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CRIME + BLACK + MALES = FUCKED | by Tricia Wang 王圣捷
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The United States has the HIGEST RATE OF INCARCERATION IN THE WORLD - 2 million in prison, 4.9 million under supervision.


Blacks make up 40% of the current jail population. At any given time 12% of black males 25-29 years old are in jail (for white males it is less than 2%)! Over a lifetime, 1 in 3 black males go to prison – that means for a black male it is more likely that he will go to jail than college, army or be in the labor market.


This is a reality that has truly permeated into the mindsets of black males. Working in the South Bronx and Bed-Stuy – I felt like 90% of my job and time was devoted to talking to my students ( who were completely qualified and intelligent students) about imagining themselves in college or in a job they would be happy doing. I worked with youth in after-school programs that focused on helping students complete their GED’s or attend colleges– so they were obviously there on voluntarily and were self-selected motivated students, but most of them they had some kind of minor criminal record that they thought marked them for the rest of their life that would prevent them from getting that “dream” job or into a 4-year university Well according to this book I am reading by Devah Pager, Marked, my students were right on with their assessment.


And this assessment even greatly affected my black and Latino students with NO criminal record – there is a collective stigma that they experience day in and day out. It is the everyday stare that reminds them of their race and not of their skills/qualifications. These collective stigmas do contribute to self-fulfilling prophecies that prevent them from living the kind of life they dream of. I really struggled with talking to my students about this reality - of being a black male with or without a record. On one end they were right about the discrimination they faced but on the other end I didn't want them to fulfill society's expectations. It was a struggle for all of us to see the bullshit they went through from looking for that summer job to save up for a college they already got into to trying to get a callback for a job that they were over-qualified to work.


My students understood the rise in procedural equality, where race is erased as a marker of inequality and replaced with a rise in normative beliefs in individualism, where failure to “succeed” in life is attributed to an individual’s incapacity to be a “functioning” citizen. In this case black males in particular are seen an failed individuals. And even worse, institutions, like prisons, are structured to cement race as a category but at the same time we pretend race doesn’t matter because we are in a phase of equality for all. Hence we often here the argument among white conservative AND well-off blacks who have “made it” that black males need to stop making excuses for failure and “pull themselves up by their own bootstrap. Again – this is a return to conservative take on the culture of poverty argument. So sadly – black males experience most strongly institutional racism and racial discrimination. this is a book to be assigned to all black students living in the US - and I wish it was published earlier.


Pager’s book on the effects of mass incarceration of black males in the US is one of the best books I've read on this topic. She creates an experiment that reveals that race is a stronger marker of discrimination than crime for black males. She creates identical resumes with and without criminal records - and not surprisingly the ex-offenders received half the callbacks of equally qualified without criminal backgrounds. She then creates identical resumes and criminal records for white and black males to go into the labor market for job searches. Of course, white males received more callbacks then black males with the SAME job qualifications and criminal background. So race and criminal background clearly marks black males. But the worse part is that black males with NO criminal background received LESS callbacks then white males with a criminal background. Clearly for black males - race is still a marker for finding jobs - even MORE so than a criminal background. How can this be? Pager explains that it is these micro-level interactions of social stigma on black males as violent, drug users, unmotivated, liars, and uneducated that leads to a collective stigmatization of ALL black males, which then leads to macro-level stratification. “For blacks, everyday life achievements take longer, require more effort, and impose greater financial and psychic costs.’ Pg 149

Pager also traces this changes on the discursive, belief and policy level of incarceration. The discourse has shifted from crime being a result of structural alienation and issues to a individual level where crime is an indicator of moral corruption. Then on a belief level, there is a general shift in popular thought that criminal offenders could be reformed to that they would inevitably repeat the crime - hence the shift from reform to recidivism. And ”Whereas once prison was seen as a last resort for offenders, it now represents one of the dominant strategies for dealing with the problem of urban social disorder.” Pg 21 With the combination of a change in beliefs and discourse, the practice of treating criminal changed in policies and treatment. Across the country, all 50 states increased prison time with the mandate of minimum sentencing. Budgets for parole programs decreased while caseloads for parole officers increased. This led to a decrease in the parole officer's role in making sure the ex-offender could enter back into society with a steady job and stable living situation.

With all these changes in policies, beliefs and discourse there is a collective stigmatization of black males that leads to stratification of all blacks.


Pager argues that just as much as there is a rise in educational credentialism in finding jobs (where the more prestigious one’s education institution and degree the easier it is to find a job), there is also a rise in criminal credentialism in finding jobs. But in the latter, the crime credentialism is a negative outcome!!! The key in the credential society is that credentials are NOT related to actual skill levels!!! It is arbitrary and based on social networks and social-cultural capital. Therefore her experiment confirms the credentials of crime have long-term effects that may in the end perpetuate crimes and social inequality. “Finding steady, quality employment is one of the strongest predictors of desistance from crime, and yet incarceration itself reduces the opportunities for ex-offenders to find work. This vicious cycle suggests that current “crime control” policies may in fact exacerbate the very conditions that lead to crime in the first place.” 160


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Taken on May 18, 2008