“IF YOU DON’T THINK RACISM EXISTS, YOU’RE WHITE”
was a button slogan handed out by the Chicago Theological Seminary at the recent UCC Synod meeting in Cleveland where Racism was the subject of two resolutions passed by the delegates.
One resolution called for “Dismantling Discriminatory Systems of Mass Incarceration in the United States” by identifying mass incarceration as a critical human and civil rights issue because of its disproportionate impact on people of color, youth, and limited economic resources.
The facts prompting this resolution are very shocking: The U.S. with 5% of the global population accounts for 25% of the world’s prison population, more than any other country in the world. More than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails, while 5 million are on probation or parole. There are more people under “correctional supervision” in America now than there were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin. Also, this prison population is far from representative of the nation’s population as a whole. For example, while African American males comprise 6% of the U.S. population, they make up 40% of those in prison or jail. African American males have a 32% chance of serving time at some point in their lives, Hispanic males a 17% chance, compared to white male’s 6% chance. There are more black men in the grip of the criminal system than were in slavery in the 1850’s. Also, prisons and jails have become the “new asylums” as the number of individuals with severe mental illness in prisons and jails (350,000+) exceeds the number in state psychiatric hospitals (35,000)by a factor of ten. People with mental health conditions comprise 64% of jail population nationwide.
A second resolution called for the Dismantling of “The New Jim Crow”, a term used by Professor Michelle Alexander in her new book of the same name. Again, the facts supporting the resolution are very disturbing. The War on Drugs has primarily targeted blacks who are disproportionately targeted for prosecution and incarceration. While drug use among Blacks is no more than Whites, in seven states, 90 % of people imprisoned for drug offenses are Black. Thus the saying,” If you White and caught doing drugs, you go to college; if you are Black, you go to jail”. To make matters worse, once people of color are caught in the criminal system, it is very difficult to fully re-enter society resulting in permanent caste of second-class citizens who, once labeled a felon, can not vote, serve on juries, and are ineligible for federal assistance. No wonder the recidivism rate for ex-felons is around 66% and why there are so relatively few Black males in many poor Black communities.
Racism is a factor, and probably the factor, behind the New Jim Crow and the system of Mass Incarceration. Whites tend to think about Racism only on occasion, people of color think about it every day. These resolutions are intended to mobilize members of the UCC to join the growing movement of faith and community organizations to understand modern racism, to dismantle the New Jim
Crow, and stop mass incarceration and the growth of the prison-industrial complex.
Here at First Church, the Adult Education Team is offering a discussion on Modern Racism by inviting the following speakers:
Thursday, September17th, co-sponsoring with Bay Path University, Boston author Debra Irving, who will discuss her new book ”Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race”.
Sunday, September 20, author and professor Jason Sokol from Longmeadow, who will discuss his new book “All Eyes Are Upon Us” which deals with Race and Politics from Boston to Brooklyn, including a chapter on the “Springfield Plan “ for combating Racism in the 1940’s.
Sunday , October 25th, Professor Richard Anderson from Springfield College will talk about his book, “ A Home Run for Bunny”, the inspiring story of anti-racism action demonstrated in Springfield in the 1930’s.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS AND PLAN TO JOIN THE DISCUSSION Mark Pohlman, Synod Delegate