Theo Wilson is a district executive with BarberShop Talk, a mentorship organization for males.
“The combination of the crack war and mandatory sentencing saw a huge sweep of black males into prison and further degeneration of the black family.”
We are trying to rebuild community relationships, especially in the black community so that we can have a functioning community and not just a place where people live. I’m not really surprised by the numbers showing these gaps. I’m actually happy that there are numbers that verify what I’ve been feeling all along. I feel the reverse of progress and I see it all the time.
First thing I see is in the way that our lives are meaningless in the eyes of law enforcement. That’s a major way.
It’s pretty intense out here. I see (racism) in the community where it’s clear that the economic disparities are in fact growing. It’s clear that the kids are not participating in school because they don’t feel like they’re going to be belonging to society. And in the conviction records of brothers and what (they’re) slowly doing to people who have a felony conviction and if you read between the lines what that really means.In Michelle Alexander’s book called “The New Jim Crow,” she said that police concentration in the black community is almost six times as high as it is in the white community, and the fact that there’s no number to indicate that black people use more illicit drugs than anybody else. Matter of fact, if there’s any number – there’s more illicit drugs on the white side. But the fact is these convictions, the simple possession convictions, brand you as a felon. Now if you’ve got six times the concentration of the police in the community, arresting six times as many people, and being branded a felon is what keeps you out of jobs, out of public housing, you can’t even get into the projects for five years after you’ve been branded a felon. All this adds up. When you look at the numbers, it’s clear as day that this is a targeted and covert effort to reduce the gains made by the black community.
I think I know what the root of the problem is. It’s that there are two types of racism. There’s interpersonal racism, which is calling someone the “N-word” to their face, just being mean-spirited to somebody because of their race. And we call that racism, but there’s another kind of racism, and that’s structural racism. Structural racism comes from having a 400-year head start. It’s something that comes with the fact that if you take land from somebody, and you set up that land, and you profit from that land, and you pass that land down for generations, those people in those generations are going to have a humungous head start, financially and socially, simply because of what their ancestors were able to acquire. They still hold the power strings. That’s why affirmative action is so important because it makes you take notice. It makes you take notice of what you’re doing and the color of the people that you’re hiring.
Why is it worse in 2012 than in 1960? The reason is because structural racism continues to advance. It never changed. It never stopped its growth. It never really did anything to change its nature. And why would it? Power never concedes without force. What happened, what you see is that spike in 1980 where things got a little bit better. I trace it back to the decade prior, in the ‘70s, there were so many government programs that were helping black Americans get college educations. Right after the civil rights bill was signed, all sorts of money was allocated and African Americans were going to college left and right. There was a great deal of public political will behind healing the wound that Jim Crow had left behind. People wanted to see and show progress. After awhile, I think it peaked in the early ‘90s, actually the late ‘90s where we saw the tide receding.
The black prison population doubled between 1992 and 2000 because of the quote-unquote war on drugs, where people were getting very, very heavy mandatory sentencing. And it was also the advent of the crack era. It was a combination of forces.
We’re not saying that no one could overcome, and this is excuse making, and this is something that we’re blaming white people for. People did overcome this. People did rise above, people did get out of the ghetto. People did make good for themselves. But just like not everybody can run the 100 meters in less than 10 seconds, not everybody had the internal strength to overcome their environment. Some people can, but most people cannot. Not without a strong background, not without a strong family. The combination of the crack war and mandatory sentencing saw a huge sweep of black males into prison and further degeneration of the black family.
I don’t see the social and political things in place to narrow these gaps. Let’s just eliminate the African Americans from this conversation and look at white Americans. You’ll see that the income gap from their wealthiest to their poorest, or even to the middle class, is ever widening. And when you look at the families that are in the 1 percent, ain’t none of them black. There are no black 1 percent families, period.