UPDATE, Monday, March 17.
Why "update"? Well, although length-wise this qualifies as a post in its own right, to me it feels more like an update of my original post of February 15, which I invite you to read first.
Lehigh, where I'm teaching these days, recently hosted a forum on race featuring one-time black militant Angela Davis* and the so-called "ghetto intellectual" rapper Nas. (I've heard Nas himself use the phrase, and I never quite understood why the word ghetto was necessary. If you're an intellectual, you're an intellectual. He's a smart dude, so the label seems apt.) Also present and participating was Prof. James B. Peterson, who directs Lehigh's Department of Africana Studies.
Click here to read Lehigh's official coverage of the event. I commend your attention to a key line from the second paragraph, to wit:
"Davis, a well-known political activist since the 1960s, and Nas, a successful rap musician, spoke about the increasing problem of mass incarceration..."Do you see it? Do you see the spin? The problem is "mass incarceration." In this context, the phrase conjures images of gangs of rowdy cops patrolling minority neighborhoods, rounding up whomever they find there**, then sending these poor souls on to their Klan-ish collaborators in the justice system for prison processing.
Why isn't the problem, just possibly (and, on the surface, more demonstrably) "mass criminality"? Here again, as noted in the original post to which I link, we strain to find an excuse for the behavior, a politically correct way of absolving the perp, shifting the blame to society. Indeed, the phrase mass incarceration seems not merely to imply that there's injustice in the handling of some black suspects (which is indisputably the case), but that all black crime, the great mass of it, is a function of white racism/oppression (see related comment quoted below). That, and that alone, explains why blacks are disproportionately represented in America's prisons. It's not their behavior toward society; it's society's behavior toward them.
Davis has somewhat softened her tone of late (mellowing in her later years?), and is less apt to voice the radical, eyebrow-raising sentiments that once defined her rhetoric. But it's pretty clear that she still means the same things she meant back in her Black Panther days. (Davis also belonged to the Che-Lumumba Club, an all-black branch of the Communist Party.)
In discussing Davis herself, the Lehigh piece notes that she "was incarcerated for roughly 18 months in the early 1970s," without bothering to get bogged down in trifling matters like what she was incarcerated for. Davis went underground in August 1970 after guns she owned were used in a sensational courtroom escape and kidnapping that resulted in the deaths of four people, including the judge. She was captured after some months as a fugitive, and held for a time without bail. Eventually an all-white jury would acquit her of all charges in the killings.
So was Davis technically guilty of a crime? I suppose not. But did she count among her intimates people who could be regarded as thugs at best, criminals for sure, and terrorists at worst? Did her sympathies lay with them? Almost surely so, especially since she herself had lain with them: Davis had taken as a lover George Jackson, one of the imprisoned men the courtroom killers sought to free via their brazen, lethal act. In her letters to Jackson, as in other public statements, Davis was an unflinching advocate of violence in service of minority aims.
Here is another revealing article about Davis, written on the occasion of her 2012 selection as "One of the eight black women paving the way for greatness in politics," an exhibit shown in Washington, D.C.'s Superior Court, of all places. I quote from the Washington Times piece:
"Ms. Davis holds that any black serving a prison sentence in the United States is in reality a 'political prisoner,” whatever offense they may have committed. In her lexicon, those convicted are only victims of 'masked racism.' "The school of thought represented in those lines is what is often taught in America's colleges. Not discussed or debated...taught. I don't mean to imply that colleges use Davis' exact terminology...but there is no question that in many college settings, and certainly in every Black Studies program to which I've ever been exposed***, the philosophy is the only acceptable lens through which the black experience in America may be viewed: Blacks are never to blame; the legacy of slavery is profound and perpetual, and we (the oppressors) need to understand and make allowances.
You cannot safely challenge the mindset represented in Lehigh's press release....not without risking repercussions. You will be ostracized if not accused of creating a "hostile environment" for the college's diverse population. (All major colleges nowadays seek to boost the diversity of their enrollment and faculty, and dislike perspectives and/or controversies that may make diverse populations feel less welcome.) In extreme cases, if your "offenses" are ongoing, you may be removed from your post.
As suggested in the post linked at the top, you cannot propose that there may, just may, be something slightly amiss within too many blacks themselves. You cannot even propose that this area is worthy of further study. If you are going to study something, you must study the manifold ways in which America continues to mistreat its blacks and therefore remains fully culpable for their failure to thrive.
Happy St. Patty's Day.
* Now Prof. Emeritus Angela Davis.
** presumably for the crime of EWB: Existing While Black
*** I have not sat in on Dr. Peterson's course work at Lehigh