The history of the United States is undeniably complicated. What is further undeniable is its structure to oppress people of color at every turn. With each law put into place, white Americans further disenfranchised Black people through lawful loopholes that made getting away with discrimination an easy task. People of color, especially Black Americans, live in a society designed for their failure.
Positionality determines success, and our institutions have upheld practices for generations that deny Black Americans equity. The school-to-prison pipeline, for example, underscores the correlation between lack of funding and lack of education. Lack of education often leads to incarceration. With money comes immense privilege in the United States. The connection between poor education and communities of color creates a system that sets Black Americans up for failure. Due to the lack of quality education, students of color are far more likely to have acquired abilities less than what is required in the labor market, thus correlating non-Whiteness with incarceration. Students of color are far more likely to be removed from school by either suspension, expulsion, or in-school arrest that further deprives them of any educational opportunities. This educational deprivation pushes the youth out of school, where they believe themselves to be incapable as students.
Racialized mass incarceration describes what we see as modern-day slavery. Black people are disproportionately preyed upon and criminalized. Once they enter the criminal justice system, they become prison-statistics unable to secure a rightful place as equal members of society. President Nixon’s 1971 war on drugs was a strategic band of lies designed to criminalize Black Americans for partaking in recreational drug use under the guise of public health. Though recreational drug use was not limited to Black communities, Black communities were disproportionally affected by the increased police force. Another disproportionate influx of racialized mass incarceration accompanied Bill Clinton’s “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act” (also called the ’94 Crime Bill). This bill brutalized Black and Brown communities for over two decades and has effects that continue to haunt the prison industry to this day. This crime bill created irreversible damage that sought to lock up more people in more places and birthed the violent policing that plagues underrepresented communities.
The social context of 2020 in the United States has made the need for prison reform clear. Mass outrage followed the murder of George Floyd and brought attention to the need to dedicate more energy and resources toward proper training for our police forces. Our institutions continue to contribute to the violent history of persecution of Black Americans in our Nation. The domino effect of institutional racism infiltrates all aspects of life for Black Americans. Complete reform or rebuilding is required to correct the systems on which so many rely.