The Machine: Mass Incarceration and Race

The President’s State of the Union speech last night focused on the theme of “opportunity” in the U.S. Obama also renewed his pledge to close the prison facility at Guantanamo, the prison-of-no-return that the U.S. maintains in Cuba.  However, he made no reference to the persistent racial inequality in the U.S., and the machine that drives much of that inequality.  If there is one institution which (re)produces racial inequality in the U.S. like a machine, it is the institution of mass incarceration.  Between 1970 and 2005, the prison population in the U.S. has risen by 700%.  Most of that increase has been due to the failed “war on drugs” and most of those who are locked up are there for non-violent, drug-related offenses.  Even though whites use drugs at higher rates, it is black and brown people who are more likely to be locked up.

Mass Incarceration Infographic

On MLK Holiday, Much Work to be Done as Structural Racism Persists

Today is the annual Martin Luther King Day celebration.  In the U.S., this is a federal holiday and means that government offices and many schools (including my own) are closed in honor of Dr. King.  Even this modest commemoration was a hard won victory over a racist resistance to the holiday by those who oppose civil rights.  As we reflect on Dr.King’s legacy, it’s important to recognize there is much unfinished business in achieving racial justice.  This infographic from the  Economic Policy Institute illustrates the work still to be done.

Structural Racism Infographic-final

(Source: Economic Policy Institute)