Saturday, April 03, 2010

Facts of Systemic Racism

"I continue to believe that in this country the opposite of poverty is not wealth. I really don't think that's what we're talking about. I think in America, the opposite of poverty is justice." ~Bryan Stevenson

As soon as I heard that quote, I stopped and had to reflect on that. "The opposite of poverty is justice." Wow. It's not wealth we're striving for to keep someone out of poverty. It's justice. That's powerful.

You can watch the entire segment on this week's Bill Moyers Journal.

Since Monday is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the segment takes time to point out his involvement in the Poor People's Campaign right before he was killed. King recognized that how we all deal with poverty was and is an even bigger obstacle than dealing with race, though the two often go hand in hand. I have often heard it said that his fight for justice among the poor is what led to his death.

Poverty and racism are systemic issues. Yet, despite my understanding of that, I often revert to challenging people to take personal responsibility. I tend to believe that my weakness in this area is because I have not had to experience that systemic discrimination and injustice on a personal level. While personal responsibility and how people interact with others is definitely part of it, there must be a deeper understanding of how the problems are ingrained in our society and need to be dealt with in order for us to change course.

On Bill Moyers Journal, Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander do a great job of pointing out how it is so ingrained in the fabric of our existence.

Did you know that...
  • In 2004 Alabama tried to get rid of segregation language in the state constitution, and a majority of people in Alabama voted to keep that language in that prohibits black and white kids from going to school together?
  • Richard Nixon's Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman made it a point to figure out a way to make black people appear to be the problem stating, "The whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."
  • Over the last 35 years, there haven't been tremendous fluctuations in the violent crime rate in this country, yet we've gone from 300 thousand people in jails and prison in 1972, to 2.3 million people in jails and prisons today. With nearly 5 million people on probation and parole. 
  • Black people are 13 percent of the population of this country. They're about 14 percent of the drug users. But they end up being about 60 percent of the people sent to prison.
  • If you are a black man, you have a 32 percent chance you're going to jail or prison, but if you live in a poor and/or minority community, urban community, rural community, it could be 60 or 70 percent.
  • The rates of drug use are about the same among all racial groups. But also, the rates of drug sales are about the same among people of all different races as well.
  • The Reagan Administration actually hired staff whose job it was to publicize crack babies, crack dealers in inner city communities, in the hope that these images would build public support for the drug war and persuade Congress to devote millions of more dollars to the war. 
  • In some states, we spend $45,000 a year to keep a 19-year-old in prison for the next 30 years (or $1,350,000) for drug possession, yet we're only willing to spend about $1500-$4500 a year to educate a child in his younger years.
It always amazes me when I hear quotes and statistics that demonstrates the bias in our country. We want to believe that racism is not our problem...that we didn't create it. We want to believe racism is a misconstrued perception by people of color. But the reality is that people of color have seen and heard...and still see and hear...what we overlook because statements like that of Richard Nixon's Chief of Staff wasn't calling me the problem, but was placing the blame on someone else. The fact that Ronald Reagan hired a staff to publicize the worst parts of the inner city kept the focus off of the similar problems in the rural, white area where I grew up.

Though all of the bullet points I stated disturb me, what completely baffles me is why we would be willing to spend $45,000 per year on a kid for 30 years to keep him/her locked up in a cell, but are not willing to invest even half of that in his childhood education. And from being in the inner city schools, I can guarantee that if that much money was spent on high quality learning opportunities, many things would be different for the children growing up in the inner city.
Post a Comment