Prison Focus Issue 53
Read at August 19, 2017 San Jose sister march for the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March
We are here together to make a more humane, just, compassionate society. To do so we must first dispel the myth about America. Then confront the self-deception and lies that we have come to believe as truths. Move from the illusion into the heartbreaking reality that it is. We will be disoriented. “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off” wrote James Baldwin.
We must reclaim our individual power because trying to operate within an alienating demoralizing social structure is killing us. We can no longer afford to lay low, keep quiet, or resign to our situation. We have been conditioned to accept things are they are, and be grateful. Fears get stirred periodically just enough to keep us off balanced and scared into subjugation. We must each free ourselves from self-imposed state of helplessness and powerlessness through action. It is a daunting task. However, I know collectively we can be a force.
We are here to point out the glaring contradiction of having the 13th Amendment legalizing slavery in this free nation. These two entities cannot coexist. There is no room for slavery in Humanity. There can be no exception for any group. Abolition and the exclusion of the 13th Amendment will require that we dismantle the inherent racist social order and unequal distribution of resources that are a “badge and incident of slavery.” Emancipated slaves had no resources but their labor. They entered binding contracts that were coercive and placed them in positions similar to slavery. If they breached the contract there was the criminal law to punish them into legal enslavement via the 13th Amendment. Domination merely appeared in new disguises.
Our Humanity has been held hostage by the false belief of race superiority. There is no such thing. Nonetheless it is this delusion and economic greed which bore the dehumanizing practice of slavery. Slavery is a reflection of an entire system of understandings, practices, laws, and institutions that confers power and social status to a selected few determined on controlling others. Since the 13th Amendment’s ratification in 1865, those the dominant culture has deemed ‘less than’ have been the target of this convenient injustice. Slaves, Blacks, Chinese, Jews, Irish Americans, indigenous Indians, Mexicans, Japanese Americans, and more recently our poor, our mentally ill, our newly released prisoners, and our homeless have been further marginalized. “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me,” Ralph Ellison wrote in the Invisible Man.
This has been our challenge as a nation; How to fight personal prejudices, systemic bias and racial discrimination that perpetuates negative stereotypes and other lies we have, at an unconscious level, come to believe as fact. The disenfranchised have learn to have low expectations of themselves, to blame themselves for their low station in life and to accept undignified conditions. Non-dominant groups have been forced to assimilate and acculturate, be absorbed into a culture that has never fully accept them as equals. And in this conformity they have lost their identity, shed traditional clothing, silenced their native tongue, not eaten their foods. Becoming a shell of who they were and prepared to be colonized psychologically. To negate is to gain, they are promised. This is not freedom! We must change this.
George Orwell wrote “Freedom is slavery”. Freedom is a constant struggle that requires constant vigilance and more importantly a stance of no tolerance when attacked. Freedom comes with civic duty and social responsibilities. We will need to create programs that nurture self-determination and social and civic equality.
Our other challenge has and will be, as James Baldwin wrote, “[the] great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate”. It is our responsibility to bring about the humanity in all of us as equals. As we go through this transformation we must remain conscious that, as Baldwin stated, “the other is oneself”.
Baldwin, James. “A Letter to My Nephew” (1962). “The Fire Next Time” (1962)
Orwell, George. “1984” (1949).
Ellison, Ralph. “Invisible Man.” The Progressive Magazine. (1952).