Apr 8, 2010

Racism, Prisons and the 13th Amendment

Daniel Atkinson, doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, lectured on his dissertation at the Northwest African American Museum on April 1, 2010. He visited Angola State Prison to conduct research on the role of music in the prison. His research uncovered a view of our society that he feels it is time to share.

2.4 million men are incarcerated in the US. Half are Black American males, while Black American males account for only 6.5% of the US population.

The 13th Amendment reads “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Traditionally in this country, and especially in this prison, inmates are used for labor - labor for 2 to 22 cents an hour - labor that looks, tastes and feels too much like slave labor not to call it that. This labor leaves men without hope, without but one promise - of heaven in the afterlife. “Christ takes the ouch out of the pain” one prisoner told Atkinson.

What is institutional racism? Systematically breaking people down because of the color of their skin. Associating Black men with violence. Black people seen as not quite human- at the best, something a little less than equal. White kids dressing up in blackface. Attributing greatness to White people in genres created by the pain and suffering of the American Black experience -Elvis and Eminem as case in point.

Daniel Atkinson asks us to “realize where you fit into the equation - wake up. No more wasting of potential. Be aware of who you are, mind your manners. It is not that deep - treat others the way you want to be treated.”

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