Don Imus and Jason Whitlock
Don Imus' verbal misogyny and bigotry against the women basketball players of Rutgers University distracts some black adults in the U.S. from the gangster culture of African American youth. So writes Jason Whitlock. He is a columnist with the Kansas City Star.
Whitlock continues with a scolding tone. He blasts black leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for focusing on Imus' trash talk and avoiding the real menace to society.
"We have allowed our youths to buy into a culture (hip hop) that has been perverted, corrupted and overtaken by prison culture," Whitlock writes.
He uses the passive voice. There is no active agent that imprisons black people. Apparently, the process of being locked down requires no further explanation than this.
Let us take a step back from the Imus affair to look at some simple facts. Between 1980 and 2005, the number of prisoners quadrupled from 502,000 to just over 2 million.
Consider incarceration data from the International Centre for Prison Studies at Kings College, London for 2003-4. The U.S. rate of incarceration per 100,000 people is 726 prisoners. Compare that rate of incarceration per 100,000 people with other nations: New Zealand, 166; United Kingdom, 145, Spain, 142; Portugal, 124; Netherlands, 123; Australia, 121; Canada, 116; Austria, 106; Italy, 97; Germany, 96; France, 91; Belgium, 88; Ireland, 85; Greece, 82; Sweden, 81; Denmark, 70; Finland, 66, Norway, 65; and Japan, 60.
No other nation in the world imprisons as many people as the U.S. The American government, federal and state, is simply off the charts when it comes to incarcerating its populace.
Why? Asking the question is an important step to understanding the role that the prison system plays in the U.S.
Blacks are 12 percent of the U.S. population and half of the nation's prisoners. What is it in American life that accounts for this feature of mass incarceration?
Meanwhile, Whitlock faults the cultural shortcomings of some black youth. Presumably, too many black adults choose flight instead of fight against this harmful culture.
Speaking of choice, work for wages is a central part of daily life in a modern society. Without livable employment one starves, lacks shelter, etc.
"The unemployment rate for African Americans is on average approximately twice as high as the overall unemployment rate, and the unemployment rate for African American teens averages approximately six times the overall unemployment rate for workers with a college degree," writes economist Dean Baker in The United States Since 1980 (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Does unemployment equal imprisonment? Whitlock does not ask the question. To do so would shine some light on the policy priorities of the U.S. government. Readers might wait a while for Whitlock to go there.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive paper www.bpmnews.org/. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org..org/. He can be reached at: email@example.com.