Rodriguez: Election 2016 and Revisiting the New Jim & Juan Crow - Higher Education
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Rodriguez: Election 2016 and Revisiting the New Jim & Juan Crow

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by Roberto Rodriguez


As we all know, for probably three-fourths of the electorate ― between women and people of color ― the choice for president should have been a no-brainer. Essentially, the choice was made for us; that’s how many people one candidate intentionally insulted.

110816_prisonAlong with that, promises by politicians don’t impress. For many, day-to-day issues matter more than slick propaganda. For example, this past semester I taught Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” The topic of her book ― the drug war and the criminalization of people of color, which has wreaked untold havoc on the country ― should be front and center in this political campaign. Yet it isn’t. Instead, it has been National Enquirer headlines.

The GOP nominee actually has addressed the nation’s greatly expanding prison system, which with more than 2.2 million prisoners, is the largest in the world. Left to his own devices, it is certain that he would both privatize and greatly expand it. Not to be forgotten is that his opponent once invoked the specter of Black super-predators, etc. Because she has publicly moved away from that position, on that score she is better than her opponent, however she has not made the dismantling of our new racial caste system the central tenet of her campaign.

Similarly on immigration, it would be hard to find someone more Draconian than the GOP nominee, who has called for the massive deportation of 11 million to 12 million migrants, plus a 2000 mile wall and the exclusion of Muslims from the United States. At the same time, during the refugee crisis involving Central American children two years ago, she is the one who called for them to be deported. Since then, she has become a tad more migrant-friendly as in contrast to her opponent, she is not calling for the immediate elimination of the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

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But returning to the topic of “The New Jim Crow,” whoever takes the keys to the White House in January should address these issues on the very first day in office. And personally, I don’t want to be silenced or invisibilized on this matter either.

That which Alexander writes about I have lived most of my adult life, involving two police brutality trials lasting 7½ years, plus “stop and frisk” ad nauseam. For me, this is not simply another political issue. It is a reality that many people of color live. Alexander has always had it right; she understands that these issues involve all people of color, however, it is the mainstream media that treats these issues strictly in Black and White.

For me, I want the candidates to acknowledge these issues, and to include all people of color in this discussion, as opposed to continue with this silencing and invisibilization.

These issues actually go beyond mass incarceration and also involve the mass killings and the mass brutalization of people of color in this country. Since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, several thousand more people have been killed, with people of color being killed at grossly unacceptable rates. One unjustified death is one too many. During this time, the national mainstream media has at best covered several dozen major Black cases whereas the rest of these extrajudicial killings have generally been ignored, particularly the killings of red-brown peoples, whose numbers are also exorbitant.

But even beyond extrajudicial killings, is the issue of the use of violence as a means of social control. Law enforcement and the judicial system are the traditional tools by which people of color have been subjugated in this country and on this continent since literally 1492. At different times, force (including war) has been used and other times, the threat of force accomplishes the same objective. And that is true on our streets to this day.

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And yet not all force amounts to death. Many suffer permanent injuries and/or imprisonment. That is what is rarely quantified and almost always missed by those who are counting. While Alexander’s book covers this, it is not covered in our elections. Campaign promises and cute slogans predominate, but what does not get addressed is this core issue of the criminalization of our communities including the alienization of communities of color. Exhibit A is the near complete censorship of the Dakota Access Pipeline struggle that includes both environmental issues in Indian Country, but also issues of sovereignty.

Regardless of who ends up with the keys to the White House, the nation’s foreign policy of permanent worldwide war probably will not change. And it is certain that one of the candidates will make the issues of brutality, extrajudicial killings and mass incarceration much worse. The other candidate represents the status quo. And what can be said is that for people of color, the status quo is untenable and unlivable.

The challenge then will be is how to counter these realities, regardless of who is occupying the White House come January.

Dr. Roberto Rodriguez is an associate professor in Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona.

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