The trouble with “colorblindness”

I’m currently reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.  She puts together a lot of things which I sort-of halfway knew, but whose significance I did not fully realize until I read this book.

Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander

I knew that the enforcement of drug laws was aimed primarily at poor black people.

I knew that the “war on drugs” was carried out in disregard of basic civil liberties.

I knew that primarily as a result of the “war on drugs,” huge numbers of young black men are in prison.

I knew that conviction of a crime entails loss of basic rights, including, in many states, the right to vote.

But it took Michelle Alexander to make me see how this resulted in a disenfranchisement of a large segment of the poor black population.  Black people who’ve been convicted of a drug crime can be barred from employment and bank credit, or from voting, just as when segregation was enforced by law.

Like many white people, I have always thought, and still think, that Americans should strive to be “colorblind”—that is, to treat people as individuals, regardless of their color or ethnic background.  But to Michelle Alexander, “colorblindness” has a very different meaning.  To her, it means the pretense that racial prejudice and racial discrimination do not exist.  It means, for example, that police can stop and frisk every young black man in a poor neighborhood, so long as they can say they are doing it for reasons other than race, and that the courts and politicians can ignore the disparity.

Alexander says that maybe someday the United States will be colorblind in the good sense, but we should not pretend that this day has arrived or will arrive anytime soon.

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Click on these links for more about racial discrimination in “colorblind” America.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Jobs, a report by Andy Kroll of Mother Jones on racial discrimination in employment and the implications of Michelle Alexander’s book.

Stopped-and-Frisked For Being a F**king Mutt, an audio recording of a routine encounter by New York police and a young black man, along with commentary in The Nation.

Overcoming Racial Discrimination , a comprehensive roundup of evidence of racial discrimination, including statistics and the experience of black and white testers.

Racial discrimination continues to play a part in hiring decisions, for a report on how white job applicants with criminal records had a higher success rate than black applicants with the same qualifications and clean records.

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One Response to “The trouble with “colorblindness””

  1. Atticus Says:

    It’s funny a friend and myself were talking about this very subject just the other day. How many of our drug laws inadvertently (or perhaps purposely) invade the rights of the black community.

    Someone caught with an ounce of marijuana as a 18 year old, gets a felony, and can’t vote for the rest of their lives. They also can’t own a gun, may be prevented from certain jobs, etc.

    Like

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