Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The analogy comparing a bird cage to oppression has always stayed with me since reading the essay on oppression by Marilyn Frye. When you look at only one little thing, one wire of the cage, it's not something that oppresses you all by itself. But once you take a step back and look at all the wires put together, it becomes apparent that all the wires come together to create the oppression and trap you inside.
Frye was discussing this idea in relation to sexism and the oppression of women. But I think the analogy can be applied to the systemic racism that is becoming more and more apparent thanks to the national news coverage of police brutality.
While waiting in a doctor's office, the TV in the waiting room was tuned to Fox news. After a segment covering the protests and riots in Baltimore, the receptionist commented "I don't know why they can't just stop when the cops say stop". Even when the victim has their spine severed while in police custody, this woman was saying that it was the victim's fault. These young black men who have been killed are immediately painted by the media and public officials as having deserved it. They are transformed from being victims to being criminals.
Part of the problem is that most white people don't see the cage of oppression, and they don't understand how much systemic oppression faces black people every day of their lives. I'll never know what it's like to be black, but I have chosen to look at what has been happening with open eyes. I wonder why it is that it's only black people being killed by cops. Numerous studies have shown that different races commit crimes at the same rate. Black people aren't more violent or more inclined to be criminals than white people. But somehow, blacks make up the majority of arrests made in this country. Prosecutorial discretion somehow plays out so that black people get harsh sentencing, while whites get minimal sentences or the charges dropped entirely. The Supreme Court has ruled that statistical evidence of a pattern of racially biased sentencing does not prove racism in any one case, and that you have to prove there was specific conscious, discriminatory intent for a case to be made (McCleskey v. Kemp).
Police officers choose which communities to target looking for crime, having been granted sweeping authority and financial incentives to make drug related arrests. Though all the statistics show that drug use and drug dealing is committed by all races at about the same rate, the police target black communities for raids and arrests. It results in a disproportionate number of black people being discriminated against for their criminal record.
Racial targeting, racially based sentencing, housing discrimination, employment discrimination, police brutality, the list of wires in the cage goes on and on.