I was browsing through Soda Head, a blog of sorts, with my friend, and we came across one question that just boiled our blood, if not simply due to the ignorance and nonchalant attitude between the choices. Regardless, the question was:
Why are, are prisoners overpopulated by African Americans?
No doubt, this is a very loaded question, but there were only two options to choose from;
1) just unlucky;
2) They don’t know any better;
This, was our response;
I don’t think that either of these choices are remotely accurate. There’s a prejudice within the system. It’s really quite apparent. Black men are less likely to get an education to that of white men. For the ones that do get an education, they make about 80% that of men who have the same credentials. Studies show that people with ‘Black’ sounding names are less likely to be hired than those with Americanized ‘white’ names. Drug consumption is dependent upon disposable income – something that poor individuals don’t have. Poverty affects black people disproportionately. The education system functions in a way that facilitates the process for those with income, and resources – something that many Black communities don’t have given the system.
48% of prisoners are black, yet 70% are in prison for drug related crimes (selling – not consuming), and closer to 80% of people in American prisons were making less than $5,000 a year – poverty is about $15,000 a year – and they most likely didn’t graduate from high school. People who get out of prison are more likely to become re-convicted of a crime and sent back if they lack a social and or familial support system – something that the black community suffers from. More importantly, people find criminals where they think criminals reside – this is where the prejudice comes in. I know a lot of poor people who don’t consume drugs, and work 50 hours a week for wages below minimum, and I know a lot of rich folks who giggle at the prospect of scoring some spliff, and sneaking their parents’ drugs and what have you.
So, we can say that they’re unlucky, sure. And yes, of course, there are those that ‘don’t know any better’. But it’s a helluva lot more than simply knowing better, or being unlucky (as I don’t believe in ‘luck’). It’s about resolving social issues. Destroying prejudices. Reforming not just how education is tackled, but tackling social problems. It’s about the Black community tackling their problems as well. It’s about getting people to socially make changes as the law attempts to drive. While I support legal initiatives, that’s remotely effective in treating a few symptoms, but anyone who fully believes in legal remedies is naive for they fail to realize that law doesn’t do much good when there’s a social current with an opposite opinion. None of this should be construed to assume that Black people are more likely to be irresponsible – that really isn’t the case. Responsibility is in the eye of the beholder, and when society has forsaken you (which is the case), the next priority is survival. So if survival dictates what ever it demands, selling drugs at least is a ‘job’ – what’s criminal about doing a job to get money to feed ones’ family? What’s irresponsible about that? (this is a rhetorical and philosophical question meant to drive home a point). Point is, at least they’re attempting to ‘work’ and make money so that they can purchase things legally rather than steal them.
So, when it comes to this issue, responsibility and solutions are very much dependent upon how collective the society and community wishes to invest.
It is imperative that social, racial, sexual, and genderal biases be rid of along with legal facilitation to resolve such problems. Being strictly legal is very naive, and being strictly conservative on the matter is ignorant. Voting for officials who only wish to ‘sort of fix’ the problem has rendered many things ineffective. And while I look up to Martin Luther King Jr., and Harvey Milk, and the many other social advocates of their time, they set the example – they made social change not just through pressuring Congress, but by changing hearts and minds; they made a social change. That’s the most important aspect to any and all change.