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Do "tendrils of past mind-sets still remain"?
January 12, 2014 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Is the United States a ‘Racial Democracy’?
posted by anotherpanacea (40 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
A nice summary of the facts and the natural way to interpret them. A nice anecdote, too:
The Columbia professor Herbert Schneider told the following story about John Dewey. One day, in an ethics course, Dewey was trying to develop a theme about the criteria by which you should judge a culture. After having some trouble saying what he was trying to say, he stopped, looked out the window, paused for a long time and then said, “What I mean to say is that the best way to judge a culture is to see what kind of people are in the jails.”
posted by voltairemodern at 9:54 PM on January 12 [18 favorites]


Interesting analysis of collective subconscious intentions. Most people are only review the collective conscious intentions.
posted by saber_taylor at 10:56 PM on January 12


In a fair system, a group is singled out for punishment only insofar as its propensity for unjustified violations of the laws demands. What we call a racial democracy is one that unfairly applies the laws governing the removal of liberty primarily to citizens of one race, thereby singling out its members as especially unworthy of liberty, the coin of human dignity.

This isn't racial democracy; the author is describing a sort of unwritten apartheid which is nothing like democracy.

What I don't get in this political analysis is the emphasis on race instead of class. The word "poor" isn't even mentioned and obviously - obviously - class is an element in all of this. Don't liberals read Marx anymore? Political struggles and class struggles are indivisible. Banging on about race and the lack of color-blindness in America whilst ignoring the contributions of poverty and class seems like a sort of blindness in itself.

“What I mean to say is that the best way to judge a culture is to see what kind of people are in the jails.”

Exactly. What percentage of wealthy black Americans are in jail?
posted by three blind mice at 1:22 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Hey I've got a neat game let's all just intensely furiously pretend against all evidence that all forms of oppression can be reduced to class it's awesome super fun.

after we get done with that one we can go to a department store and play the "watch who gets followed around by security" game.

and after that, we can go apply for loans or maybe a mortgage.

then after that we can walk down the street smoking joints and see who gets arrested.

The United States is full of fun games!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:43 AM on January 13 [26 favorites]


In the United States race is a heavy cultural signifier of class and criminality.
posted by jaduncan at 3:03 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


What I don't get in this political analysis is the emphasis on race instead of class. The word "poor" isn't even mentioned and obviously - obviously - class is an element in all of this. Don't liberals read Marx anymore? Political struggles and class struggles are indivisible. Banging on about race and the lack of color-blindness in America whilst ignoring the contributions of poverty and class seems like a sort of blindness in itself.

Marxist here. Race is key to understanding class in the United States. The problem is that racial oppression is the key buttress to class warfare, keeping the working class divided on racial lines. Mass incarceration is the main pillar of black oppression today - criminalizing and creating a permanent underclass of people who are designated by skin color to take the biggest hit in current and future economic crises. The problem is, you can't fix the class issues without fixing the racial issues at the same time, and vice versa. The labor movement's Achilles heel was the South, because the racial divide prevented unity and solidarity between black and white workers. Trying to parse out, "this part is class, this part is race" is impossible, because they're tied together.

Defeating mass incarceration requires a movement that addresses both the long racial divide and the class issues of poverty and jobs. You can't say don't look at race or don't look at class, you need to fix both.
posted by graymouser at 3:40 AM on January 13 [35 favorites]


Just the other day somebody was saying that intersectionality is old hat, theoretically speaking, and I was thinking that when even rather a lot of people who should've heard of it haven't.

Wonder why that sprang to mind.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:05 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


The authors would have been better served if they had chosen to label the phenomenon they're describing with the term "racist democracy" (or perhaps "racialized democracy" rather than the existing term "racial democracy" which has has been used for 80 years now to describe the opposite situation of their rather unoriginal observation that "the practical reality of the criminal justice system in the United States is far from colorblind."
posted by drlith at 4:36 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


If the system of justice in the United States were fair, and if the 38 million black Americans were as prone to crime as the average ethnic group in the world (where an ethnic group is, for example, the 61 million Italians, or the 45 million Hindu Gujarati), you would expect that black Americans would also be about 9 percent of the 2013 estimated world population of 7.135 billion people. There would then be well over 600 million black Americans in the world.

And this is why political philosophers aren't allowed to sit at the grown-ups table with the statisticians.
posted by belarius at 4:47 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


What percentage of wealthy black Americans are in jail?

This question confuses class with race. A typical problem in America because so many are mis-educated that there are no class issues and skin color is a simple thing to point to.

What %age of people "win" a court case when represented by legal help they are directly paying for VS not paying directly for?

I've watched Judges have hearings over the trivial matter of re-opening a case settled due to default judgement. If one side is pro-se, the case is not reopened. If both sides are represented by lawyers the case is re-opened.

Then you have people who've been a DA over the course of 4 decades who publish articles in the ABA magazine about how perjury is under-prosecuted. And how often do Police get punished with loss of job over lying on the stand or in sworn statements VS how often it happens?

A very expensive legal team translates into less jail time. Being of a class where you understand the legal process and have bothered to read the rules of Court isn't usually enough - you have to be willing to out-spend the other side. It is why many people fear a conflict with the Federal Court system with the State as opposing council - the prosecution has far deeper pockets then you.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:55 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


A recent This American Life discussed the decades-long unofficial official government policy of promoting segregation nation-wide via backing mortgages of black Americans in certain areas but not in others, and the long-term consequences that have resulted.
One fact reported therein, citing a Brown University study: The average African-American household making $75,000 a year lives in a poorer neighborhood than the average white family making less than $40,000 a year.
Let's not pretend the issues of race and class aren't very heavily intertwined.
posted by Bromius at 4:59 AM on January 13 [6 favorites]


More than 96% of people in high-level management positions are white so "where are the wealthy non-white convicts?" isn't a question we should be asking.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:19 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Let's not pretend the issues of race and class aren't very heavily intertwined.

They are, but in most of the "grrrr racism" arguments class is ignored.

Given the title of the post is 'tendrils of past mind-sets' - the oldest mindest is 'are you of my tribe'. Race isn't a concern when it comes to money....if you've got the money your skin colour doesn't matter in the end.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:19 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Race isn't a concern when it comes to money....if you've got the money your skin colour doesn't matter in the end.

I think this is decidedly not true. Yes, money does wonders for your access to education and so forth and presumably does wonders for your likelihood of incarceration, but it's not as if having loads of money buys your way out of racism.
posted by hoyland at 5:41 AM on January 13 [7 favorites]


If one is looking for labels for the United States that are not "greatest country evar" there is we are now a police state

Rather sure race, the "wrong" religion and class don't do well under police states.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:44 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


They are, but in most of the "grrrr racism" arguments class is ignored.

I'm not sure what the moral here is supposed to be. Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow (the most important political book of the last five years), discusses the need for a "new civil rights movement." Such a movement needs to incorporate class concerns as well as racial concerns - that is, it has to address poverty, jobs, wage disparities and union rights and so on as well as racial profiling, mass incarceration and disenfranchisement. And if that's what you're getting at, that's fine, I agree completely. But how is saying "class is ignored" helping with that? You need a synthesis, not a false dilemma.
posted by graymouser at 5:46 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


next up, the staggering size and growth of US military spending: does the US have a military government?


Just the other day somebody was saying that intersectionality is old hat, theoretically speaking, and I was thinking that when even rather a lot of people who should've heard of it haven't.

the problem with intersectionality is that it makes class a cultural descriptor or identity rather than the basic functional unit of capitalist political economy i.e. "class" is much more important, culturally, in Britain than it is in, say, Germany, but "class warfare" is just as central to German society.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:15 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


the problem with intersectionality is that it makes class a cultural descriptor or identity rather than the basic functional unit of capitalist political economy i.e. "class" is much more important, culturally, in Britain than it is in, say, Germany, but "class warfare" is just as central to German society.

Well, no, because "race" and "gender" are also basic functional units of actually existing capitalist political economy, and they help articulate the ways in which labor can be extracted by force or without even the fig leaf of compensation as a (denied) supplement to (white/male) labor/capital relations. The mistake is in thinking of them strictly as identity positions or labels when they do real economic and oppressive work just as "class" does.
posted by kewb at 6:49 AM on January 13


drlith: The authors would have been better served if they had chosen to label the phenomenon they're describing with the term "racist democracy" (or perhaps "racialized democracy" rather than the existing term "racial democracy" which has has been used for 80 years now to describe the opposite situation of their rather unoriginal observation that "the practical reality of the criminal justice system in the United States is far from colorblind."

Yes, "racial democracy" is often used to describe the (supposedly) equal access of people of different "races" to the democratic process in Brazil.

I think a better term for what the authors of this piece describe would be "Herrenvolk democracy" (democracy of the "master race"), a term used to describe apartheid South Africa, wherein whites participated in a "democracy" amongst themselves but ruled over a majority of "others" in a supremely undemocratic fashion.
posted by dhens at 7:36 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I think this is decidedly not true. Yes, money does wonders for your access to education and so forth and presumably does wonders for your likelihood of incarceration, but it's not as if having loads of money buys your way out of racism.

Yes. I think a lot of the emotional appeal of racism and prejudice more generally is that someone might have more money and power than you but you're still worth more than them. This can be seen with Jews in particular, since the very stereotype is that they run the world.

It can also arguably be seen in the sheer amount of hard-right people who are failures in life but are keen to buy into being a master race.
posted by jaduncan at 8:44 AM on January 13


I just read a book on the subject of hidden biases for a book club. A lot of it is pretty 101 psychology stuff, or will be for many here, but the appendices discuss the effect of "hidden" racial bias on various benchmarks for black Americans, and the differences in outcomes are staggering.
posted by immlass at 9:13 AM on January 13


One fact reported therein, citing a Brown University study: The average African-American household making $75,000 a year lives in a poorer neighborhood than the average white family making less than $40,000 a year.
Let's not pretend the issues of race and class aren't very heavily intertwined.


The issues of race and class are heavily intertwined, but mostly as a "Starting point" sort of issue, not as a "once you have reached X point down the line". Given race, many African-American households start out with less resources than equivalent-income Caucasian households. But that doesn't mean that, once they get to an equivalent level of overall resources with Caucasian households, that they will have necessarily unequal outcomes.

There was a great post here on Metafilter that I can't recall now, talking about how one of the major things affecting convictions was whether or not you happened to have bail money. No bail money, you were much more likely to be convicted than others with similar crimes.
posted by corb at 9:26 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


. But that doesn't mean that, once they get to an equivalent level of overall resources with Caucasian households, that they will have necessarily unequal outcomes.

We know in medicine there are no levels of income where blacks can purchase equal care to whites. This has continually been the case over multiple studies.
posted by Rubbstone at 11:48 AM on January 13


I haven't seen any of those studies - do you have any links handy? It sounds interesting.
posted by corb at 12:09 PM on January 13


We know in medicine there are no levels of income where blacks can purchase equal care to whites. This has continually been the case over multiple studies.

No levels?

Really?

None at all you say? Hrmmmm. Studies are cited - can you be so kind to post these studies?

Because I've seen the equipment at "sport medicine" set-ups and that level of care far exceeds the lower middle class HMO insured white-folk level. The more bread one has, the better services it buys would still seem to be the rule rather than an exception.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:00 PM on January 13


Poor white people are less likely to be stopped by the police than poor black people. (No, I don't have a citation, but that's what they mean when they say they controlled for income, etc).

I'm one of the first to argue that programs such as affirmative action for universities should target the economically disadvantaged rather than racially disadvantaged -- but when it comes to the police, the experience of being poor and white is a world of difference from being poor and black. Even up here in Toronto, poor black men are way more likely to be stopped by the police for ID checks than poor white men. It's been a serious issue recently.

(I'd be very curious to know how gender bias fits in. Are white men more likely to be stopped than black women? what about for conviction or incarceration rates?)
posted by jb at 1:28 PM on January 13


We know in medicine there are no levels of income where blacks can purchase equal care to whites. This has continually been the case over multiple studies.

This is correct.
posted by polymodus at 1:58 PM on January 13


Also, you don't even need facts from medicine/health-insurance. In:

But that doesn't mean that, once they get to an equivalent level of overall resources with Caucasian households, that they will have necessarily unequal outcomes.

the phrase "Equivalent level of resources" simply has no stable quantitative definition. Resources isn't just the money you make, it's also the social capital you have and other non-monetary/non-property things, extending all the way to your (epi-)genetic and intellectual advantages. That's what Resources means in the first place, and the correct analysis follows from that understanding.
posted by polymodus at 2:06 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


extending all the way to your (epi-)genetic and intellectual advantages.

Now that is heading towards a eugenics argument.

So to keep it more on track of a request for published studies VS assertions of truthiness:

the phrase "Equivalent level of resources" simply has no stable quantitative definition.

Errr, so any request for studies with results that don't agree with the 'felt truthyness' can be hand waved away with 'because there is no stable quantitative definitions I can therefore reject your reality and substitute my own'?

I have no trouble accepting the idea that there are different levels of health service outcome for lower income based on simple skin colour once you have somehow normalized that data for weight and various genetic pre-dispositions not being hand waved as "(epi-)genetic and intellectual advantages".

But that hold true across ALL income levels? That 'truthyness' just doesn't jive. So come on, produce the studies that have been done - esp any that can back up the idea that the upper income athletes get worse or better medical treatment based on skin colour.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:23 PM on January 13


From here:

Although health outcomes have been tied to income and social economic status, there are black-white differences in life expectancy of at least 3 years at every level of income.

It's not a series of studies, but it's a good article that demonstrates that there are disparities across levels of income. (Note that income is not the same thing as class, but it's as good an indicator as you can find in most studies.
posted by graymouser at 3:43 PM on January 13


I have no trouble accepting the idea that there are different levels of health service outcome for lower income based on simple skin colour once you have somehow normalized that data for weight and various genetic pre-dispositions not being hand waved as "(epi-)genetic and intellectual advantages".

The book I was mentioning addresses medicine specifically though not in the context of racial bias. There's a specific anecdote about how a Yale professor was brought in with a significant hand injury. She was being directed to one course of treatment, but when a student aide recognized her and mentioned that she was a professor, she was redirected into a different, more attentive class of care. This case was an example of a positive bias (a Yale professor received better treatment than a person not so recognized) but you can see how such biases would, to a large extent, operate against the interests of black patients, even of roughly equal SES.
posted by immlass at 3:55 PM on January 13


I spent a couple hours searching for the studies I remembered from the late 2000's but I'm not finding them.
posted by Rubbstone at 5:08 PM on January 13


extending all the way to your (epi-)genetic and intellectual advantages.

Now that is heading towards a eugenics argument.

So to keep it more on track of a request for published studies VS assertions of truthiness:

the phrase "Equivalent level of resources" simply has no stable quantitative definition.

Errr, so any request for studies with results that don't agree with the 'felt truthyness' can be hand waved away with 'because there is no stable quantitative definitions I can therefore reject your reality and substitute my own'?

I have no trouble accepting the idea that there are different levels of health service outcome for lower income based on simple skin colour once you have somehow normalized that data for weight and various genetic pre-dispositions not being hand waved as "(epi-)genetic and intellectual advantages".

But that hold true across ALL income levels? That 'truthyness' just doesn't jive. So come on, produce the studies that have been done - esp any that can back up the idea that the upper income athletes get worse or better medical treatment based on skin colour.


You're misconstruing my response. I'm saying Corb's criteria was incorrect. Incorrect because there are other things to consider from sociological and biological (biology proper which is why genetics is crucial) standpoints. Not sure how you're turning this into truthiness, because if anything Corb's criteria, in its implicitly imposed pragmatism, was the source of truthiness.

I'm saying both that you need data and you don't need it. That's why I said rubbstone was correct—I've heard his claim before from elsewhere and I'm just agreeing with him. So surely you can research that data and its interpretation yourself.

However I'm also saying that this data is not strictly necessary—because there's so much other context available from which to assemble the correct picture of what's going on. Partly like the parable, you don't have use a thermometer to know a cup of coffee is hot. Data is evidence but it doesn't tell the full story. It's about methods of knowing, and the difference between sufficiency v.s. necessity. If people get hung up on athletes' medical records, that's the intellectual failure.

I'd appreciate being read carefully, before being accused of saying Very Bad Things. Sorry.
posted by polymodus at 2:05 AM on January 14


Interesting read; I agree with those who are a bit confused by the use of the term "racial democracy", but the overall points the article makes are good. I had an thought while reading. The article talks about the impact of the criminal justice system on voting patterns, but you can make a similar argument about gun ownership. This old FPP talks about the fact that many gun control laws were passed in the late 60s in response to the Black Panthers' vocal advocacy of the right of people (including black people) to arm themselves. Even now, Tea Partiers who attend political events openly carrying weapons are described by Fox News and its ilk as patriots exercising their god-given right to bear arms, while New Black Panthers who do the same thing at polling places are described as intimidating voters. Given that felons are forbidden from carrying weapons it becomes obvious that one way to ensure that only the "right" people get to own guns legally is to aggressively pursue felony convictions against any group that you don't want armed. It would be interesting to see if weapons charges show the same racial disparities in prosecuting and sentencing that drug charges do.
posted by TedW at 6:22 AM on January 14


the phrase "Equivalent level of resources" simply has no stable quantitative definition. Resources isn't just the money you make, it's also the social capital you have and other non-monetary/non-property things, extending all the way to your (epi-)genetic and intellectual advantages. That's what Resources means in the first place, and the correct analysis follows from that understanding.

You're completely right - but that's what I'm actually trying to say. I'm trying to say that a lot of the differences in outcome have to do with those nonmonetary things - where the original differences do date back to racism, but no longer can be chalked up to anything but the continuation of the outcome that was born in racism.
posted by corb at 6:47 AM on January 14


Ie: Let's take two people, Melinda, and Amelia. Melinda is African-American, while Amelia is Caucasian, in the year 1946. Both of them are newly married, and have enough money to buy a house. However, due to redlining, Melinda is not able to buy a nice, well-made house in a nice district of town like Amelia does - she has to settle for a falling-apart house in a denser, more dangerous area of town.

Melinda and Amelia both have three children, all of equal intelligence. Because of the relative value of their homes, and property values, (and segregation) however, Amelia's children are able to go to better elementary, middle schools, and high schools. As a result, they're all able to get good jobs. They don't have much credit, but Amelia puts up her own house as collateral when they take out a loan to buy their own houses. Each of Amelia's children has their own house. Melinda's children work very hard, and are very smart, but they are not able to acquire as much education in a run-down school that doesn't try very hard. Even if one of her children is able to acquire a good job, in an era of de facto segregation, it is unlikely that the others will. Much of that child's disposable income will be spent assisting the rest of his family.

Those children also have children. Of Melinda's grandchildren, she one who really stands out - Sonia. Sonia is the black sheep of the family - she shoplifts as a teen, gets involved in drugs, and commits various other petty crimes upon getting out. Amelia also has a grandchild who stands out - Nia. Nia has the same pattern of misbehavior and minor criminality.

Sonia and Nia are both arrested on the same day for shoplifting. They are arrested by a police officer who is just doing his job, with no particular prejudice - as open prejudice happens far less these days. Both of them get one phone call, and each of them calls their grandmother - who happens to keep a soft spot for their errant grandchild.

Melinda and Amelia both want to help their grandchild equally. But Amelia has the resources. She has long since paid off her house, and as her children all have a good bit of money, she knows she can count on either borrowing money or pooling family resources to do so. Despite the fact that the offense is so minor, she gets an extremely good lawyer to clear Nia's name. It is very expensive, but she considers it as worth it in order that Nia not have any kind of record.

Melinda does not have the resources to hire an expensive lawyer for a misdemeanor. She does call an attorney, but they're not as competent, don't spend as much time. They manage to get the charge bargained down to probation - but that means Sonia still has a police record.

When the two granddaughters are, again, arrested on the same day for identical drug offenses, the same pattern of lawyers emerges. Nia is able to be out on bail within a day. Sonia has a lawyer, but her bail is set higher as this is a violation of her probation. Again, Nia is able to get off, as her lawyer challenges minute details of the case. This time, Sonia, not being bailed out right away, misses a chance to get crucial witnesses. She is sentenced to jail for a year.

That jailing is not due to immediate racism. The arresting officer, the attorneys, the judge and jury are all good people. But Sonia had a severe lack of resources from the complications of ancient racism.
posted by corb at 7:12 AM on January 14


corb, I don't think this kind of analysis holds up under scrutiny. In your particular example, it's true that "ancient" racism is the only determinate of differing outcomes. In aggregate, however, this is not the way outcomes are determined, and pervasive racism throughout the last sixty years has continued to put a thumb on the scale of the differing outcomes for whites and Blacks.

So for instance, at every level of the criminal justice system Blacks are more likely to be losers: they are more likely to be stopped by police, to be arrested, to be charged, to be convicted, and to be sentenced to lengthier incarceration. It's not just about bail, though of course that's a part of it; there's multiple causes, and in some of the states that have the most disproportionate prison populations, like Louisiana, there's lots of evidence of actual police and prosecutorial racial bias.

But even without obvious racial bias, the prevalence of drug law enforcement is very different in Black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods. I'm a teatotaller, but if I wanted I could safely buy and use illegal drugs with minimal likelihood of experiencing the CJS system; a comparable Black man, with the same education and income as me, cannot be so safe. Those biases multiply and ramify across the system, and it's no accident that the vast majority of the prisoners I work with are Black.

The economic story is monocausal, and unfortunately racial privilege and discrimination in the US seems to be overdetermined, such that economics is a self-reinforcing part of a larger whole. Not being white makes one less likely to be rich or middle class; even within the middle class, by income, Black Americans have a much smaller average household wealth. Even middle-class and wealthy Black Americans are more likely to live near poor people in higher crime neighborhoods, and to be exposed to violence from those facts that middle class and wealthy whites can ignore.

If you reduce everything to class, you're forgetting that there's something crucial about class in the US: non-whites have a lot more difficulty escaping the lower classes than whites do. Focusing on class allows us to ignore that fact, and we shouldn't, even as we shouldn't ignore class itself. It's okay to tell more complicated stories that don't reduce to a single metric or element; in fact, I think that's likely to get us closer to the truth.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:47 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


Studies that look at race impacts controlling for income don't truly control for class background, for the reasons that Corb says -- there are big differences in wealth and neighborhood setting tied to race even when income is the same.

I think in the end it's right to focus on class as the primary cause and not race. First, because it's true, and people understand this in their daily lives. The claim that race is primary and dominant comes down to a claim that whites treat *otherwise identical* blacks differently. This is a moralistic claim that creates a defensive reaction; people respond that if they were dealing with a black person they would treat them at least reasonably similarly to an otherwise identical white person. But blacks on average are not 'otherwise identical' -- there are big impacts from the multi-generational heritage of slavery and deprivation. Money can erase race in a way that race can't make money disappear. Which would you rather be, poor and white or rich and black?

Well, no, because "race" and "gender" are also basic functional units of actually existing capitalist political economy, and they help articulate the ways in which labor can be extracted by force or without even the fig leaf of compensation as a (denied) supplement to (white/male) labor/capital relations.

wrong. Was this written in 1862 about slavery or about Southern sharecroppers in 1910 or something? Race and gender carry the traces of former systems of domination, but they are essentially beside the point in modern capitalism. Labor is labor and capitalism is set up to exploit it whenever and where ever possible. Whereas class -- the power differential between the owners of capital/bosses and wage labor -- is still essential to making the economy work day to day.
posted by zipadee at 9:54 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


So for instance, at every level of the criminal justice system Blacks are more likely to be losers: they are more likely to be stopped by police, to be arrested, to be charged, to be convicted, and to be sentenced to lengthier incarceration. It's not just about bail, though of course that's a part of it; there's multiple causes, and in some of the states that have the most disproportionate prison populations, like Louisiana, there's lots of evidence of actual police and prosecutorial racial bias.

This is true and particularly so in selected areas of the law like the drug war. Racism plays a role. But I still think it should be secondary to class and both analytically and rhetorically. First, the criminal justice system operates in a space where blacks and whites are already different because of what I would call the 'class heritage of racism'. Thus, black neighborhoods are significantly more violent than white neighborhoods, black homicide rates are higher, etc. It is those differences which were used to justify mass incarceration in the first place, against the background of massive increases in violent crime (not just drug use!) over the 1965-1980 period. If you don't engage with those differences (as this article didn't) they will get raised anyway, and you will need to talk about them. You can certainly point out that the level of incarceration is disproportionate to levels of violence and is a destructive response to that violence. But you won't be able to talk reasonably about the differences that people observe in their daily lives without going to the issue of class.

Second, rhetorically it's important because racism has been assimilated to an individualistic moralist argument -- let me tell you about how you are committing the sin of racism. This is divisive between people of similar class but different races. White males are one of the most downwardly mobile groups since the 1970s; are you going to create any solidarity there by lecturing them about their white privilege?

I'm a teatotaller, but if I wanted I could safely buy and use illegal drugs with minimal likelihood of experiencing the CJS system; a comparable Black man, with the same education and income as me, cannot be so safe.

not so sure about this for a truly comparable black guy -- if a white Princeton student was sitting around in his dorm room smoking a joint with a fellow Princeton student who happened to be black, I don't think they would be running very different risks. Same for a black investment banker and a white investment banker snorting coke at a party in downtown NYC. A lot depends on subtle class distinctions like your neighborhood and how it's policed. Both the Princeton dorm room and the i-bankers party are not likely to be targeted for authoritarian social control by the police, that is because they are the geographic setting for a particular class. But out in public people will read from race to class, and also black people will be tied to lower-privilege neighborhoods by virtue of their family connections, etc. in a way that whites are not. This goes back to what I call the class heritage of race.
posted by zipadee at 10:16 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I really like that term, "the class heritage of racism." I think it kind of appropriately breaks down what the real problems are, while acknowledging that this is a legacy of racism that can't actually be eliminated simply by eliminating overt examples of racism.
posted by corb at 11:22 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


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