because we destroyed ourselves

May 25th, 2012

If the growth of our Welfare State was caused simply by the laws funding it being passed, you’d expect to see American government expenditures on welfare funding sent to families and children spike in 1962, and then grow into the next few decades.  1962′s the year the Public Welfare Amendments were passed, which specifically increased aid to dependent children.

But that’s not what happened at all:

If the War on Drugs didn’t directly precipitate the destruction of the African-American family, why did the decline in married black women triple during the first decade of the War? And why did welfare spending spike in lockstep with our prison population right as it started?

We’ve certainly come a long way as a nation since Abolition, but the horrible reality is that a black child who was born during slavery was more likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during the twenty-first century.  As Fredrick Douglass explained, during slavery it was common practice to separate children born into slavery from their birth-mothers before their first birthday. Which makes perfect sense when you consider that under slavery blacks were human chattel, and separating newborns calves from their mothers is just what you do with livestock.

Things had been looking up for black families, back in 1963 as MLK gave his “I Have A Dream” speech about 70% of black families were headed by a married couple. But that percentage steadily began to drop, between 1970 and 2001 it declined by 34%, double the white decline, and by 2002 it had bottomed out at just 48%.

In fact, the impact of the War on Drugs has been so racially biased that in 2006 America had nearly six-times the proportion of its black population in prison than South Africa did at the height of Apartheid.  And our penal system has grown so massive that the U.S. criminal justice system now employs more people than America’s two largest private employers, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, combined.

And although only 14% of all illicit drug users are black, blacks make up over half of those in prison for drug offenses. A black man is eight-times as likely as a white man to be locked up at some point in his life.

After all, drug laws in America “have originally been based on racism… all of these laws are based on the belief that there is a class in society that can control themselves, and there is a class in society which cannot.”  Nixon’s public motivation for the War on Drugs is that it was a response to the growing numbers of military serviceman who were getting hooked on heroin and other narcotics while serving in the Vietnam War.

Although that was a troublesome issue, when you know the history of all past American drugs laws it quickly becomes apparent that there’s no way in hell drug-using veterans was the only impetus behind this wave of anti-drug legislation, and that Nixon was using soldiers’ addiction as opportunistic displacement – especially when you consider that only 4.5% of returning servicemen tested positive for heroin. As one Nixon’s Chief of Staff wrote in his diary: ”Nixon emphasized that you have to face the fact the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognises this while not appearing to.”

And if there’s any doubt about the weight that quote might have had on legislation, here are Nixon’s own words on abortion: “There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. ” And when exactly would that be?  “When you have a black and a white.”

As the Arab world is wracked by the spasms of popular violence brought on by their social and economic inequality, many Americans have begun to stop and consider the possibility that violent fissures in our own society may begin to open.  Much has been made of the emerging upperclass in American society, but the reality is that with the median white family having over twenty-times as much wealth as a black family - no economic disparity is starker than the one that correlates directly with race.

In the same way that the Arab Street finally erupted when food prices simply became too much, is there a timer on our own innercities ticking down as food stamp use and food inflation continue to skyrocket? Could a wave of urban homegrown terrorism erupt in American cities once our urban poor finally reach a tipping point and decide to lash out?

Maybe it doesn’t mean much to you that the average black family has eight-cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by whites, that the the ongoing recession has doubled the wealth gap between blacks and whites, or that the unemployment rate of blacks is edging up on twice as high as the white rate – easily surpassing it when you count incarcerated blacks. After all, a black child in American is nine-times more likely than a white child to have a parent who’s locked up.

But let’s look into the data and the implications a little bit more.

The precise era that saw a drug-law fueled explosion in our prison population, the early 1970s, are the exact same years that the economic situation of blacks began to starkly worsen and that the gap between rich and poor is wrenched wide open. Beginning in those years and continuing into today, “the economic status of black compared to that of whites has, on average, stagnated or deteriorated.”

Up until 1973, the precise year the Rockefeller Drug Laws were passed, the difference between black and white median income had been closing. But then that year it changed course, and in “an ominous bellwether… the gap between black and white incomes started to grow wider again, in both absolute and relative terms.”  Direct empirical research into incarceration’s economic effects weren’t done until recently, when a Pew Charitable Trusts research paper showed that prior to imprisonment two-thirds of male inmates were employed and half were their family’s primary source of income.  Additionally, upon release an ex-con’s annual earnings were reduced by 40%

In the nearly forty years since America’s modern drug laws were passed, there has been a massive increase in economic inequality by any measure. In the early 1970′s not only did the income gap between black and white begin to widen again, it also becomes much more top-heavily favored to the very rich – who happen to be almost exclusively white as well.

With home equity making up 44% of an average American’s family’s net worth and fully 60% among our middle class, the statistics around homeownernship further delineate the racial schisms of American wealth. Not only do blacks pay higher interest rates, have higher downpayments, have less access to credit, get turned down more frequently for loans no matter what’s controlled for, and pay what amounts to an 18% “segregation tax” because homes in black neighborhoods have much less equity than homes in white neighborhoods - but since 1970 black homes have appreciated in value roughly half as much as white homes.

Even Eminem seemed to have little sense of the irony that was invoked as his self-consciously white autobiographical film, 8 Mile, highlighted the hopeless plight of Detroit’s urban black community. The 8 Mile district was created in 1941, when a six-foot wall was built around a black enclave that was deemed unfit to accept loans from the Federal Housing Administration. This was “part of a system that divided the whole city, in theory by credit-rating, in practice by colour.” And so the segregation that emerged in Detroit “was not accidental, but a direct consequence of government policy.”

This policy of segregated mortgages became known as “red-lining,” and by the 1950s one in five black borrowers was paying interest at over 8%, while it was about impossible to find a white family paying more than 7%.

And yet this economic line extends far past that generation. The fact that blacks are foreclosing at a much higher rate than whites in the current crisis was predestined by the conditions of the loans they received, as banks turn down equally-qualified blacks much more often than whites, and forced blacks to pay higher interest on their loans. Housing values are indelibly color-coded, as the average value of a white house appreciates much quicker than a black house. All of this is snowballing into a collective institutional bias that cost black families at least $82 billion even before this current crisis began.

Hotlanta served as a case study for mortgage-based racism, as the Pulitzer-winning series in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution ”The Color of Money” so aptly captured.

Category: books, current affairs, domestic terror, news, politics, publishing, racial inequality, terrorism, war on drugs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , 14 comments »

14 Responses to “because we destroyed ourselves”

  1. Greg

    Tremble the Devil: Just in case it’s unclear I’m approving every comment to this article regardless of merit, and only commenting when it seems warranted. Many of the comments are important, in that they serve as good reminders that many people are pretty hilariously blinded by their racism. Or just not that bright – could go either way

    Fatherless homes also produced 2 out of the 3 most recent U.S. Presidents.

  2. David

    bin Laden is spelled b-i-n L-a-d-e-n

    TtD: It’s a transliteration of an Arabic name, “Ladin” is more accurate. Plus you’ll notice that the book’s title doesn’t even really make sense grammatically, the whole point is to challenge the way people think about terrorism and how they perceive terrorists, name-spelling and otherwise.

  3. Nate

    Surprise! Prison population rose with time. Let’s see that graph corrected for population.

  4. cubanbob

    Maybe the best way to stay out of prison is to not commit crimes. One would think if after seeing so may people having their lives destroyed by drugs they would stay away from them. As for the woman, why subsidize woman who choose to make kids with losers? They can screw them all they want, just don’t kids with them. Now it would probably make sense to decriminalize MJ and free up law enforcement for other crimes along with prison space drugs like crack and meth are so highly addictive and destructive that they should never be legalized. In the interim from the thrust of the piece blacks ought to use ‘white’ drugs to normalize the the arrest and conviction rates to the white level.

    Perhaps one step towards ameliorating this disaster would be to carefully survey the prison population to see to what extend the relatively minor drug and related convicts who would have good prospects of actually being rehabilitated be granted some kind of conditional pardons that would include sealing their arrest and conviction records so they can be able to get jobs and not get in to the recidivist cycle.

  5. Dacreed

    So all these fatherless homes are caused by prison rolls due to drug arrests. I will have to tell that to all the fatherless adults that i know, whose dad just never showed up and helped. Or blame prisons on people doing drugs?

    Excuses are like butt holes, everyone has them. The things we do in out lives tell us what we really care about. If these dead beat dad’s truly cared about the impression they need to make on their children, they would spend time making it happen. Until then, selfishness > parenting. The foundation of a good society.

  6. Barius

    @Greg,

    You’re technically correct, but not the best kind of correct. The article points out that it is fatherly rejection that leads kids down a bad path. Neither Clinton nor Obama were rejected by their fathers, as their fathers died before they were able to know them.

    Sadly, fathers that are sent to prison often reject their own children and deny parentship. There are many reasons for this, and it is a complicated issue. Suffice to say that sending a father to prison for nothing more than having a smoke with his friends has not helped anyone white or black.

  7. Barius

    @cubanbob

    Primates are social animals and as such are deeply affected by community rejection. The worst form of rejection is unjust rejection.

    The black population was and continues to be far more accepting of drug use before the war on drugs. That includes but is not limited to alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.

    In hind sight, it should be obvious that punishing a group of people for something that they consider natural and normal would result in a feeling of oppression, of unjust rejection.

    The natural primate response to unjust rejection is an even greater rejection of the community and an ‘acting out’ against the perceived oppressors. This is how laws that make sense to whites have essentially destroyed the black sense of community and put two generations in jail.

    In short, you can’t simply expect a group of people to accept your beliefs and your social norms.

    If you want to imagine a similar situation where the incarceration rate of whites would be similarly high one need only look at the prohibition of alcohol. The incarceration rate of whites and blacks rose essentially equally. The response to criminalization, by whites, was increased criminal behaviour. The situation only reversed when prohibition was lifted.

    So, in conclusion, whites definitely share responsibility for the problems among the black community. It should not surprise anyone that so many black people have rejected and acted in a rejectful manner toward laws that, to them, seem unjust. Given that the US was founded upon exactly this sort of ‘acting out against unjust laws’ by throwing off the laws of the King of England and the corrupt churches and religious institutions of Europe, in my opinion, the black community has upheld the “American Way” better than any white has in centuries.

  8. kevin

    @Nate: Read the whole article. The author addresses this by discussing how the rate of black incarceration increased at a much higher rate than the increase of the percent of the population that is black.

    @cubanbob: You seem to have missed the point. The reason using ‘black drugs’ gets a person more prison time is because the person is black, not the nature of the drugs. Blacks are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for drug use. It doesn’t much matter what drugs they happen to use.

    And you both seem to have missed a larger point: regardless of who is at fault, the epidemic of fatherlessness is bad for everybody. You can be as gung-ho pro-incarceration as you like, but please be aware that this will likely lead to further crime, which affects all of us.

  9. Andrew

    So is this implying that we shouldnt prosecute drug offenders. In order to preserve black households should we allow them to traffic illegal narcotics freely? Lets put the blame where it belongs, on those males (whether they be black or white) who involve themselves in illegal activities. Sure, one might argue that drug laws in the United States are extrodinarily harsh, but that does not exonerate those crimnals who break these laws. By cutting welfare maybe it will encourage black female mothers to keep there baby daddys in line and out of prison.

  10. asdf

    “Surprise! Prison population rose with time. Let’s see that graph corrected for population.”

    What an idiotic statement. You think our population growth has increased as much as our lockup rate? Nope, in fact it’s slowed down.

    Truth is, you’re in denial about the lockup of Americans and the neo-feudalistic society we are building for the coming resource scarcity.

  11. Andrew

    @nate
    yes, clearly a tenfold increase in the prison population is a direct result the 2.5 times increase in US population.

    Nothing at all strange about the incarceration increase being 4 times greater than the general population increase.
    /facepalm

  12. Dónal

    The information I gathered for the below statement has been gathered from the website:http://www.censusscope.org/us/chart_popl.html and also contains information gathered from the information provided here.

    1970
    Total USA population 203,302,031
    2000
    Total USA population 281,421,906

    Increase between 30 year period of 78,119,875 (38.43%)

    1970
    Assuming graph indicates population of prison to be 275,000 this would mean that at that time 0.14% of USA citizens where in prison.

    2000
    Assuming graph indicates population of prison to be 2,000,000 this would mean that at that time 0.71% of USA citizens where in prison.

    So, yes Nate I would agree it is important to take into account population increase when analyzing straight figures but as you can see that even accounting for that does not explain the reasons for the increase in prisons between these times.

  13. when Justice lies — Tremble the Devil

    [...] Which brings us to how those numbers became so warped in the first place… – click "Next Page" to continue reading this article, or here to check out the book’s Table of Contents – [...]

  14. Nope

    Don’t break the law…you wont get locked in jail.

    It’s simple.

    Also…you are judged by your peers.

    TtD: DAMN, YOU RACIST!!


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