Jim Crow Lives

Perception is reality, especially when it comes to race in the United States. nnWhile there is no doubt that there has been improvement in the lives of many African-Americans, that improvement has been far less expansive than we sometimes like to pretend. While blacks occupy or have occupied important public positions — the presidency, of course, but also U.S. attorney general, secretary of state, governor, mayor, CEO — these success stories remain the exception.

And black Americans understand this.

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released in August showed the stark differences in the way blacks and whites view race relations, especially in regards to interaction with police.

As the AP reported on the poll, a “majority of blacks in the United States — more than 3 out of 5 — say they or a family member have personal experience with being treated unfairly by the police, and their race is the reason why.” The number for whites: 3%.

The AP poll comes on the heels of other polls that have made the same claims -- a trend that should cause us to be far more aggressive in combatting the pernicious effects of the race-based policies that have led us to the current, racially charged moment.

Consider this comment from David A. Clarke Jr, Milwaukee County sheriff, who told the AP urban crime rates are responsible for the disparity.

“If you have more interaction with the police because of the crime and the disorder in our urban centers — the American ghetto I like to say it — it’s going to skew the numbers,” Clarke said.

This may seem logical to many, but it essentially blames the victims of police cruelty and violence. Yes, the overwhelming majority of blacks -- and Latinos -- live in depressed urban and inner-ring suburban areas. And yes, crime rates in those areas are higher than they are in outer-ring suburbs. But that doesn’t absolve police or the politicians who control them from responsibility for the militarized conditions they’ve applied in minority neighborhoods.

And it doesn’t absolve the same politicians from responsibility for continuing a contemporary version of Jim Crow:

• the criminalization of entire populations through “broken-windows” policing, which leaves so many in the black community struggling with unnecessary criminal records, and forces them to interact with police far more frequently than most whites;

• this then results in limited employment opportunities as businesses use background checks to weed out job candidates;

• the use of zoning and money to keep neighborhoods mostly segregated (and not just in the South), which then continues the segregation of public schools; the movement of jobs from smaller, mostly black and Latino cities to the white suburbs;

• the lack of funding for transit options that could take city residents to suburban jobs;

• the location of toxic businesses (trash incinerators, etc) in poor areas;

• lending policies that have tethered blacks to poor neighborhood or kept them from moving to the suburbs (see Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” <>);

• changes in voting laws designed to suppress minority voting, along with the gerrymandering of Congressional and other voting districts to dilute black electoral power; and so on.

The deaths of Jerame Reid, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Sam DuBose and others -- the list seems endless -- have triggered a push for police reforms. But fixing the police can only go so far. Police abuses are a symptom of the much larger problem of systemic racism that maintains white supremacy in the United States.

We can fix the police, which is the immediate existential problem, but leave intact the larger social and policy structures that prevent most African-Americans from participating fully in the American democratic project. Blacks may be safer, but they still would not be full members of our democracy.

Our efforts need to go deeper, need to be much more extensive, and must include reformation of our political and economic systems, as well. By the same token, we have to go beyond progressive — and necessary — policy prescriptions like a living wage and universal health care to attack the specific race-based or race-impacting policies that continue the effects of Jim Crow.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. Email,; blog,; Twitter, @newspoet41 and @kaletjournalism;

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2015

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