Why Can’t All Bodies be Different, but Fought For the Same?

In her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander (2010) spells out the issues of the master narrative, which has, since the abolition of slavery and strategic implementation of the war on drugs and mass incarceration, legitimized and hidden from the American people what locking up thousands and thousands of Black bodies has done. The emergence of crack cocaine in impoverished streets and mandatory minimum sentencing laws covered up the racist intentions of politicians to win the vote of the southern working class Whites who were feeling threatened and uneasy by Black bodies – post the abolition of Jim Crow laws – being a new part of the everyday public sphere. Since then, the war on drugs and mass incarceration have exploded; and today, there are more Black men in prisons and jails for drug crimes than there are out of prison in the United States. And, even though the United States claims to be making progress, mass incarceration is still very much in place, locking up black bodies and keeping the family members and loved ones of those incarcerated at a great disadvantage for navigating the world around them.

Somehow, even though the racial narrative behind mass incarceration has been called out, people are still living the repercussions of minimum sentencing, loss of welfare, and imprisonment. Even though there are claims that strides are being made away from institutional racism, this system that is destroying lives everyday is still very much in place. In light of the upcoming elections, I am curious, what are various candidates going to do to end mass incarceration? What are their feelings about the people who are suffering behind bars? But furthermore, what are their feelings and recognition of the individuals who suffer from a loss of welfare because their husband or life partner is a convicted felon. And worse yet, as Michelle Alexander (2010) states, their children and family members suffer from these consequences of the prison system by having their lives dismantled outside bars. Colorblind ideology, the attitude that the United States is a post-racial society, and the idea that race does not impact the treatment of individuals are essential contributors to this issue. This fusion of poverty, strict sentencing, and the public health phenomenon of drug addiction is destroying the lives of the Black bodies being imprisoned, but not just their lives—the lives of their wives, children, and loved ones.

The main question is, if we are in a post racial society, why is mass incarceration finally being talked about and cared about with regards to the current election? It is a sad truth; but the answer is, because it has started to effect white bodies.

The sad truth exists in that American culture now cares because mass incarceration has reached the white population; the heroine epidemic has resurfaced the war on drugs and is criminalizing white men and women and children, and they are now being imprisoned. And now the voices of their families, the voices of power in white culture, are reaching policy. These are the same voices and systems that have been silencing or refusing to hear the cries of those who have been affected by this for the few decades. It seems as though the United States people are now fighting for Black bodies since the White bodies that they care about are having their lives destroyed too. But in some respect, are we actually speaking up for the Black bodies that have been experiencing this for so long, or are we wrongfully grouping the two into one neutral category—white? My biggest question is, what is missing from the new master narrative that cares about mass incarceration? What experiences of Black lives are being left out of the newly formatted national and political arguments about race?

What do you think? Join the conversation!