So much about our racial reality today is little more than a mirage. The promised land of racial equality quivers just out of our reach in the barren desert of our new, "colorblind" political landscape. It looks so good from a distance: Barack Obama, our nation’s first black president, standing behind a podium in the Rose Garden looking handsome, dignified, and in charge. Flip the channel and there’s the whole Obama family exiting Air Force One, waving to the crowd -- a gorgeous black family living in the White House, cheered by the world.
Drive a few blocks from the White House and you find the other America. You find you're still in the desert, dying of thirst, wondering what wrong turn was made and how you managed to miss the promised land, though you reached for it with all your might.
A vast new racial undercaste now exists in America, though their plight is rarely mentioned. Obama won't mention it; the Tea Party won't mention it; media pundits would rather talk about anything else. The members of the undercaste are largely invisible to those of us who have jobs, live in decent neighborhoods, and zoom around on freeways, passing by the virtual and literal prisons in which they live.
But here are the facts: There are more African-American adults under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. In major urban areas such as Chicago, Oama’s hometown, the majority of working-age African-American men have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives. Millions of people in the United States, primarily poor people of color, are denied the very rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement: the right to vote, to serve on juries, and to be free from discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits. Branded "criminals" and "felons," such people now find themselves relegated to a permanent second-class status. They live in a parallel social universe: the other America, where they will stay for the rest of their lives.
We, as a nation, are in deep denial about how this came to pass. On the rare occasions when the existence of "them" -- the others, the ghetto dwellers, those locked up and locked out -- is publicly acknowledged, standard excuses are trotted out. We're told black culture, bad schools, poverty, and broken homes are to blame. Almost no one admits: We declared war. We declared a war on the most vulnerable people in our society and then blamed them for the wreckage.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Friday, January 14, 2011