The Reiteration of Jim Crow

“Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises—the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life. Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole”. (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow)

I would never have thought that a book details the happenings during the time of Jim Crow, would be so reminiscent of the actions being portrayed in the media today. I’ve often heard that what is happening today “is nothing new, and that it is only technology that has evolved”, as things are now being recorded for all to see. But those actions (Murders, beatings, etc.) are very much parallel to the actions happening today. Michelle Alexander explains in detail, the many reiterations of systems built upon the backs of African American’s in this country.

Slavery was the first wave of this system, she begins by addressing the issue of race. She sheds light upon the fact that this idea of ‘race’ is a fairly recent development, implemented here in America in order to classify people. ‘Blacks” were shipped in directly from Africa (instead of an English speaking country), in an effort for whites to protect their superior status and maintain dominance (non-English speaking slaves, were much easier to control). The next wave to come was the era of Jim Crow. When I think of the Jim Crow era, I often think of this idea of ‘separate but equal’ and lynching. Considered technically ‘free’ blacks were often killed, beaten, and terrorized by ‘superior whites’. The men were feared, the women were raped, and the children were sold. And although America was thought to have been built on values such as liberty, freedom and equality, blacks were seen and treated as second-class citizens. She then speaks about the era of mass incarceration. The increased population of African Americans in prisons, and the deterioration of the black community.

Today these actions (killings, beatings, etc.) are not only seen and witnessed by those in the community, but they are also filmed and televised for all to see. W.E.B. Du Bois discussed the idea of the “Emmett Till Generation” and how blacks were traumatized by the lynching’s happening, within their communities. And with the rise of modern lynching’s (police brutality and killings) happening today, I wonder how the active media presence during this time will impact future generations? Ida B. Wells discussed the role that media platforms can play in documenting historical events that are often overlooked and brushed under the rug. As a journalist she keep a record of the atrocities taking place, and kept her community informed on these happenings. Going forward I believe that the media will be a key component, in the spread and documentation of these recent events. And I believe that more people will begin to utilize this platform to bring attention to these happenings within our own community.

The Cycle of the Racial Caste System

What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt.

-Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

We are now in the time period of what Michelle Alexander labels “The New Jim Crow,” which encompasses mass incarceration, institutional and systematic racism, and a racial cast system. During this era we have witnessed things from police shootings based on suspicion and fear, to mass incarceration of blacks and minorities.

The previous era of Jim Crow laws existed to keep blacks oppressed in order to “keep them in their place” post-slavery. The actions that were taken to enforce this racial caste system included violence and sometimes murder. The idea of racial caste is important because it highlights the difference between the class system and the caste system, but also compares the two on the basis of race. In the US, class consists of economic standing, and can be achieved over time. Some people are mobile within the classes, meaning they move from one class to another due to their economic standing, their wealth accumulation, and value of possessions. The caste system, however, is a system of ascribed status. Within the caste system, people are born into the status they have for the rest of their lives. The caste system parallel with the race system we’ve constructed in the US is an idea that highlights a lot of the issues within the conversation about racial tension in the US. Since slavery, race has been a mark of the status a person has in society. One of my favorite things the famous rapper Kanye West has ever said in his music is, “Even if you in a Benz, you still a ni**a, in a coup (Kanye West, All Falls Down).” The system that has been created in this country tells blacks that no matter what they have achieved, there is still something negative about being black. And this is what Michelle Alexander is talking about when talking about the New Jim Crow.

Mass incarceration has created a new mentality that has simply just tipped off the effects of slavery. If a black child is born into poverty and hopelessness, that is all they know until they are old enough to know beyond the limits of this environment. A young mind affected by such tragic struggle can turn a young heart cold, causing youth to resort to violence and crime as a means to providing for themselves and their family. Faced with a choice between an education and fast money from distributing illicit or illegal drugs, it is rare that any young man put in this position will pick education. With no one enforcing the importance of education, the only idea of education he has is that he isn’t good enough to make it to college. In his mind, why should he go into debt getting an education he cant afford when money is right in front of him? His dad did it, his brother did it, his uncle did, why can’t he?  In this scenario, the youth is arrested, and is labeled as a felon. Once released, still labeled as felon, the newly learned black man is released back into society without his right to vote or his right to compete within the job sphere. Some argue that the idea of taking away the Constitutional right to vote from a felon goes hand in hand with the mass incarceration of black men. The coincidence of the correspondence makes this idea seem all too real. This is the vicious cycle of the New Jim Crow.

This cycle has to be infiltrated, and politicians have yet to show that they care about this system. Racial profiling and the rumors spread about it by the media cause greater tension between the black community and law enforcement, which in turn gives those law officials with any bit of racial prejudice an upper hand. The portrayal of blacks in the media has become so negative that the fact that we have  black president means absolutely nothing. The so called “War on Drugs” has just made it worse, creating a stereotype for black men that police and law officials have turned to for an excuse of racial profiling and prejudice. A lot of times, this excuse gets an unjustified act by law enforcement brushed over instead of being eligible for an indictment. Black youth are still being beaten, murdered, and oppressed. Until education is fairly spread out to such under-attack communities, the cycle will continue, and more youth will be exposed to a life of imprisonment both mentally and physically.



One Click Away from Jim Crow

“Slavery ended over a hundred years ago. Why can’t you people just get over it and realize that racism doesn’t exist anymore?”

Slavery “ended” on January 1, 1863. The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865. The Civil Rights Movement began in 1954. Emmitt Till was murdered at the age of 14 in 1955. Oscar Grant was shot in the back by an officer who “thought it was his taser” in 2009. Sandy Hook Elementary school was attacked, children were murdered, and families were left devastated in 2012. The shooter was only taken out by his own bullet. A movie theater was attacked, 12 people died, and the shooter was deemed insane. Trayvon Martin  at 17 years old was shot and killed in 2012 for looking suspicious to a trigger happy neighbor. Eric Garner, father of six, was choked on film in 2014 for selling untaxed cigarettes. Michael Brown at the age of 18 was shot to death in 2014. Sandra Bland died from asphyxiation in her jail cell 2015. A black church in Charleston, SC was attacked by a gunman who was there to “kill black people.” Nine people were killed, including the head pastor of the church, and the killer was arrested alive. Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were both shot point blank in 2016 by law enforcement. A massacre took place at a night club in Orlando in 2016 due to homophobia. How far removed are we really from the Jim Crow law era?

Black people have been treated poorly in this country for centuries. Injustice has become something not that we face, but something we are taught to deal with from birth. But in the midst of being learned citizens about our history, we are taught to be strong, independent, and unbothered by oppressive circumstances. This is what Du Bois calls “double consciousness (The Souls of Black Folk, 45).” We are made to be fully aware of a two-sided perception society gives us, which includes knowing the person we are, as well as being fully perceptive of how society views us. It would seem that in the late 1800’s and early to mid 1900’s this idea would be more prominent than it would be in the 21st century, but that isn’t the case. Injustice has been taking place all over the world regardless of the legislation put in place to stop it. The only difference between today and 100 years ago is the injustice is being filmed more often. People who are unarmed are being killed by the people who are supposed to be protecting them, people are still being killed for their sexual orientation, and there has been minimal results in the minimal legal acts taken to stop it.

I do not think that rioting is our best way to counteract injustices, even though when peaceful protests and political sit-downs take place nothing really happens. Instead, how about we come up with better ways to educate our communities such as funding our public schools better. How about building more infrastructure or funding more programs that will give kids more incentive to go to school so they can be better prepared to work and less interested in street crime because they have no hope for gaining a decent income. How about we have a better screening policy for the police who are in each community so that they are trained to be better prepared in situations where they feel threatened which excludes being trigger happy. Du Bois talks about during slavery, when poor white workers were put in place to “police” the black slaves. This gave the white workers some feeling of status as to always keep them feeling better or more important than blacks. This feeling of superiority has left most “red” state populations with still, very similar feelings. I’ve said before, the worst thing you can be born as in this country is a black male. How about we be honest for once in history and accept and try to understand that injustice is happening and instead of just always “talking about it” why don’t we get off our assess to force the government into a corner to where they have to do something about it. How about we stop being so capitalistic and selfish and realize that as a nation we are suffering and in order to stop, we need to begin helping one another more often. The great thing about our society is that everybody gets a piece of this great big economic pie, but if the people in power are hoarding the big pieces for themselves and their families, the people who the economy needs to prosper the most are not going to get enough of the pie. And then riots happen. How about we stop making people feel so oppressed. Can we begin learning from the history and instead of regressing into it, how abut we begin turning away from it. I don’t understand how Germany can get it right after all these years, yet we still can’t get our shit together here. People were enslaved, persecuted and left to die because of their skin color or ethnic background. But yet we love to fly our flag high in the sky as the most accepting and free country in the world. Well it’s not. It’s becoming the opposite. People are still being persecuted in ways that aren’t necessarily face to face or physical but they are still feeling it. Until the tragedies end, there will be people up in arms. We need to educate our society better. We need to put an end to injustice.

Facing History in 2016

“The significance of slavery in the United States to the whole social development of America lay in the ultimate relation of slaves to democracy. What were to be the limits of democratic control in the United States? if all labor, black as well as white, became free were given schools and the right to vote, what control could or should be set to the power and action of those laborers? was the rule of the mass of Americans to be unlimited, and the right to rule extended to all men regardless of race and color, or if not, what power of dictatorship and control; and how would privilege be protected? This was the great and primary question which was in the minds of the men who wrote the constitution of the United States and continued in the minds of thinkers down through the slavery controversy. It still remains with the world as the problem of democracy expands and touches all races and nations”. (Black Reconstruction, W.E. B. Du Bois)

Never would I have thought that in 2016 I would be trying to educate my peers on the same issues that Du Bois wrote about in Black reconstruction and The Souls of Black Folk. Being a young black woman in College, in 2016, is quite the achievement in the eyes of many, but from my point of view its what I’m supposed to be doing. I never thought about the significance of this until reading The Souls of Black Folk by W.E. B. Du Bois. He made a point to explain the constant struggle faced by Americans during and after slavery. The question posed by Du Bois was “how does it feel to be a problem?” this made me think, as I remember talking about the obvious injustices that are currently happening, or at least to me they are, when many of my peers reacted to my frustration in a way where this made sense. I have been asked questions such as “why is this still relevant?”, “I don’t see color, this is not a black and white thing?”, “why are you mad?” and “slavery ended along time ago why does it matter?”.

According to history, this is extremely relevant to understanding why there are many people advocating for the #blacklivesmatter campaign and addressing police brutality towards minorities. The fact that African Americans have to face the brutal history of being uprooted from their native land and taken to an unknown one, to then be converted into being recognized as less than a human, simplifies the relevance of slavery and American History. It is important to understand the role that the “negro” had in society during the times of slavery and after, Du Bois noted that “what need of eduction, since we must always cook and serve?” and the nation echoed and enforced this self criticism, saying: be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for halfmen?”(The Soul of Black Folk). Therefore by dismissing the significance of an historical event, is another way of not facing the brutal and factual past that many people suffered.

Du Bois mentioned in Black Reconstruction that, “the system of slavery demanded a special police force and such a force was made possible and unusually effective by the presence of the poor whites”, this a key factor in understanding that blacks in the United States in that day an age was considered to be less of a person than even poor whites who were in the same economical category. Also, they were used as the force to reinstate that sad truth. Looking at certain instances of Police Brutality, this is reminiscing of this concept, being that a person of color has to behave a certain way around the police in order to not loose their life or face harsh physical punishment.

Surprisingly, in today’s society many schools do not give a well rounded and accurate depiction of African American History, including slavery in the United States. The propaganda of history is part of the reason why many students have fallen into ignorance about the facts of slavery. Many textbooks in the past inserted historical ‘facts’ explaining the reconstruction period of the United States after the civil war that created the mentality that blacks were responsible for their own misfortune. For example, “some negroes spent their money foolishly, and were worse off than they had been before. (Carl Russell Fish, “History of America”, p. 365.)” and “In the exhausted states already amply ‘punished’ by the desolation of war, the rule of the Negro and his unscrupulous carpetbagger and scalawag patrons, was an orgy of extravagance, fraud and disgusting incompetency. (David Saville Muzzey, “History of the American People”, p. 408.)”. This type of rhetoric is what clouds peoples understanding of the relevance of addressing this important piece of history in the American society. The constant fight of refuting these claims was and still is relevant today, especially for those who fail to understand the importance of facing the uncomfortable truths about past history.




Songs of the Black Soul

“Lo! We are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our writing is in vain; what need of education, since we must always cook and serve? And the nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men? (W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk)

In a world that demands nothing less of excellence from all of its inhabitants, and yet condemns education and innovation from within the black community. How are we to grow as a community, and strive for greatness when we are consistently being seen as nothing more than ‘hired help’? This narrative is still very much prevalent today, this idea that we shouldn’t strive for better, and that we should just settle for the roles assigned to us, by a society, not made for us.

In the Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B Du Bois begins every chapter  with a song, a negro spiritual if you will. This sets the tone for the chapter and gives a little peak into to the ‘inter-workings’ of the black community.  Slavery is a very uncomfortable topic for most people, and whenever the topic of slavery is brought up in conversation, others are quick to dismiss or justify the injustices done, without taking the time to listen. Each song gives the reader a taste of what is to come without ‘overwhelming’ them with facts. W.E.B. Du Bois begins with the question “How does it feel to be a problem?”, and goes on to tell us that being a ‘negro’ in America is synonymous with having little to no rights or respect. And although things have evolved since then, mostly for the better, I do not think this has changed very much. Du Bois introduces this idea of a double-consciousness, and talks about how young black children have to develop this at such a young age. He also talks about how blacks often had to work twice as hard and be twice as educated just to receive not even half the respect. And, although this is not a new concept, it is very problematic, newly freed slaves believed that they were owed ‘carefree lives’. Suffice to say this was not the case, after being freed many slaves were arrested for thieving. And although all of this is true, W.E.B Du Bois discusses the fact that history makes it seem as if slavery was unwillingly thrust upon America, and as if the south was completely blameless.

After this we take a shift to the civil rights march, arguably one of the most famous and influential social justice movement in American history. Today there are so many different movements (ex. movements in support of minority groups in America), and so many different groups of people seeking the rights and justices that they have been denied for so long. Actively being a part of and supporting one social movement is a huge commitment, but what if you belong to more than one of these minority groups? Many times people are forced to choose which movement (ex. black rights vs. feminism) is most important. Angela Davis discussed the importance of understanding the intersections and connections between the many different movements in occurrence. I believe that this thought, will be key in the coming years as many different movements begin to evolve and gain traction.

The Irony of Black Excellence

“When I was seventeen, I secured a job in the factory and discovered that blacks tended to be restricted to manual labor while whites filled managerial positions. That setting was reminiscent of Mississippi cotton fields where blacks labored and whites supervised. I became aware that racism did not stem merely from the hate of mean white segregationists but rather was a national phenomenon (Aldon D. Morris, The Scholar Denied).”

In the 1900’s anybody who was not a hetero-sexual, Christian, white male, was seen as deviant. One of the worst things to have been was black. In The Scholar Denied, Aldon Morris explores his upbringing in such an environment.

Growing up in the 1950’s, Morris tells us about his experience with the Jim Crow Laws, the times from the brutal murder of Emmitt Till, the Civil Rights movement, and how both the black community and society as a whole was impacted by such events. Within all this racially charged phenomena, Morris analyzed his lifetime from a sociological standpoint, making W.E.B Du Bois his sociological compass, and making a case for why Du Bois’ work should be more highly recognized in Sociology.

Morris reminds us that from Du Bois we get an ironic situation of  The what we now call a Black Scholar. The irony stems from the fact that the image of a black man during Morris’ time was that of low prestige, limited or no education, and violent or criminal tendencies. However, Du Bois broke away from this stigma to challenge social studies head on from a “black radical” standpoint. Morris also got his chance to become his own idea of a Black Scholar from being exposed to Du Bois’ work.

Morris explains his experience in college, having a background which told him college would not be an option. He came from a family of people who valued education so primely, but never had the opportunity to grasp it for themselves, so Morris pursued higher education. Personally, having a background such as Morris’ has motivated me that much more. During his time in school, he learned about W.E.B Du Bois, and his impact on sociology. This forces Morris to question why Du Bois’ contribution is not acknowledged as much as it should be.

From Du Bois, we learn about race in sociology more than his predecessors cared to talk about. According to Morris, from Du Bois also came the first school of scientific sociology. However, because of the color of his skin, Du Bois gets denied the earned right of being acknowledged for his direct contribution to the science. As a sociology major, I think it is unfair. A lot of the ideas we study in the science are accredited to Karl Marx. However, most of it was also covered in Du Bois’ work as well. Du Bois wrote about class and power struggle, constantly eluding to the idea of how the struggling class (black people) can gain status in society. As a black scholar himself, many can say he was a great leader in the wave of what we label as  “Black Excellence,” which is now paving the way for further scholars such as Morris and myself to educate ourselves and to educate others to come.

The Role of the Black Scholar

“While I am a product of the poor black working class, whose members labored in factories, stockyards, construction sites, and the kitchens of the well-to-do, the value of education was always supreme”. (Aldon D. Morris, The Scholar Denied: W.E.B Du Bois and the birth of Modern Sociology)

In a society that is faced by the constant struggles of inequality, discrimination, ignorance and racism, education seems to be at the forefront of the marginalized mind. History is a testament to understanding the importance of the “black scholar” within an educational system dominated by the privileged group. Aldon D. Morris took note of this concept when he discovered the works of W.E.B. Du Bois in the world of sociology. Being educated in a time period where the color of your skin determined how you were treated in society, gave a sense of empowerment to a young Morris who battled with the obvious caste system that constantly reminded him of his position as the “inferior”. According to Morris, “caste, peonage debt, and racial violence became an enduring emotional and intellectual obsession that I sought to understand from a young age”. Du Bois’s intellectual contributions to building the “black scholar”, created a movement that contradicted the rhetoric that was fed to Morris, that the black mind was not capable of comprehending the same concepts as the “superior” mind.

For years Du Bois’s contribution to sociological methodologies was ignored by white sociologist because his work included History, Anthropology, Political Science, Economics and the Humanities. Du Bois suggested that, “authentic social science was possible and that the inferior and superior races did not exist”. One can note why this was undermined in the early days of sociology, because in order to address that there is such a thing as racial inequality and racism, then they would have to admit to its existence. this is much like what we are dealing with in present day, United states.

The role of the black scholar in today’s society is represented in different forms and intellectual levels. Recent injustices against the African American community has birthed the syllabus movement, creating specific outlets for people to contribute to educating the masses on the #BlackLivesMatter movement and different events such as Ferguson. These syllabi’s create a dialogue for people to read, understand and address matters that may not draw their interest because they do not connect to them in the same way as I would. Ignorance seems to be a common trend among the population who are not affected by the events that society is facing. This will continue if we continue to lose interest in educating ourselves on the “elephant in the room” or as Albert Einstein puts it, “somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely nearsighted person who scorns eye glasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else”.  061013-national-black-college-students-debt