Blacks Prison And Institutional Racism


Blacks, Prison, And Institutional Racism Essay, Research Paper

Blacks, Prison, And Institutional Racism

Description: The title pretty much says it all in this one. This paper addresses

the issue of blacks in prison and explores the socio-economic causes and

solutions. This paper uses many govermentally commissioned reports.

Blacks, Prison, and Institutional Racism

Introduction Criminal justice and security is one of the largest industries in

the United States. Such a statistic is (and rightly so) of great concern to

Afro-Americans because a disproportionate percentage of individuals under the

control of the US Criminal Justice System are from the Black community. This

paper will look at the alarming statistics and attempt to trace the roots of the

disparity. It will then consider the affects and explore possible solutions to

the expanding problem.

The Imprisoned Black Youth Black communities throughout the U.S. are witnessing

the institutionalization of their youth. Of course institutionalization is

nothing new to Afro-Americans, it is something Blacks have faced since their

existence in this country. In the beginning Blacks were forced into the

institution of slavery. After the abolition of slavery Blacks faced

institutional racism, that is, racism legitimated by the whole of society

directed against the few of society. As a facet of that institutional racism

Blacks are now forced to persevere the increasing trend of control by the US

Criminal Justice System. Control by the USCJS includes the probation, parole,

imprisonment, and death of Blacks. A study conducted by the Sentencing Project

in 1989 found tat more than one-fourth of all Blacks between the age of 20 and

29 are under the control of the USCJS . This alarming figure becomes more so

when you consider their are more Blacks in prison in this age group than their

are all Blacks in college . This clearly reveals what is meant by the

institutionalization of our Black youth. Black communities are being legally

robbed of their youth by a system that locks up those who pose a threat to the

status quo of institutional racism. The consequences of this are detrimental

indeed. The children are the future, but what future does a community have whose

children are all locked up. By virtue of robbing the Black community of their

youth, the USCJS robs Black communities of their future leaders and role models .

With such a condition at hand entire communities are lost and the ills of the

urban ghettos are augmented. To help explain why Blacks are being locked up, and

what part of imprisonment plays in institutional racism it would be helpful to

first look at the roots of institutional racism.

Institutional Racism And It’s Roots Institutional racism was a term first coined

by Stokley Carmichael in his book Black Power. Concerning racism, Carmichael and

co-author Charles V. Hamilton made the following observation:

Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms; individual

Whites acting against individual Blacks, and acts by the total of White

community against the Black community. We call these individual racism and

institutional racism.

The authors go on to state that it is the covertness of the second type, the

institutional racism, that makes it so dangerous. Because institutional racism

is less obvious and it is less apparent were it is emanating from (and it is

emanating from everywhere) creeps up on you and overwhelms you when you are not

looking . Institutional racism, though coined by Carmichael, existed long before

it was conceived of in Black Power. As I have stated it has existed since Blacks

were first brought to this country. The leaders of early America sought

intentionally to oppress Blacks and do so legally. Of course back then they did

not bother with probation, parole or even long prison sentences. Back then

Blacks who went against the grain and objected to his treatment in even the

slightest was simply killed. Public lynching were a crowd drawer and a crowd

pleaser in the early American South. Blacks were not imprisoned as much because

they were seen as either useful our useless. A good "field hands" or

"house niggers" tended to their chores, did as they were told, and

never caused a problem, and were therefore worth their weight in gold. An

"uppity nigger" was no good to anyone and was either beaten into

submission or put to death . This reveals a very important aspect about the

imprisonment of Blacks today. During the period of slavery in the US Blacks were

needed as workers and were therefore used as so . What are Blacks needed for

now? Despite the many accomplishments of such great inventors as Granville T.

Woods and Benjamin Bannicker, it would seem that White society would have no use

for Blacks. During the period of slavery Blacks deemed useless were killed. In

today’s society Blacks are less often killed, but are very often imprisoned. And

by virtue of doing so Blacks are again used. As I stated in the beginning

criminal justice and security is one of the largest industries in the US. The

prison system is a multi-billion dollar industry and it is rapidly increasing.

So in an attempt to isolate and control the pariah, the poor Black, an economic

niche was filled. There is almost an incentive to lock up Blacks because in

doing so two birds are killed with one stone; the threat to status quo and its

members is contained and a buck is made in the process. It seems the US has

matriculated very little from the barbarism of the early 19th century. Again

White society is using Blacks for economic gain, again the system is legitimated

and legalized by the US Government, and again the burden on Blacks is severely


The Value Of Black Life Slavery in the 90’s? A scary, but none the less real

condition. But what about when Blacks go beyond their usefulness. What about

when the threat that Blacks pose is a greater consideration than the economic

prosperity they bring? Just as in the period of slavery Blacks are killed. A

study conducted by the United States General Accounting Office (USGAO) found

that the death of Whites was the single greatest determinant in imposing capital

punishment . In other words, you are more likely to be legally killed, if you

murder a White man than if you kill a Black man. It would seem then that the

value of a White life is diametrically greater than that of a Black life. To

fully understand this you must look at it from all vantage points. If you kill a

White you are worth more dead; if you kill a Black you are worth more alive.

Another way to view the perceived greater wealth of a White life is this: a

White man who kills a Black man has a greater chance of living. A Black man who

kills a White man has a greater chance of dying. From every vantage point the

value of White life is greater than that of Black life. This is the single most

fundamental aspect of institutional racism. The belief that White life is

greater than Black life is the source of the problem. So much effort is put into

maintaining this status quo that Blacks find themselves time and time again put

in the position of subjection they are in today, and have been in since they

first arrived in the United States 400 years ago.

Looking For Solution Solutions to the problem of the institutionalization of

Black youth will not come easy. To plea for White society to stop imprisoning

our future leaders would likely fall on deaf ears. Most leaders do not look past

their term of government so they take the time to consider the long term

implications of their legislation. In other words, leaders do not consider the

results of having the future leaders of the Black communities imprisoned. Also

most do not care. In the sentencing project it was pointed out that the

"get tough" approach to crime in which there was an increase of

arrests, convictions and lengthy sentences has decreased victimization rates

less than 5% since 1973 . Despite the statistics the "get tough" trend,

which is disproportionately aimed against Blacks, has continued. What I feel the

only solution is, degrading as it may be, is for Blacks to prove their worth.

Blacks must prove that they are worth something to White society beyond the

economic niche they help fill in prison. Blacks must prove that they are a

benefit which Whites cannot do without. Once We have established ourselves as

benefactors then We can begin to break down the walls of institutional racism,

stop the digression of our communities, and truly advance.

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