“I know how black it looks today, for you. It looked bad that day, too, yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other none of us would have survived. And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children’s children.” “Know whence you came from. If you know from whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear” (James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time)
In our society there have been many reiterations of systems of injustice meant to “cage” and stifle the progression of African Americans. When we first began looking at mass incarceration as one of these systems, I was at first skeptical. But although there are many differences between the iterations, are many similarities. Within every generation of my family (on both sides) I can think of at least two people who have gone to prison, or who are currently in prison. And of course I had always questioned this fact, especially when they’ve been in prison for decades, for minor offences. But growing up it wasn’t out of the ordinary in the neighborhood that I grew up in, I would even say that it was pretty ordinary. People died and people went to prison, I wasn’t something we talked about. But one thing people really didn’t do, was go to college.
Throughout all of my years in the education system, I’ve always felt that the system was not built for me, or ‘people like me’. And because of this I’ve always had to work twice, sometimes three times as hard only to still, constantly have to play catch-up. I’ve had teachers and guidance counselors tell me that college wasn’t meant for me. And yet here I am in my junior year of college, and even now it can be difficult to get past this barrier, that I fell is still between me and higher education. Stokely Carmichael discusses the urgency, with which black people need to get themselves together and contribute to the development of larger society. This I believe is reflected in the many actions that black people make, in order to survive in a society that is built on the opposite.
Sometimes it seems as if this society that we live in feeds off the ‘suffering’ of black people. There is already a stigma placed on every black person within this society. But to be both a black person and a felon, is to experience the loss of all of ones freedoms and rights. Michelle Alexander talks about prison, and the huge amount of restrictions that are placed on prisoners after they are released. When they are released that is not the end of it, this goes on to affect their lives forever. They struggle to get jobs, and houses, this makes getting on the ‘straight and narrow’ next to impossible. And as mass incarceration is only the most recently reiteration of this system, I am truly afraid to see what comes next.