American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world and the federal government has underestimated the damage done to African-American families by three centuries of sometimes unimaginable mistreatment, as well as the racist virus which thrives in the American blood stream and which will continue to plague blacks for the conceivable future unless the nation as a whole takes a good look in the mirror and comes to the inevitable conclusion that not only is the body politic sick and diseased but so are the many components which make up American society.
That the African-American has survived at all is extraordinary—a lesser people might simply have died out, as indeed others have, but their communities still have paid a frightful price for the ingrained and systemic racism because of the fearful mistreatment that continues to this day despite the many laws of the land which were enacted to combat the deplorable plague which continues to sicken the nation as a whole.
The African-American community has been forced into a matriarchal structure and because it is so out of line with the rest of the American society, it seriously retards the progress of the group, and imposes a crushing burden on the black male and as a result, on a great many black women as well.
Young black women watch their mothers, who have been forever chained to a system of welfare with no hope on the horizon of release and themselves fall into the cycle of teenage motherhood, fatherless children and a nonchalant acceptance of the status quo, as if to say that this is just how things are supposed to be. This matriarchal structure has robbed black men of their birthright, for the very nature of the male animal, from the bantam rooster to the president, is to strut their stuff, and the African-American male has been so beaten into submission that there are very few males of the true alpha character, those in whom the idea of abandoning their own children and the mother of their children to this system would be abhorrent.
For how can they strut when their coxcombs have been shorn from their bodies? And how can they compete with males of other races when their very masculinity has been effectively stripped from them, leaving behind a confused and emasculated population of men who think it is okay to father dozens of children with no means of support and more importantly the absence of their very presence as a father figure in the lives of their children?
To combat this there must be a consensus and an all-out governmental assault on the social structures which have let down the African-American male and in fact there has been, though in the manner that most of us had hoped for. Instead this was done through the mass incarceration of millions of black people.
This bloating of the prison population did not reduce crime much, instead it increased misery among blacks. Among all black males born since the late 1970s, one in four went to prison by their mid-30s; among those who dropped out of high school, seven in 10 did. And these consequences for black men have radiated out to their families. By 2000, more than 1 million black children had a father in jail or prison—and roughly half of those fathers were living in the same household as their kids when they were locked up. Paternal incarceration is associated with behavior problems and delinquency, especially among boys for many obvious reasons and some much more insidious ones, such as marginalization by the mainstream of Americans.
Black criminality is literally written into the American Constitution—the Fugitive Slave Clause, in Article IV of that document, declared that any “Person held to Service or Labor” who escaped from one state to another could be “delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labor may be due.” From America’s very founding, the pursuit of the right to labor, and the right to live free of whipping and of the sale of one’s children, were verboten for African-Americans.
In 1994, President Clinton signed a new crime bill, which offered grants to states that built prisons and cut back on parole. Clinton recently said that he regrets his pivotal role in driving up the country’s incarceration numbers. “I signed a bill that made the problem worse,” he told the NAACP in July. “And I want to admit it.” In justifying his actions of 20 years earlier, he pointed to the problems of “gang warfare” and of “innocent bystanders” shot down in the streets, but we must not forget where Bill Clinton himself came from, nor his own racist comments about then candidate Barrack Obama in the Democratic primaries in 2008. Yes, the things he outlined were, and are, real problems. But even in trying to explain his policies, Clinton neglected to retract the assumption underlying them—that incarcerating large swaths of one population was a purely well-intended, logical, and nonracist response to crime, which judging from his later statements during the primary, was not what he was assuming at all.
But the fact is this country will be forever stuck between a rock and a hard place with respect to its African-American population because it is not possible to truly reform our justice system without reforming the institutional structures, the communities, and the politics that surround it, and with an administration like the one presently steering the nation, the prospects of such change are not looking good at all.