Systemic Racism

On The Importance of Digging Deeper.

Part of my journey to understanding institutionalized racism and white supremacy has been facing the hardest truth which is: If I would have thought about this for longer than two seconds at any point in time I would have discovered the oppressive nature of our the systems that organize our society a long time ago.

At this point let me repeat my constant refrain when discussing these things: Do not reflexively respond in defense at the discomfort discussions of race tend to trigger. Sit with it and question it because there is often necessary truth waiting to be learned under that discomfort. I SPEAK FROM EXPERIENCE SITTING WITH A LOT OF DISCOMFORT.

Let’s look at the general statistics that, relative to the rest of the population ratios, there are much more people of color imprisoned than white people. Specifically black men. This is something I’ve always known and formerly just kinda blow off by telling myself, It’s because they have harder lives that have driven them to crime.

That’s not a bad “excuse” in that it NOT saying “black man are just bigger criminals” and it puts a tiny bit of empathy into the situation that can create a criminal.

But…if I would have taken that thought just a few steps further I would have asked myself: But why are there so many more black men living harder lives that might drive them to crime then?

I probably would have thought about poverty and how there’s also a much higher percentage of black families living below poverty. Again, this is a nice way to frame it so that no one is at fault. I am creating a victim of circumstance which always makes me feel empathetic. I might have then walked away from the thought exercise feeling like I had reached and adequate conclusion.

But…what if I kept going? What if I asked myself: But why are there so many more black families living in poverty then?

This would have been a little trickier to take casually because I would have had to really sit back and think about our education system and how we still feel like schools in areas with higher property taxes should therefore get more of that property tax money in a lot of our country even though wealthier neighborhoods are already at an advantage of resources. I would have had to think about how our schools have actually become more segregated since Brown v/s Board of Education and so many of our black and brown children are being educated in underfunded and underserved neighborhood schools. I would have had to look at discipline rates in those schools and maybe I would have stumbled into the School to Prison pipeline. I would have had to see how many children grown up without supervision because when one parent is imprisoned (see original thought experiment statistic) the other parent has to work twice as hard to pay the bills. I would have maybe had to start digging into criminal justice data that creates these single-parent or no-parent families.


But it’s easier to gloss over it and walk away, because I am the unaffected.

Sometimes I just sit back and wonder why I never did these thought experiments. Why did I stop at some sort of “adequate” explanation that didn’t force me to recognize the privilege that these racist institutions haven given me?

Well truth be told, I pat myself on the back every day for finally waking up to these things. “Good job, Kim!”

Until I went to a public screening of The Bail Trap in which we learned about how the Money Bail system is yet ANOTHER way it is so expensive to be poor in our country. There’s a great joint report here that explains how money bail works and these private Bail Bondsmen create easy investment gamble often back by major insurance companies to line their pockets while stripping the poor of their present and their future before they’ve even been found guilty of a crime.

I had never even thought about how bail works! I just kinda know what I’ve seen on TV. You pay 10% to a bail bondsman and then if you don’t pay them back they chase you down? Or something? I never really bothered to think too deeply about it.

It turns out that the bail is simply supposed to be an “agreement” to get you to return for your court date. So, if you pay it in full, you get your freedom and when you come to court you get your money back. But very few people can do that so they go to bail bondsmen who charge them 10%, and they put up the bail amount to get you your freedom. Then, when you go to court, the court pays THE BAIL BONDSMAN back and your 10% goes in his pocket. So, even if you’re found innocent, you are out that money. And if you can NOT pay that money in any way, you lose your FREEDOM because you sit in jail until your court date.

This is a simple way of breaking it down and every jurisdiction is different (one of our county judge’s spoke at the event I went to and explained the administrative changes she ushered forward so there is no money bail set for non-violent misdemeanors) and there are other ways you can be screwed over besides just through the 10% of the bail to the bondsman. But the idea is it is a ridiculous system which is punitive when it’s not supposed to be, hasn’t even proved any more efficacy in making sure people appear in court! There aren’t any noticeable differences in areas that do not enforce money bail. People show up at the same rates regardless.

ANYWAY. My point was I walked out knocked down a notch. I can’t ever be too complacent when it comes to my own awareness of racial injustices. I won’t shame myself for not knowing the things I didn’t know, but I will try to train my brain to dig a little deeper into these subjects so that I don’t ever forget how hard it is to be poor, and especially to be a person of color in this country.

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