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Inequalities Perpetuating the Legacy of Slavery in America

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Cory Clark       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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WASHINGTON DC - The anger and outrage culminating in mass protests across the country, almost on a daily basis, are not new, but were born out of hundreds of years of violent oppression and enforced poverty, police brutality and mass incarceration and state slavery with no remedy or recourse for people of color.

From the moment private slave ownership was outlawed in the United States the black body has been held in virtual and often literal bondage, first as sharecroppers in the south, then as an army of reserve labour in the industrial north. Only during very short bursts do we see black American income levels rise, most notably during World War Two and during the 50s and 60s, then again in the 90s when employment was high in communities of color.

These modest increases in income and employment for communities of color and black communities in particular never came close to the gains of white America, which has enjoyed economic and political dominance in the United State and globally through much of their respective histories. The number of blacks and Hispanics living below the poverty line are both double that of whites and the gap in income steadily widening.

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The concentration of poverty in urban communities and suburbs largely populated by people of color does little to alleviate the situation and likely exasperates jobless rates, and thus crime. In addition the defunding of these communities, the closing of schools, loss of other resources for those communities, use of racial profiling, increased spending on prisons, and an increase in laws that target the activities of the poor, increase pressure on communities of color, perpetuating the poverty cycle and the explosion of people of color in the prison system.

What makes these policies and practices inherently racist in nature is that they are known to disproportionately affect communities of color. This is not to say that there are not poor whites that are affected; only that communities of color are affected disproportionately to their percentage of the population and that their communities are more often targeted for defunding due to their concentration.

States such as Pennsylvania have been defunding education and social-safety nets almost proportionately to their increase in funding for new prison construction while continuing to maintain older prisons, a plan that seems perfectly counter-intuitive unless the purpose was to perpetuate Jim Crow policies, increase state slavery in the prison system, and prop up the private prison industry.

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Prison labor is used to make a whole host of products used by the both the state and private industry. Federal inmates make all of the military's helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, pants, bags, canteens, and tents. In addition they supply 98% of the entire market for equipment-assembly services, more than 90% of paint brushes, paint, stove assembly, nearly half of all body armor, more than a quarter of all home appliances, audio equipment, and much more including airplane parts, medical supplies, furniture, and even service animals for the blind.

All of this for less than 25 cents an hour, often in unsafe working and living conditions. Refusal to work qualifies you for a stint in solitary confinement and exposes prisoners to other forms of abuse.

The use of prison slave labor pulls jobs from private sectors, thus creating more unemployment and driving down pay in these and other areas of the economy, increasing the poverty rate and crime. The majority of people in prison serving long sentences is for non-violent crimes such as drug offenses, for which corporations that profit from prison labor and markets have lobbied.

Add to this open racial profiling in the guise of Stop and Frisk, a high rate of seemingly targeted and unmitigated police killing of people of color, and a whole host of other police abuses in poor communities in general and poor communities of color specifically, and the idea that slavery ended for black America suddenly becomes a sick joke. Systemic racism and overt oppression become stinging realities that are continually reinforced not just by the official system but also by those who have turned a blind eye or worse support the system by blaming the victims of poverty and racial inequality for the policies under which they suffer.

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Cory Clark is a freelance photojournalist and writer focused on civil and human rights issues, social justice and politics. He is a regular contributor with Getty Images, AP and AFP. His work has appeared in, The Guardian, Fortune (more...)

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