This article was especially hard for me to write, because even though I am extremely passionate about racism in the United States, I thought it would be hypocritical to talk about the struggles of African-Americans because I am African, and my ancestors did not experience the lasting stigmatization that slavery and Jim Crow laws produced. I decided to follow my gut and write about this predicament because before any individual is African or African-American, he/she is Black. The police shot Ahmadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, in 1999. I have two brothers who live in the United States, and I continually fear for their lives, because if one day police brutality is exerted on them, the question of whether they are African or African-American is secondary.
I had always thought that racism didn’t exist if it wasn’t blatant and in-your-face racism (cue lynching and racial slurs). I just recently realized that the American system has taken it to a whole new level. It is now systemized racism, such as denying you a job based solely on the name listed on your application, or the continuous exertion of cruelty by the American police on Black people. America has succeeded in keeping Black people second-hand citizens by putting them in the poorest neighborhoods, giving them the lowest paid jobs, subjecting them to police brutality by trigger-happy policemen, and the mass incarceration of Black men by the justice department. This phenomenon is not limited to the above examples mentioned; there are various other examples in which institutionalized racism has become the new Jim Crow.
I got a ticket for not wearing a seat belt in March of this year. This is the first time I have ever had a run-in with law enforcement since I’ve been in this country, which by the way I thought was pretty impressive on my part. I was given the option of paying a fine of $200 or doing 20 hours of community service. As a frugal college student, I of course picked the latter. My job was to work at a Food Bank located in the town I live in. It was so strenuous and exhausting that it will forever be a reminder to always wear a seat-belt every time I get into a car. If there is any consolation though, it is that I was given the opportunity to form new relationships with people.
Jo is a 57-year old White woman who is a lively, exuberant, fun-to-be-with, former meth addict, and self-proclaimed “pothead”. “Momma Jo”, as she is fondly called, was sentenced to 8 years in prison for dealing and using meth but was granted parole after serving 3 years. She has managed to accumulate various tickets and was put in jail for not paying them. She pleaded with the judge to let her work off her tickets and that’s why I found her at the Food Bank when I did. Gavin is a 13-year old bi-racial teen that has a Mexican mother and a Black English father who immigrated to the United States in his twenties. The Truancy Court for missing more than 30 days of school the entire school term sentenced Gavin to forty hours of community service.
I struck up a conversation with him because I wondered why such a young boy would be made to perform such debilitating work, and for long hours. His father is in prison serving an 8-year term for being in possession of 2 grams of marijuana, and at the time of his arrest was a first-time offender. His father has been in jail for four years and Gavin hasn’t seen him in two. He was supposed to be eligible for parole after four years but was denied because the prison authorities said he got into a fight, which Gavin’s father has attested to being false. His mother goes to work till about five in the evening, so she was not aware that Gavin was skipping school. I have read and watched countless accounts of systemized racism, but to see and hear it so vividly and explicitly more than dumbfounded me. Why is Gavin’s father, a first-time offender, serving an 8-year prison term for being in possession of marijuana, but Jo is out in three years for dealing and using meth? Hearing that story added fuel to my already burning desire to practice law.
America has no interest in making African-Americans full citizens (even though it was established in theory by the passage of the fourteenth amendment), and She continues to reiterate that message each and everyday. The War on Drugs, started by president Richard Nixon is a sham. It simply is a euphemism for “let’s keep majority of Black men in prison and make it an endless cycle, so we can keep their no-good “thuggery” selves away from the society.”
The War on Drugs is focused on the color of the person involved and not the drug use itself. Since it was established in 1971, the federal government has spent an excessive amount of money in keeping Black men incarcerated; the pragmatic solution to this so-called War on Drugs would be to look into the rehabilitation of the drug user and to tackle the underlying problems that led to the drug use in the first place. You want an example? Here is one: The sentence attached to possession of one gram of cocaine and one gram of crack is very different. The sentence on crack is much harsher. The government knows that majority of crack use is associated with Blacks hence the harsh sentencing.
This is not the first time the government has succeeded in targeting minorities by restricting drug use. Chinese immigrants brought opiates with them when they immigrated to America, and before the turn of the twentieth country the government banned it. Mexican immigrants also introduced recreational marijuana to the United States in the early twentieth century, but it was banned by the federal government soon after. Tobacco, which remains the leading cause of lung cancer and other terminal illnesses, is still legal.
Why is it that Black people constitute more than half of the prison population, in a country where they account for less than fifteen percent of the entire population? This is where White folks come in to justify the system. They give ludicrous reasons that go along the lines of “Black people are lazy and need to get off the welfare system”, give instances of Black-on-Black crime, say Black people are racist are well, and some even go as far as saying that White Privilege is a myth. Newsflash: Black people are not, and will never, be racist. They can be prejudiced for all intents and purposes, but not racist. The reason why is that racism is always reinforced and perpetuated by the government, and the government is controlled by White people.
Some White folks say they have worked very hard to get to where they are so white privilege does not apply to them. I do not question the amount of work that they have put in to arrive at where they are, but that does not negate the fact that white privilege very much applies to them. No matter how hard a White individual works, a Person of Color would have to work twice as hard.
The American system has reduced a lot of the Black population to inner cities and ghetto worthy people. The by-product of this is Black-on-Black crime. Gavin has no father figure in his life to help set his ways straight, and his mother has been forced to become a single parent who has to work extra hard to provide income for the family. The result is the lack of an authority figure in the life of the young boy. He was at a time suspended for punching his principal in the face. If he keeps up with this behavior, it is no surprise if he joins his father in prison by the time he’s 18. Prison has become a breeding ground for generations of Black men, under the guise of ending the War on Drugs.
This next message goes out to White folks: When you are trying to defend yourself as to why you cannot be or are not racist, don’t tell me it’s because you have one or two Black friends. That’s beyond unreasonable. Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most racist presidents in the twentieth century, sat down to have tea with Booker T. Washington. The system is satisfied with having one or two Black folks in power (I use power very loosely.) However, it becomes a problem when that number starts to increase and they start to feel threatened. The system was not designed to protect us; no wonder it is taking centuries to undo the disastrous effects that racism continues to expend in this country.
For those who complain that we always use the race card, that’s because it is valid. We are not going to sit down and accept our positions as second-hand citizens. Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, Marcus Gravy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, to mention a few, did not sit down and resign to their fate. It is because of them we are here. So we will continue to fight, until we see change.