There are so many stories about institutional racism going around on Facebook and Twitter right now it is hard to keep track of them all. Here is a small sampling:
The doctrine of noninterference turned into a charter for all around interference for one reason: the occupying power gave itself the prerogative to define the boundaries of that in which it will not interfere, and then to define the content of the authentic religion with which there was to be no interference, and finally, to acknowledge the authentic authority that would define and safeguard religion in its pure form—without external interference. The prerogative to define the boundary, the substance and the authority of the “customary,” gave vast scope to the powers of the occupying authority. But the exercise of this power, the list of those to be “protected,” was politically determined—and it grew as time passed.
Mamdani, Define and Rule
The BBC has a nice little photo essay about voting rights for Daffers [pronounced Dafirs], a DNT community. I suspect that these photos might be the same ones mentioned in this 2006 article by my friend Roxy Gagdekar:
From eking out a living as highway robbers, members of the once “most dangerous” denotified tribe – Daffers – seem to have turned a new leaf earning their livelihood out of guarding fields and doing odd jobs.
The rise in remuneration from guarding fields in the past five years has been the main magnet for the members of this tribe. “We guard fields from thieves and cattle round-the-clock throughout the crop season,” said Latif Usmanbhai Daffer, a resident of Vasna village in Sanand at the inauguration of a photo exhibition organised by Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM) in the city.
Unfortunately, this Indian Express article makes it clear that their new job guarding fields comes with its own problems:
UNTIL 1951, they were officially branded as the ‘tribe of crime’. And so trips to the police station were a regular feature in every Dafer member’s life. They were also the first on whom the scepter of suspicion fell every time a crime took place in the areas they lived in.
But 56 years after being denotified, the community still has to bear with the stigma. The law still looks at them with suspicion, subjecting them to occasional harassment and intimidation, alll while the community is trying hard to come to the mainstream of life.
Even today, in rural Gujarat, police pursue Dafers who work for farmers in their fields. Police visit the thatched settlements (dangas) of Dafers in search of some suspect or the other.
…. Musabhai says most of the Dafers like him are employed by rural farmers to protect their crop from cattle and wild animals. But their socio-administrative vulnerability exposes them to the exploitations by the farmers as well.
“I was asked to protect the crops at Vakrana village last year. After working for the entire season, the villagers sent me off without paying the dues in November last,” says Latifbhai Dafer.
He adds: “With the fear of police, we just had to run away, we couldn’t approach anyone for help, the Vakrana panchayat still owes me Rs 1,35,000. ”
From an interview with Greg Palast, where he argues that both the media and congress are missing the real story behind the US attorney scandal:
[Monica Goodling] was trying to tell us something important, but the dim bulbs of the U.S. press and the committee dolts wouldn’t listen. She began by accusing her bosses of perjury. The issue was her allegation that they knew all about “caging.” And no one asked her one damn question about it. Like what is “caging” and why would they commit perjury to cover it up?
… Caging works like this. Hundreds of thousands of Black and Hispanic voters were sent letters — do not forward. Letters returned as undeliverable (”caged”) were used as evidence the voter didn’t live at their registered address. The GOP goons challenged these voters’ right to cast ballots — and their votes were lost.
But whose letters were caged? Here’s where the game turns to deep evil. They targeted Black students on vacation, homeless men — and you’ll love this — Black soldiers sent overseas. They weren’t living at their home voting address because they were shivering under a Humvee in Falluja.
… Caging, by the way, is illegal. Law Professor Bobby Kennedy pointed out it violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — and I’d add, as a former racketeering investigator, mail fraud statutes. So [newly hired federal prosecutor Tim] Griffin’s a felon — now U.S. Attorney.
The following quotes and chart were culled from Jason DeParle’s New York Review of Books article, “The American Prison Nightmare.” The issue has been covered here extensively. Here is a Google search of the Keywords archives for the word “prison.”
- Black men in their early thirties are imprisoned at seven times the rate of whites in the same age group.
- Counting jails, there are now seven Americans in every thousand behind bars. That is nearly five times the historic norm and seven times higher than most of Western Europe.
- But by 2000, high school dropouts of either race were being locked up three times as often as they had been two decades before. And racial disparities have become immense. By the time they reach their mid-thirties, a full 60 percent of black high school dropouts are now prisoners or ex-cons.
- The disclosure of a prison record reduced the chances of getting a second interview by half for whites and by two thirds for blacks.
- as official unemployment hit record lows, joblessness among young black dropouts rose to record highs. The prison expansion reflected inequality. The prison expansion created inequality. The prison expansion hid inequality from view.
- physically separating some inmates from the rest of the population (often in conditions amounting to solitary confinement) has become a punishment of first resort, leading to what the commission called “tortuous conditions that are proven to cause mental deterioration.” From 1995 to 2000, the number of inmates in isolated cells rose 40 percent to 81,000.
- 1.5 million people who are released from prisons and jails each year with an infectious disease—tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV, and drug-resistant staph infections. They are a threat to everyone, but especially to the minority neighborhoods from which they are disproportionately drawn. Meanwhile, the increasing number of prisons that require inmates to pay for part of their own medical care, an innovation intended to deter malingerers, has been found to reduce clinic visits by up to 50 percent.
- By the most conservative estimate, the mentally ill account for 16 percent of the prison population, or about 350,000 people on a given day; their true numbers may be twice as high.
- By denying the vote to felons, the average state disenfranchises 2.4 percent of its voting-age population—but 8.4 percent of its voting-age blacks. In fourteen states, the share of blacks stripped of the vote exceeds 10 percent. And in five states (including Kentucky), it exceeds 20 percent. Focusing on black men, Marc Mauer has estimated that felony laws keep nearly one in seven from voting nationwide. (See chart)
- If felons were allowed to vote, the United States would have a different president. … [and] seven modern Republican senators owe their election to laws that keep felons from voting: John Warner of Virginia (1978), John Tower of Texas (1978), Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (1984), Connie Mack of Florida (1988), Paul Coverdell of Georgia (1992), Jim Bunning of Kentucky (1998), and Mel Martinez of Florida (1998).
CHART: Share of population barred from voting by felon disenfranchisement laws.
It is impossible to read a history of press coverage of the civil rights movement without reflecting darkly on today’s era of secret surveillance, clandestine prisons, and prosecutorial threats against newspapers that expose government misdeeds. As the struggle in the South illustrated, only when reporters throw spotlights on the ugliest behavior does the conscience of the country begin to stir. Only when the press is relentless at portraying awful truths, even in the face of danger, will that conscience mobilize for change. That’s how it works in an open political system that owes its allegiance to an informed people.
So begins a Columbia Journalism Review post about Roberts and Klibanoff’s The Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation, a history of the role of the media in the US civil rights struggle.
On the Media had an interview with the authors, and there is more discussion of the book over at Crooked Timber. Henry Farrell cites two articles which make the link between press involvement in the civil rights movement and the rise of conservative opposition to the “mainstream media.” Finally, Henry asks whether this legacy has resulted in the tendency of the press to “tiptoe around the political importance of racism in the South today”?
Over at Sepia Mutiny, Siddhartha has an excellent post on one of the most important figures in Indian history, a man whose contribution is not as well known outside of India as it should be, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.
Fifty years ago, on October 14, 1956 — and a mere two months before his death — Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the scholar and political leader who was principally responsible for the drafting of India’s Constitution, converted to Buddhism in a public ceremony in Nagpur. Somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 of his Dalit followers — the accounts vary — embraced Buddhism in the immediate wake of his conversion. For Dr. Ambedkar, nothing in his long, distinguished career could convince him that the socio-cultural dynamics of Hinduism would ever offer Dalits a way out of “untouchability,” disenfranchisement, poverty and social stigma.
When I was exploring the colonial archives in England last month, I ran across several documents recounting testimony given by Ambedkar to various colonial commissions. Even though it had little to do with our work I found myself reading these otherwise boring historical documents, drawn in by the clarity and depth of his thought.
Please read Siddhartha’s entire post!
A year and a half ago I wrote about being weirded out by the name of a dish at a restaurant in an upscale neighborhood in Ahmedabad. I later learned that less than a year before that the government of Gujarat had produced a textbook which had chapters titled “‘Hitler, the Supremo‘ and ‘Internal Achievements of Nazism’,” painting an remarkably uncritical picture of Nazism. Now, this past week, a restaurant in Bombay changed its name from “Hitler’s Cross Cafe” to “The Cross Cafe” only after protests by Bombay’s Jewish community.
I can’t help but see a trend. And the uncomfortable conclusion is that it isn’t India’s Jewish population who should be upset. While the Bombay restaurant owner claims to have only adorned his restaurant with Nazi memorabilia in order to attract attention, anyone who has seen Rakesh Sharma’s film The Final Solution will have no doubt as to why Hitler seems so appealing to India’s right wing.
I’ve had too many conversations with ordinary middle class Indians who seem to find it perfectly acceptable to blame all of India’s problems on the Muslims for the connection not to be apparent. However the connection seems to be lost on most reporters since it is generally assumed that Muslims want to kill all the Jews as well. (I do remember seeing Hitler posters throughout Pakistan when I was there during the first Gulf War.) Still, I believe it is convenient for the press to paint this as a story of having inadvertently hurt the feelings of a tiny minority population, when the real story affects the third-largest Muslim population in the world!
Kieran Healy recently posted this chart showing incarceration rates in the US compared to other “basically well-functioning advanced capitalist democracies”:
Earlier he posted a more inclusive chart which also listed a few “countries that are not exactly model states.” America is still way out in the inglorious lead.
But what neither of these charts makes clear is who is getting incarcerated in America. These two charts from a 2003 Human Rights Watch report show what I mean:
U.S. Population by Race
State and Federal Inmates by Race
As they say in their report:
Even more troubling than the absolute number of persons in jail or prison is the extent to which those men and women are African-American. Although blacks account for only 12 percent of the U.S. population, 44 percent of all prisoners in the United States are black.
Census data for 2000,which included a count of the number and race of all individuals incarcerated in the United States, reveals the dramatic racial disproportion of the incarcerated population in each state: the proportion of blacks in prison populations exceeds the proportion among state residents in every single state. In twenty states, the percent of blacks incarcerated is at least five times greater than their share of resident population.
So why are so many people in jail? It isn’t because of violent crime, which has fallen faster than people are being locked up. One answer is the draconian “War on Drugs” which disproportionately targets poor and minority drug users and mandates excessive jail times.
Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national “war on drugs.” The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges.
To understand these phenomena, we first need to break out of the narrow “crime and punishment” paradigm and examine the broader role of the penal system as an instrument for managing dispossessed and dishonored groups. And second, we need to take a longer historical view on the shifting forms of ethno-racial domination in the United States. This double move suggests that the astounding upsurge in black incarceration in the past three decades results from the obsolescence of the ghetto as a device for caste control and the correlative need for a substitute apparatus for keeping (unskilled) African Americans in a subordinate and confined position—physically, socially, and symbolically.
Any explanation of America’s unusually high incarceration rates can not be separated from the racial composition of its prisons.