Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Confederate History Month and BJS Data

Racism is not only pernicious in the present. It tends to perpetuate itself into the future, with lingering collateral damage.

I'm reminded of a quotation from Karl Marx: "The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an incubus on the brains of the living." Marx was not speaking specifically of racial prejudice. Yet clearly the evil spirit animating centuries of nightmarish slavery remains alive to oppress the living.

Consider a case in point: The governor of Virginia issued a lengthy statement proclaiming Confederate History Month, but omitted any mention of slavery. Only after a national outcry did he amend it to add a mention of our heritage of human bondage.

The statistics lay out the current reality very starkly. Nearly 150 years after slavery was abolished, African Americans are incarcerated at almost six times the rate of whites. Nearly one in six black men has been in prison According to 2007 data, about 900,000 of the 2.2 million people in American jails and prisons were black.

Has Gov. Robert McDonnell ever looked at data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on how racial minorities are so disproportionately present in those behind bars? In his state of Virginia, in 2005, blacks were incarcerated at a rate of 2,331 per 10,000 population, compared to 396 for whites.

This isn't to say that the professionals who administer the justice system are racists individually. One must acknowledge, however, the burden of history, and existence of structural racism. That recognition is an absolutely necessary step on the path to overcoming it.

How about Racial Disparity Awareness Month, governor?

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