I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic for quite a while, but a post by John Scalzi (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/11/10/the-cinemax-theory-of-racism/) gave me the push I needed.
First of all, I offer my apologies to Michelle Alexander who wrote The New Jim Crow. I, as a 50+ year old white male who undoubtedly has benefited from the disparity in how society treats people based on race, have little right to talk about problems experienced by African-Americans. Nonetheless, I hope my message may reach a few extra people and inform them of the connections I lay out below. Also, I hope some of those people will read Ms. Alexander’s book for a more in-depth analysis. (One more apology – I’m sorry I swiped your book title.)
In my opinion, the New, New Jim Crow is what some – perhaps many – of Trump’s supporters want to see as a result of their votes. They want to return to the good old days, and for a portion of Trump’s voters, that means a time of white privilege.
When has there not been a period of white privilege? Well, pretty much never. But the systems that have enshrined that privilege have reached a critical point and soon, there may be no system in place. I believe that situation may be a strong reason for Tuesday’s presidential election results.
Per Ms. Alexander, the first system that enshrined white privilege was indentured servitude in which poor blacks and poor whites were both held down by wealthy white land owners. That was a privilege experienced by those who had both white skin and substantial funds. Indentured servitude was followed by slavery and then Jim Crow laws which restricted African-Americans’ abilities to vote, earn a living wage, or live as truly free citizens of the United States. Slavery was ended by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the southern states’ Jim Crow laws and voting restrictions were slowly ended by federal laws and court decisions.
In The New Jim Crow, Ms. Alexander explains that mass incarceration was the next system to enshrine white privilege. The war on drugs – a never-ending program that severely punishes those who need help (see Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream) – gave police and prosecutors the tools to pick and choose whom to arrest and charge with felonies. Perhaps for racist reasons, or perhaps because African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans were much less likely to receive adequate legal advice, persons of color have suffered disproportionately.
Even though more whites are stopped for marijuana possession, for example, people of color are charged and convicted at a much higher rate. That disparity is even more extreme with respect to felony convictions or plea bargains in which the person pleads guilty or no contest to a felony. Poor legal representation is one reason that a much higher percentage of African-American and Hispanic-Americans carry around felony convictions than white offenders, but it also has to do with which defendants the District Attorneys’ feel they can convict, and thus keep their conviction records high.
Those felony convictions and mass incarceration of people of color are the current white privilege system. A felony conviction means that a person is not eligible for public housing, financial assistance for college, and in most cases, employment. A much higher percentage of felonies in African-American and Hispanic-American communities means that white people have advantages in all those areas – jobs, education, and housing. It goes beyond that. Communities of color with high felony conviction rates are also those communities with poor economic prospects. That affects school funding and so the next generation of African- and Hispanic-Americans is also harmed by the decades-long policy of mass incarceration.
This system of enshrining white privilege is now under attack. People as diverse as President Obama and Newt Gingrich want to end mass incarceration, although their reasoning may differ. For some of his supporters, Mr. Trump’s slogan to “Make America Great Again” meant that the candidate would continue the mass incarceration system, and consequently, keep white privilege alive and thriving. There was no clearer message to those voters than Mr. Trump’s insistence that the highly racist policy of Stop and Frisk should be put back into full use.
Additionally, Mr. Trump’s highly publicized and often repeated anti-immigration and anti-Muslim positions would slow non-white competition for jobs and government services. The candidate would not only shore up the current system of mass incarceration, but he would add another layer of protection with the anti-immigration policies. In short, candidate Donald Trump was the poster child for white privilege.
I heard a fair number of interviews with both Trump and Clinton supporters, and I was often baffled by the Trump ones. The economy is in the 88th month of a recovery, and a Trump supporter is making significantly more than he used to earn at the closed down factory, but he states that we need change. What change? Head back into recession? Reduce your salary? Lower the value of your home or retirement savings? It just didn’t make sense.
But then again, if what you really mean by, “It’s time for change” is that you want to stop judicial reform from weakening the mass incarceration system, then it does make sense. It’s not change from the growing economy, or change from historically low crime rate, or change from the record high stock market that’s the issue. It is change from the change that has begun in the mass incarceration program. It is change from the potential weakening of white privilege.
Those Trump supporters cast their votes to stop change, not to ensure it.