unintended Victims of Mass Imprisonment and Alexander’s chapter “The New Jim Crow.” The connection I formed was how the unintended imprisonment of mass amounts of women consequently affects black youth and ultimately leads to the continuation of the caste system. Alexander has consistently made the point the majority of people in jail are black men; however if we are to consider Lind’s point that the War on Drugs has also led to substantially more women ending up in jails, ultimately many black youth are left without families. Therefore Alexander’s argument that, “throughout the black community, there is widespread awareness that black ghetto youth have few, if any, realistic options, and therefore dealing drugs can be an irresistible temptation (Alexander, 2010, p. 209),” is just the inevitable out growth of a system that targets all people residing in inner cities and creates a pattern in which others are forced into drugs to survive. Alexander goes on to argue that, “for ghetto youth, drug sales…are often a means of survival, a means of helping to feed and clothe themselves and their families. The fact that this “career” path leads almost inevitably to jail is often understood as an unfortunate fact of life, part of what it means to be poor and black in America (Alexander, 2010, p. 209).” This should not be a fact of life. In a country that promotes equality for all, it should not be that the fact of life for most white suburban kids that they will get an education and go to college, but for others the fact of life is a bad education with the better option being to start a life outside of school. Therefore, the connection I am beginning to make is that the new caste system is a multi-faceted system that perpetuates and builds off of it’s many different sections.
If one were to stop and think about the implications of this system, it becomes evident that it is not just mass incarceration, but a total system that allows mass incarceration to go unquestioned. For example, we know that the majority of black men are in prisons, but as more black women are ending up in jail, black youth are forced into situations in which getting involved with drugs is not necessarily something they want to do but something they need to do to survive. While we could argue that if they were to stay in school and get an education then maybe the system could change, it is hard to think about staying in a failing school in which the odds are also against you, as a solution to the problem. Furthermore as Alexander uses Tommie Selby’s argument, “individuals are forced to make choices in an environment they did not choose. They would surely prefer to have a broad array of good opportunities (Alexander, 2010, p. 217).” Therefore people are being forced to make decisions they do not want to make as a result of the conditions the rest of society has provided them with. As Alexander says, “the genius of the current caste system…is that it appears voluntary (Alexander, 2010, p. 215).” It is genius precisely because it seems voluntary and therefore it goes unquestioned by those in positions of power, predominantely whites who are unaffected by such conditions. If those in power do not see a problem, then there is no need to “fix” anything; however there is nothing voluntary about a system that has been created to promote one group’s status in society and take away from others. Furthermore, it is easy for outsiders to say they should just not sell drugs or be involved in crime if they know the negative outcomes, but is that outcome worse than the conditions of inequality that are already being subject to? And what happens when the only option many of the black youth are left with is crime?
Our capitalist society is built off a need for an underclass. It is easy for this to remain true under the current system in which blacks end up in jail a disproportionate amount. Ultimately this leads me to consider Alexander’s use of Tommie Selby’s question of who’s responsibility is it to provide a better set of circumstances to people suffering in this caste system? And furthermore to what extent is this actually possible? This is inevitably a question of morals. My argument would fall into a category of we are all to some extent responsible and also are all responsible to provide better circumstances; however this is not an easy task as we would not be competing with individuals, we are competing against a system that has been embedded within the structure of our society. Furthermore, the changes that would need to occur, as Jackson argues, would involve a redistribution of the properties, which inevitably means a change in elite status. Therefore, after reading Jackson, it seems as though the only real answer is for a mass change to occur, but the likely hood that mass changes will occur is slim. Therefore my closing question is, to what extent are those in positions such as ours (educated, in college at a private university) responsible for changing these conditions? While I am a proponent of education for all, merely changing who can and will be educated does not seem like enough in this situation. But would reallocating funds from prisons to education be the realistic start for change in our society?