Thursday, February 23, 2017

There are several factors which contributed to the creation of the most recent form of racial caste known as mass incarceration.  An overarching theme in the study of civil rights and American history is the push back that occurs after any great social reform.  For example, after slaves were emancipated in the 13th amendment, white people’s “pushback” was the creation of Jim Crow.  Today, the racial caste system remains in force, thanks to the era of colorblindness.  The idea that one does not “see color” may at first sound compelling; however, the impacts of such thinking are detrimental to American society.  Colorblindness allows racist and bigoted people to use coded racial rhetoric but deny its connection to race.  It also allows for white people to act on their racial biases.  For example, in criminal justice and law enforcement. This system creates the dynamic where black people can only prove their discrimination through statistics and often unattainable evidence.  Thus, masses of injustices are committed before anything can be done.  Even when evidence clearly points to the gross discrimination of black americans, colorblindness allows white people to argue, “it’s not because he’s black...I don’t see in color”.

Thursday, February 16, 2017




The age of colorblindness began during the "War on Drugs." During this movement, begun by President Reagan, it was unacceptable for white conservatives to speak on blatantly racial terms, so race was addressed using heavily coded words that were easily understood by poor white conservatives. Although it was widely understood that the war on drugs was created to target black people, especially those suffering from poverty, by refusing to speak about it openly as was common during the era of colorblindness, black people were entirely unable to defend themselves from racially discriminatory policing.

During the age of Jim Crow, the systems of segregation and racial caste were overt and visible, but colorblindness delegitimized the systemic racial oppression that remained present. Through media campaigns, an image was painted of drug traffickers being predominately black -- although this was not at all the truth. Police officers and prosecutors were given great powers of discretion in the people they arrested for drug use and thus, were able to act on both implicit and explicit biases. Furthermore, black people were required to produce concrete evidence of the racial disparities that existed being a result of intentional discrimination. Because the age of colorblindness operated on implicit biases and coded racism, this evidence was nearly impossible to produce allowing for a racial caste of mass incarceration to endure as it was effectively hidden by colorblindness.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The "law and order" rhetoric of conservative white republicans began in the late 1950s and eventually became a new racial bribe to lower and lower-middle class white Americans. The claim that law and order in America was breaking down was strongly associated with black people and the civil rights movement due to the fact that southern officials attempted to characterize the civil disobedience of black activists to be criminal.  There were also several other unfortunate and coincidental factors that supported the growth of the law and order movement, including the rise of the “baby boom” generation, riots in in Harlem and Rochester following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the movement of blue-collar factory jobs to the suburbs.  Thus, when President Ronald Reagan announced his administration’s War on Drugs, it was not surprising that a few years later, drug use and dealing soared in inner cities. Furthermore, funding for criminal justice and punishment for crimes increased while drug treatment and prevention education decreased.  While it was unacceptable for republicans to speak on openly racial terms, republicans spoke in implicit racial appeals to poor whites.

A disproportionate amount of the cost of integration was borne by lower and lower-middle class whites. These same poor whites were also now in direct competition with blacks for jobs, housing and schools leading to a wedge in the multiracial coalition that had formed in the New Deal.  Thus, Republicans were able to win the vote of poor, working class white people and institute acts like minimum mandatory sentencing and death penalty for possession of drugs.  The impacts of the law and order movement can be seen in the likes of Bill Clinton who was forced to move towards the right on law and order to win the vote claiming that, “no one could be tougher on crime than he” could.  Clinton escalated the drug war and put millions in prison.  He also changed the welfare program so people were unable to qualify for welfare for life and convicts could be completely excluded from food stamps.  In the end, the law and order movement led to the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration.


Saturday, February 4, 2017


 Michelle Alexander discusses the idea of a socio-economic caste system in America, which developed in response to the Civil War in her book, The New Jim Crow.  Alexander states that as African Americans began gaining more rights and liberties, whites began their pushback in the form of "Southern Redemption", a terrorist campaign led by the Klu Klux Klan (KKK). Furthermore, Black codes were instituted that allowed for obscenely severe sentences for negligible offense. In this way, white southerners were able to fulfill the economic role slaves once played through mass incarceration. In the Supreme Court case, Ruffin v. Commonwealth, the state of Virginia announced that there is was no difference between a slave and a convict, further justifying the enduring enslavement of black people.            
Jim Crow laws were created to promote a sense of "superiority over blacks" (Alexander, 2) among poor whites. By segregating white people and black people, interracial alliances were prevented and African Americans could continue to be systemically oppressed.  While this was justified by rhetoric stating blacks and whites were "separate but equal," in fact there was an undeniable gap in the quality of the infrastructure intended for each group.  The Civil Rights Movement, also known as the Second Reconstruction, brought an end to Jim Crow and is generally agreed to have officially begun following the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. In this case, the separation of students by race in schools was deemed unconstitutional. In response to the Federal decision, the KKK once again reasserted itself and spurred killings, beating, and bombing of black churches, civil rights leaders, and NAACP members.  The Civil Rights movement in turn came to a close as when the Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. At this point, the goal of the movement shifted to become a “Poor People’s Movement” creating an interracial alliance as it addressed white poverty and black poverty alike.  

What is the “racial bribe?” How did it help to construct the idea of race in America? How did whites attempt to reconcile the ideals of democracy with the system of slavery?

The racial bribe began after Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. Wealthy planters made up a very small percentage of the population, and they wished to protect the privileges their socioeconomic status granted. If the people in the majority were unified, like what happened in Bacon's rebellion, the social order beneficial to rich planters would crumble. When they realized that Africans were in a vulnerable position in the New World as they were not unified and had a different language and culture than Europeans, the planter class granted special privileges to poor whites to ensure there would be divisions between poor whites and poor blacks which  come to be known as the racial bribe. Americans originally justified slavery by creating the idea of race; the belief that black people were a lesser type of people than white people. Thus, slavery could be justified.

Friday, January 20, 2017

In class, we used the IAT implicit association test from Harvard to find out if students in our class have implicit associations and to understand the differences between confirmation bias and implicit associations.  The test I was most intrigued by was the racial preference test which asked participants to answer questions about their opinions of European Americans and of African Americans.  Then, participants were asked to associate pictures of different racial groups with "good' or "bad" as fast as possible in the hopes of circumnavigating the conscious mind to access the subconscious.  I found the system to be somewhat flawed because users were given certain associations first which made times slower when the associations were switched up. Regardless of this, I learned that a confirmation bias is the fact that people generally like to find evidence to support ideas they already hold as true which can is a root cause of the obliviousness some people experience. I learned that the first step to eradicating biases is to understand confirmation biases we have and then work on challenging them to become a more understanding and less judgmental person.