The Mad Activist Considers the New Jim Crow
Dear Social Justice Diary –
I just read Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow and my mind is blown. It’s about racism and the War on Drugs, all highly factual. You can look at just two studies in the book and see a sort of “post-black” apartheid:
On the New Jersey Turnpike, where 15% of drivers are racial “minorities,” black and white motorists violated traffic laws at exactly the same rate. But 73% of all arrests were of black drivers.
On a stretch of I-95 outside Baltimore, Maryland, where 21% of drivers are African Americans and other people of color, these nonwhite drivers comprised 80% of those pulled over and searched by police. U.S. justice has gone “colorblind,” writes Alexander: so long as cops use no racial epithets “courts generally turn a blind eye to patterns of discrimination by police.”
The relatively few white people who were searched in New Jersey turned out to be nearly twice as likely as African Americans to carry illegal drugs, and five times as likely as Latinos to be found with contraband. In both studies, whites were more apt than people of color to be carrying illegal drugs or contraband in their vehicles.
I am outraged, Social Justice Diary.
Granted, people of color experience vast inequality. But I hadn’t realized the even vaster inequality experienced by my racial group: people of non-color. If white people go to all the trouble of starting drug cartels, setting up drug trafficking networks, exploiting drug workers, selling drugs, laundering drug money, and actually using drugs in far greater numbers than black people, why, then, are we not afforded equal treatment under the law? Why can’t we get busted too?
The New Jim Crow describes how the Drug War monitors and arrests black people; processes them through court systems that dole out years of prison time for nonviolent drug “offenses”; and then legally disenfranchises those lucky enough to make it out of prison on parole. The Drug War, in fact, reconstitutes the Jim Crow segregation that Civil Rights protesters gave their lives to stop. “We have not ended racial caste in America,” writes Alexander, “we have merely redesigned it.”
Exactly! It is SO unfair that black people get all this attention from the U.S. justice system – and us white people get next to nothing! I’m sure that’s why I, as a Caucasoid, suffer so hugely from low self-esteem – police officers treat me like I was invisible. My people did not march for racial equality in the 1960s to be ignored by the cops now. I mean, YO, whattup with that?
Yesterday, to test my thesis, I took my Anglo body all over Manhattan, carrying a black plastic garbage bag stuffed with ten pounds of marijuana, some anthrax, and a rocket launcher. Rode the A Train, walked past police precincts … nothing. Meanwhile, at a public high school in the Bronx, six African-American eighth graders were handcuffed, arrested, and physically assaulted by NYPD officers after they found cell phones in the students’ lockers.
As a person with the certifiable genome of a Mary Poppins, Dear Diary, I find this totally unacceptable. I demand Equal Opportunity Oppression! That includes full-service frisking, sentencing, prison time, crappy treatment upon release, and the permanent inability to vote. Why am I not considered worthy of arrest for the crime of “driving while ofay”? Where is the white Amadou Diallo? The white Eleanor Bumpurs? Whiteys Unite: demand your right to be shot for looking nervous and pulling out a wallet! Let’s use our racial clout to get police to our neighborhoods to knock down our doors and ice our grandmothers.
In the era of the New Jim Crow, Social Justice Diary, I eschew my role as the New Mr. Charlie. White people wear dreads and baggy pants too. These were hard-won cultural victories and should come with validating police harassment! If you club us, do we not bruise? If you taser us, do we not scream? Are we so inadequate? So … un-jiggy?
Perhaps if I composed a little hip-hop song, the Power would notice me:
RAP SONG OF J. ALL-FIRED PRUFWACK
I am the wacker cracker and I like to smoke pot,
So what I got to do to get the po-po on my block?
I packing dope in my bag of all kinds and shapes and flavahs,
Even got me a shirt that sez “I Am Troy Davis.”
But no mattah how I’m risky, or the highs of my addiction,
The cops don’t stop and frisk me, and I’m never sent to prison…
Speaking of prison, a disproportionate number of the over 2.4 million people behind bars in this country are African American. Not to sound racially insensitive, but black people are totally hogging up vital prison resources! They’re overcrowding our cells! Bogarting jumpsuits! Using up Styrofoam dishes and plastic cutlery for hi-carb, inedible prison food! Selfishly monopolizing shackles! We say, ¡Basta!
So here is my plan, Social Justice Diary – a new approach to Civil Rights. If including black people in the middle class mainstream didn’t work, maybe including white middle class people in the prison system will. Call me crazy. But if enough people like me faced the same level of suspicion and drug busts and rates of incarceration, maybe the New Jim Crow would realize how very, very old and demented he is. And then maybe he would finally go away.
© Susie Day, 2011
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (New York: New Press, 2010), see esp. chapter 3, “The Color of Justice.”
Random arrests of public school students:
Racial disparities in U.S. prisons:
Black men 40% of U.S. prison population: