The Incarceration of Black Men in America

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

America has the world’s highest rate of incarceration, currently 738 per 100,000. Our nearest competitor for this dubious distinction is the Russian Federation with 607 and Cuba with 487. “The US incarcerates at a rate 4 to 7 times higher than other western nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany and up to 32 times higher than nations with the lowest rates such as Nepal, Nigeria, and India.”                                                                                                                                           Despite possible protestations that this is because we have the best law enforcement, my sense is that the reasons lie more in the system, than those who enforce it. No one ever lost an election in America because of the perception they “were tough on crime”.

“Race: Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.”

Despite possible protestations that this is because we have the best law enforcement, my sense is that the reasons lie more in the system, than those who enforce it. No one ever lost an election in America because of the perception they “were tough on crime”. “Race: Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.”

These two sets of statistics when viewed together tell a terrible tale of how racial oppression still exists in this country despite our Black President and Black Attorney General. This Administration hasn’t caused of this problem, but they  don’t seem to have made any progress dealing with it. We do know that there has been a widespread effort to play down the racial division that continues to plague this country. This continues despite Civil Rights Laws, Martin Luther King’s Birthday and TV beer commercials that always include at least one black male friend enjoying the camaraderie. Clearly there is a disconnect between how we Americans want to see ourselves and the reality for many Black males. I’m focusing on the problem of black males in this piece, rather than the general oppression of Black people, because the effect of this process is a function of the general racist climate of this country and is a major contributor to the continuance of this oppression. There have often been discussions on this blog about the devastating effects of the “War on Drugs” and this quote is illustrative of the tenor of theses discussions. “Nationwide, black males convicted of drug felonies in state courts are sentenced to prison 52 percent of the time, while white males are sentenced to prison only 34 percent of the time. The ratio for women is similar – 41 percent of black female felony drug offenders are sentenced to  prison, as compared to 24 percent of white females. With respect to violent offenses, 74 percent of  black male convicted felons serve prison time, as opposed to only 60 percent of white male convicted felons. With respect to all felonies, 58 percent of black male convicted felons, as opposed to 45 percent of white men, serve prison sentences”.                                                                                                                                                                           sentencing.html                                                                     

It is clear to me that racism exists today in America, despite supposed gains and that this disparity in the treatment of race is not only devastating to Black people, but its continuance is disastrous for our entire society. The degeneration of our political system during the last five decades may not be solely due to racial prejudice, but those who have helped bring it about certainly have used racism to empower their viewpoints, even as their rhetoric has shifted from overt to covert. I’m moved to write this because I believe that unless this problem becomes accepted in our public consciousness, there will be no escape from the downward trend of our nation towards political and economic disaster.

I’ve presented enough evidence of the racialist tendency of our system and the reader either will accept what it suggests, or substitute their own pre-judgments of what these statistics mean. My discussion focuses on how this reality impacts upon Black people in America and thus impacts us all, despite our race and/or ethnicity. What set me off thinking about this was a TV Program called “Our America” with Lisa Ling. The episode was entitled “The Incarceration Generation”.

Personally, this episode brought up an admixture of tears and anger as I watched. It showed the life arcs of some Black males about to be released from prison, the effects on their families of their incarceration and then by their release. The premise, which I endorse, is that this generation of jailed Black men will, and has already impacted on the coming generation of Black men. The message was we must somehow stop this cycle, but the solution to stopping the cycle is not clear macro-cosmically and too slow if change is measured person by person.

As much as I’m prone to pontification, I really can see only one way that this continued racism is ever going to change. To the possible delight of our more conservative and/or libertarian commenter’s, I don’t believe that the first step towards this change would benefit from government intervention via legislation or fiat. While the original issue decided in “Brown vs. Board of Education“, that Blacks and Whites were receiving unequal schooling due to segregation and unequal funding, the general judicial remedy which became School Busing was not only in hindsight a failure, but actually increased tension between races and diminished White support for Civil Rights. It was a decision that tried to solve the problem cheaply, rather than first ensuring that the funding for Black and White (indeed all) schoolchildren was equivalent. How much more elegant to have hoisted the segregationists on their own petard of “separate but equal”, than to have demanded and overseen that they indeed provided equal funding

and support to Black schools. I understand that this was not the remedy being requested in this suit, but looking back it might have been a far more effective strategy. All of the gains in White sympathy for the struggle of Black people for their Constitutional freedom, were negated when the sad results of hundreds of years of slavery was dumped upon the educational systems specifically of the working classes. It resulted in the “Southern Strategy” that got Richard Nixon elected, using code words in place of outright racist rhetoric. Fighting crime became the code for cracking down on Blacks and the upward spiral of the incarceration of Americans began with the inception of the ridiculous “War on Drugs”. When people are steeped in false, bigoted notions of the “other”,  reinforced by a corporate media that finds sensationalizing crime garners profits, minds won’t be changed by legislation.

Certainly, steps must be taken to end the “War on Drugs”, to deal with racist law enforcement issues and to ensure that each American, regardless of skin color and/or ethnicity, is afforded equal rights under our Constitution. But first, before any palliatives are presented by our politicians, the problem of America’s continuing racism and its disproportionate effect on Black males must be brought into the open, discussed and hopefully acknowledged. Without that nothing changes since racism cannot be obliterated by enforcement, it merely morphs underground where it nevertheless festers. It is preferable to directly know ones’ enemies by their words, than to have those beliefs covered up.

Among the great ironies of modern America is how bigots have learned to couch their bigotry in terms that are inherently dishonest, yet provide them verbal cover when challenged. At times, among the less controlled public voices like Limbaugh or Beck it, their bigotry comes through, but even then they will cry foul if they are called on it and pretend that charging them with bigotry is absurd and bigoted in itself. When people are accused of “playing the race card”, the accuser is probably racist, knowingly or unknowingly. I think that many refuse to personally acknowledge their own bigotry, knowing rationally it is wrong, yet they find comfort and cover in the hypocrisy of code words and denial, from even themselves.

The other effect of incarceration of Black men disproportionately, is that it then becomes extremely difficult to obtain jobs after their release. As one man put it on the Lisa Ling show “Would you hire a former felon?”. We’ve set up a system where recidivism is the norm for all prisoners and this is mainly because after serving ones sentence, there are far less opportunities to find gainful employment. I know this from personal experience since my father served time for a “white collar” crime before my birth and his whole working/economic life was affected until his death 20 years later. He was White, had a massive vocabulary and a dynamic personality. He could never get credit and a family member had to co-sign in order to get a mortgage for our house. My father earned a good living as a car salesman, but his many attempts at starting his own business was affected by an inability to obtain adequate financing due to his prior incarceration. My father had many advantages over many black men with criminal histories, but the primary one was his skin color

When you perpetuate a system that incarcerates such a large swath of the Black male population, sentences them disproportionately to other racial/ethnic groups and prevents them from going straight after they’ve served their time, you create instability and chaos within the Black community. The evil history of slavery and racism remains with us today. Until we acknowledge the reality of how it perpetuates itself, it will never cease and our country will continue its’ downward spiral of economic disparity and debilitating racial/ethnic tension.

117 thoughts on “The Incarceration of Black Men in America”

  1. Being a sensitive, kind hearted person doesn’t change statistics! “It is what it is” and we can only be accountable for our own actions, not anyone else’s. People have to want to better themselves and because we live in America there are opportunites and programs available to help low income families further their education if they would like to. If you don’t like your situation or your family trend, change it.

  2. John Q & A. Yours –

    From the perspective of someone in the trenches, let me say you are both right – and both wrong.

    Yes, cops do indeed focus on some neighborhoods more than others, and in the policing of these ‘hoods, some very nice folks get mistreated daily by stormtroopers with particularly despicable attitudes. And that fact is indisputable. I know, because for three decades I’ve looked into a ton of smashed faces, not all of which were deserving.

    These neighborhoods get the focus of the stormtroopers because they happen to be invested with a ton of monstrous inhumanity to it’s law-abiding residents. Does the crap these cops wade into daily rub off on their attitudes? Damn right does. How could it not? Is that a good thing? Of course not. It’s simple animal nature.

    The only question – to my mind – is, would society be better off sending Boy Scouts into the melee?

    I don’t pretend to know the answer. Hell, maybe we ought to give it a try.

  3. John Q,

    You are dead wrong….That I can promise you…People won’t believe that the cops target some neighborhoods…

  4. It couldn’t be because they are committing crimes, could it? No, must be a deep dark political agenda the white devil has against the black man. Give me a break. Don’t give police a reason to arrest you and they won’t.

  5. Quoted from above… “6th the main reason so many Black men, women, or darker color people are in Jail is because the White Man is Scared. They know whatever they realize what was Taken or Stolen from them; One Day Justice will finally Come Around and get back to them.”

    Had a conversation today with the elderly white gentleman that had such a hearty laugh at my comment that whites are the biggest illegals of all.

    I mentioned how I was just recently becoming aware of how deeply the pain still runs in native Americans from the sufferings and injustice they received at white people hands.

    “Oh yeah,” said he. “But they have to realize, that’s all in the past and they can’t keep hoping they’ll get anything back, or anything for free.”

    Was so dismayed to hear that sentiment from such a lively, wonderful old gentleman. I sensed the presence of racism from the beginning to end of his spiel, and would be surprised if the said gentleman actually recognized himself as such.

    But indeed, that is the fear behind the silence. An injustice so far beyond words must be recompensed, and the very idea is more than people are willing to acknowledge.

    I asked many natives, “how can white people repair this great evil they have done to native people?” All but one said, “I don’t know.” But there was one who replied, “give us our land back. What I mean is, make our reservations bigger. And also give us the money from the National Parks.” So then I asked, “who is a native that should receive this money? What percent native blood?” And he replied, “25%.”

    1. Nate that’s exactly why I said I need a lawyer to represent me because as fate would have it, my employer owns my great, grandfather and mothers land and I can prove I’m at least 25% Nanticoke American Indian. The only way to get recognition and honor for the long trail of blood sweat and tears and things like the French and American Indian War is to rewrite the History that was wrote and show exactly who was at fault. I’m pretty sure Marylands Constitution says something about being Grateful to God and a New World to Come. Wouldnt that be awesome if its just in time for a Dawn of Democracy and Hopi Indian 2012 Prophesy. Then things can return to the old ways so a Her It Age can begin? Peace Out

  6. “It takes a lot to be able to Brainwash People.”

    Not as much as you’d think. Just a lie repeated enough times.

    “Besides that; I already told you what I think White people FEAR, and so did Michael Moore I’m sure.”

    I’m not sure how Moore got into this conversation, but the salient point of my statement about Bachmann had to do with her being an elitist foremost. She’d have signed the same pledge if she was black. Racism ultimately isn’t about race, it’s about class – one class playing races against each other so they can’t unite and end their classes social oppression and thievery. White has less to do with than green does.

    1. Youre Right about telling a lie over and over to brainwash folks. That why Zig Ziglar went on tour with GW Bush when he got out of office. I probably would have fought you to the death about the same thing happening if MB were Black; until I saw, heard and read what Herman Cain had to say. Unfortunately what you dont see until its too late is how it affects and effects people who say to themselves; that they just cant wait to be King

  7. It really doesnt matter Gene because most people will do wrong to another if its been done to them. It takes a lot to be able to Brainwash People. Besides that; I already told you what I think White people FEAR, and so did Michael Moore I’m sure.

    Yes, MB is an idiot and so is Her hubby, but who are the ones or entity allowing Her or Her kind to spread such stupid racist shittim … a 4letter word taken from the bible.

  8. Also, Michelle Bachmann is an idiot . . . and she’s batshit insane on top of it. All you’ve shown is that stupidity has no racial boundary. But she is a practitioner of racist propaganda. She is the verb – the applied part of the applied science of psychology – but the object of her study and the goals of her application are race and the utilization of race to create dissent and division. Do you know what people like her fear the most? That Americans of all colors will see through the bullshit to see the truth that fermenting racial division is about maintaining social status and wealth for the few by keeping the masses fighting one another instead of fighting for social justice that the machinations of the 1% deprive from We the People.

  9. Sorry, BurntOffering, but words have meaning and grammar has rules.

    Feel free to confuse verb and object all you like, but rest assured, the confusion here is entirely yours as to what constitutes science.

    As to black on black racism? That’s always been a conundrum that a minority with a history of being discriminated against would respond with yet more racism and internally directed toward people nominally their own. It just tells me that dumb doesn’t have a color correlation any more than smart does.

    As to culinary “perfections”, they are a cultural bias. For example, let’s look at barbecue. There is a strong argument that black cooks perfected barbecue in America; a double cultural bias. I’d even go so far as to say I can even name the black man who did it; Arthur Bryant. However, someone from China might argue that the Cantonese perfected barbecue (called char siu); also a double cultural bias. The bottom line is that people tend to like the foods they were raised on, but perfection is a relative and personal distinction. One man’s excellent barbecue is another man’s McRib. The only objective criteria for perfection in food preparation is skill in execution of technique as taste is both personal and culturally influenced. If you want to think blacks perfected M&C, you are free to adopt that bias just as I have adopted a bias for Bryant’s barbecue, but people will differ. That doesn’t make them right or you wrong, it just means you have different tastes. I’ve eaten more than my share of M&C made by people of all colors and what I’ve found is that my idea of perfection in the dish doesn’t lie along racial lines but rather on age lines: grandma makes it best no matter her color. I loved my grandmother’s mac and I loved the mac I used to get at Ruby’s Soul Food. Both about the same age, my grandmother was white, Ruby was black and the funny thing of it was is that their mac and cheese was practically indistinguishable from each others. I loved both women and I loved both of their dishes. What brings people together over food is sharing – both the food itself and the traditions which spawned it. It is a good way to bring cultures together. Just because I prefer Bryant’s barbecue doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a good plate of char siu and even appreciate its differences in both preparation and cultural roots. Some of the best dishes in the world have something in common no matter their disparate cultural backgrounds: they are poor food – dishes mastered by people taking sparse and/or cheap ingredients and maximizing the flavor, cooked with love. This is the origin of barbecue be it one of the many American styles or various Chinese styles – cheap cuts of beef and pork slow cooked and carefully seasoned to maximize flavor and make what could be a tough nasty cut into something tender and juicy. As any chef will tell you, passion is important to cooking and there is no passion quite like love.

  10. Google this on Willie(William)Lynch 1712 Speech and the making of a Slave and one more thing; Part of the Racism in this nation comes from People like Michelle Bachman who signed a Pledge that stated; “African Americans were more likely born in a two parent household during slavery than under the Obama Administration.

  11. yes racism is a sciences and it was studied and used for at least 50 years against Black people in America. Slave masters were told to distinguish the light from the dark giving preference to the Light Darkie for the House chores, and the Black ones left out in the flied to to use them as studs. Of course 9 times out of 10 the light one were the Master own children, but I digress. Just this very small part of the science taught is still alive today in Black American households. Now other races wouldnt know that if you dont know any black people which brings me back to the point I started with about Macaroni & Cheese. Although it was not developed by Black, they were just able to perfect it, just like they did with Fried Chicken, Barbecue and Chitterlings.

  12. Gene,

    As I have said to you before…. You can dislike someone because of the way they are and still be considered a racist. You can dislike someone for what they represent, but still like the person. There are some folks out there that dislike you because of who you support for office. Unfortunatly these folks have not gotten past 8th grade who’s who….

    In the big scheme of things and as Jim Morrison has said in his unauthorized biography….(I am pretty sure) that “no on gets out of here alive”…

    I add one thing to this… We will more likely be remembered for what we did did rather than what we said we did….

  13. BurntOffering,

    “Well Gene, I still disagree because I think prejudice can be due to a persons traditions, religion, and fact they never saw or knew anything else.”

    This is addressing causation, not the meaning of the word. The causation of prejudice is manifold, it is even in some cases perhaps justifiable, but in the end it is always irrational as it rests on the fallacy of composition (something true of part of a whole must also be true of the whole – good and bad people come in every color ergo there is no homogeneity of action based on color) and the fallacy of the single cause (in the case of racism that race is the determinative factor in undesirable or bad behavior of an individual instead of the multiple causes of character, education, upbringing, cultural context, circumstance, etc.).

    “Racism is a science designed to keep all who are not like you out”.

    Racism is not a science.

    Science is the state of knowing, knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding, a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study (arguably the study of racism can be a science, but to call racism a science confuses verb and object – see below*), something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge (again, see below *), knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through the scientific method, such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena (natural sciences), or a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws (applied sciences).

    Racism is simply a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race that manifests as racial prejudice or discrimination.

    *Now the manipulation of that belief to foster dissent and division along racial lines? That is an applied science. The science of applied psychology and one of that science’s associated tools for manipulating large numbers of people, propaganda, to achieve a desired outcome. Ergo racially based propaganda is an exercise in applied science, but racism and its use for political and social division and disruption are the objects of study in an area of applied psychology but racism is not a science proper.

    Sorry. This is nothing personal. At the core we agree that racism is both stupid and undesirable and that is the important thing. I just have a thing about the meanings of words. Call it an advanced form of linguistic OCD. 😀

  14. This has long been a subject near and dear to my heart and one I have spent years trying to understand and remedy.

    I have read every post thus far and find no mention of Frances Cress Welsing, who has, in my opinion, given the best explanation of this historically persistent and ever ongoing miscarriage of justice.

    ” … if you are classified as “non-white” under the conditions of white supremacy domination, when the hammer of white supremacy falls, you will be under that hammer.” (Frances Cress Welsing)

    “The system of white racism must take power from the Black man if there is going to be White genetic survival,” stated Dr. Welsing. “The attack,” she continued, “must center on the Black man, because he does have a weapon, it’s called dominant genetic power.” When addressing the continuous murdering of Black men in this society she stated, that “if it’s happening over and over again, it implies intentionality.” (Frances Cress Welsing)

    There is much to be learned from this stellar Black scholar … start here with one young woman’s review of a lecture Dr. Welsing gave in Dec. 2010:

  15. Well Gene, I still disagree because I think prejudice can be due to a persons traditions, religion, and fact they never saw or knew anything else. Racism is a science designed to keep all who are not like you out (white, chineese, french, italians in the mafia, hence the words sexism, nepotism, anti semitism, etc.

    We used to put truly bad folks in jail, for numbers running, running moon shine, gambling etc….Then they cleaned up their acts after becoming very rich and started turning their kids into congressman, or presidents. So we can go back and forth about racism or prejudice without ever getting to the problem which is stopping it, by confronting it. You know all sterotypes aint wrong

  16. BurntOffering,

    I don’t think so. The difference here is semantic and about degree. There cannot be a big difference between prejudice and racism when prejudice is a primary prerequisite for racism. You say “big difference”, I’m saying “little or no difference”. Instead, your own hypothetical question “are you prejudice or racist against your own because you wish you were tall” points to the wider gap in meaning being between preference (which may not be prejudicial) and prejudice rather than between prejudice and racist (which is necessarily prejudicial by definition). Where we do agree is that both prejudice and racism are dumb.

  17. Actually Gene I think we agree on the difference between prejudice and racist since you said “While preference can (but not necessarily) result in prejudice, racism is a consequence of prejudice using race as the determining criteria for differentiating, i.e. prejudice has the negative elements required to form racism whereas simple preference does not.” Lets say you live in China and your parents are both short, are you prejudice or racist against your own because you wish you were tall? Everyone has the right to prefer whatever they choose, but when none of their choice is available, than waiting for when it is is is Dumb, Racist, and Prejudicial because you Prejudged them without even givng them a chance

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