The Continued Disenfranchisement of Black Americans
My fellow Americans,
Hello, my name is Angela Yvonne Davis, I am a Political Activist, Philosopher, Academic, Author, and Black Revolutionary from Birmingham, Alabama. I am writing you today in the hope to educate you. It has come to my attention that there seems to be a growing sense of comfortability and complacency in the field of anti-racism in this country brought on by the belief that we have made such large strides since my days of fighting for civil rights in the ’60s and 70’s that these problems no longer exist, or that we no longer have to worry about them. There is a rising denial of the plight of Black Americans in this country and I have even heard some go far as to deny the existence of Systemic Racism in today’s United States. This was where I decided to draw the line. Having the experience and expertise that I do, I write this essay in the hope to disprove the claim of the nonexistence of systemic racism in this country, not as an attempt to personally attack anyone or their beliefs but instead as an attempt to educate, give context, give solutions, and inspire others to go implement them. Therefore, here is just 3 pieces of evidence into what I call the Continued Disenfranchisement of Black Americans.
Covid and Capitalism
It is nearly impossible to talk about the certain state of the country from any aspect without bringing up one of the biggest topics in recent history, the COVID-19 Pandemic. Arguably one of the most pressing issues of this century, the COVID-19 Pandemic has been an issue that has held a grip on and massively affected the entire world. However, this virus has specifically affected certain ethnic communities and in doing that exposed the underlying and deeply rooted flaws in our health care system which has continuously failed Black and Brown people in this country since its creation, and also the mistrust in the government that has sprouted from said failure. According to a hearing from the Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce Frank Pallone Jr.:
“In New York City, Black and Latinx residents are twice as likely to die from the virus than their white counterparts, In Louisiana, where Blacks make up about 33 percent of the population, Blacks accounted for more than 70 percent of the state’s coronavirus deaths; and in Michigan, where Blacks make up 14 percent of the population, they account for 41 percent of coronavirus deaths.”
He also added:
“According to the provisional death counts reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of June 3, 2020, Blacks represented 23 percent of COVID-19 related deaths, despite representing 13.4 percent of the overall U.S. population.”
Also, according to that same article people of color are significantly more likely to be uninsured and are more likely to report going without needed care due to costs. Clearly, the pandemic had a tragic and extreme impact on the Black community and other communities of color. Yet, when the vaccine for the COVID-19 Pandemic was rolled out it wasn’t being spread to the poor, uninsured, more susceptible people of color. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, of the 6,000,000 vaccines administered in the month after it is clearance by the CDC, 11.5% of the vaccines went to Hispanic/Latino citizens, 5.4% of them went to Black citizens, 6.0% of them went to Asian citizens and a whopping 60.4% (4,047,795) went to White Citizens. These numbers continuously got worse as time continued and only recently have started to increase due to the vaccine becoming more widespread and easily accessible. Yet, the fact remains that whilst the vaccine was fairly scarce and supposedly being spread to those who needed it immediately, the demographics that were at the most risk of both contracting and dying of the virus received the vaccine at significantly lower rates. This continued mistreatment of Black and Brown Americans, specifically in health care, has caused there to be a massive sense of distrust in the vaccine within the black community. According to a survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 35% of Black Americans said they were not going to get the vaccine due to fears about safety and effectiveness.
This is what happens when situations such as the COVID-19 Pandemic happen in racist, capitalistic societies such as ours, people are treated unfairly and unjustly based on their race and class. Yet, just like when I was fighting for equality in the late ’60s and early ’70s, people don’t want to listen to the possibility of a more communistic or equal society because they are currently benefitting from the capitalistic society that simultaneously oppresses millions of Black and Brown people throughout this country. Although I believe we can make real change, and that all efforts so far have been monumental and critical to the lives of everyone in this country, I also believe that we will never be equal in a capitalistic society that was built to hoist the rich, white and privileged at the expense of the poorer, black and disenfranchised. This systematic failure has led to the racial disparities we have seen with COVID-19 and unfortunately distrust in the government from its people that it has continued to fail.
Criminal Justice System
Distrust in the government by African Americans is not a new concept, as for centuries the very system formed to serve and govern us fairly has repeatedly failed us, killed us, and torn apart our communities with little to no repercussions. Yet, this systemic failure has not been contained just to health care and the COVID-19 situation but is also found in what has become one of the greatest threats to Black Life and Black Communities in the United States, the Criminal Justice System. Although there are numerous problems created from the flaws within this system, the clearest examples of their failure of Black Americans are the issues of Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration.
Having lived through and been on the front lines during a time of mass protest, mobilization, and revolution, I am no stranger to the horrifying realities of police brutality and the destruction of innocent Black bodies at the hands of those sworn to protect them. Yet now, every American citizen can witness horrors similar to the ones I have seen through technology and social media, but we still see little to no change implemented to protect us. This goes hand to hand with Mass Incarceration, as oftentimes after we are harassed, assaulted, and sometimes killed, we are constantly either falsely convicted, over sentenced, or treated unfairly by the Criminal Justice System to ensure we end up in prison. This issue rips Black families and communities across the country apart, so much so that in 2012, 2,805 Black People per every 100,000 Black American was incarcerated. That is why I believe to truly combat the issue of Racial Injustice specifically regarding Mass Incarceration and Police Brutality, the focus needs to be on the Criminal Justice system that allows these actions.
The United States Criminal Justice System massively relies on prisons to solve social problems instead of solving said problems themselves through things like legislation. There is little to no actual “rehabilitation” or “correction” that is done in most of these prisons, and instead, it is counterintuitive to what it’s supposed to do. Prison is seen as a solution to crime when in fact it has done nothing to solve or lower crime rates or change the ways of the criminals. It simply temporarily incarcerates (in a lot of cases unjustly or for too long) predominantly middle to low-class men of color and makes their lives even more difficult instead of helping them better themselves.
As if that wasn’t enough, corporations are starting to profit off of these prisoners due to the privatization of prisons. In 2014, Private Correctional Facilities were a 4.8-billion-dollar industry and have only since grown and continued to profit. One of the best examples of that is the Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison owners and corporations in the United States, which netted 1.68 billion dollars in 2015, making roughly $3,300 per prisoner they housed. Privatization of prisons is simply corporations blatantly using the preexisting system of mass incarceration that relies on racism as fuel to exploit human beings as a source of profit.
This and much more is why the system itself cannot be reformed and must be totally and completely replaced with one built to better serve all its people. Reform of the prison system is not only a fallacy, but it has been attempted since the system’s inception in this country. One of the biggest calls for Prison reform was after the 1970 Attica Prison Uprising where prisoners overtook the prison and held workers hostage in demand of better living conditions. The prisoners asked for things such as an opportunity for scale wages to earn money for their families, to abolish political prisoners, and abolish indeterminate sentencing. Although this might not have been the most effective way to ask, 51 Years later little to none of these very fair demands have been granted to prisoners. In fact, in the case of Abolition of indeterminate sentencing, after it was abolished, it was replaced with another tool of oppression used by the Criminal Justice System known as Mandatory Minimums. What appeared to be a humane reform, ended up becoming another oppressive tool of the criminal justice system.
Many people look at me funny when I speak of abolition of Prisons and recreation of the Criminal Justice system, thinking to themselves “no one will ever let that happen” or “there’s no way”. Yet how long are we going to wait, how many lives are going to have to be taken, and how many communities must be destroyed until we realize that the system cannot be fixed because it is simply doing what it was made to do. Therefore, abolishing the prison system and recreating our criminal justice system is the only way that real justice will finally be served in this country.
Lastly, there is one more system/movement that I believe needs to be removed, abolished, and replaced by a superior version, and that movement is the mainstream Feminism movement. As my brother Malcolm X once said:
“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
During the ’60s and ’70s, I was on record saying that I do not identify as a feminist and that I instead identify as a revolutionary Black Woman. This statement, while controversial now, is something that at the time I felt, and still feel to be correct. Yet, when I referred to not being a feminist, I was not referring to the literal definition, but instead the facet of feminism that was and is still the mainstream sort of feminism in the United States. It is the type of feminism that gave women the right to vote in 1920 but denied that right to Black Women until 1965. The type of feminism I was referring to is what I like to call “Glass Ceiling Feminism”
There is often a metaphor used in the mainstream feminist movement that claims that women are going to “Break through the glass ceiling” that sits above them on their way to gender equality. This saying, while on the surface seems great, is very reminiscent of how the feminist movement and the United States in general operate. Although, women breaking through the glass ceiling is a great thing and something I am all for, the only women that can break through that glass ceiling are the ones high enough to reach it. These women at the top are typically middle to upper-class white women and they typically stand atop the backs of a host of middle-lower class Black and Brown women. If standards, demands, and criteria for feminism are being created by those at the top, they will simply be irrelevant to people at the bottom, as they simply do not suffer from the same issues. Therefore, there needs to be a sense of intersectionality implemented into this mainstream feminism to work for all of its people.
Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. Intersectionality is vital to combat both systematic Racism and Sexism and the longer we deny it, the longer people’s voices and struggles will continue to fall on deaf ears. People see intersectionality or raising awareness for a specific group nowadays and often take it as an attempt to divide people or minimize the struggle of others. However, just like how Black Lives Matter does not mean that All Lives Don’t Matter, raising awareness for and making programs and tools against the struggles of Black Women does not mean that everyone else doesn’t have struggles. For example, there are specific issues that middle-lower Class Black Women have that need to be addressed that either specifically affects them or affects them the most. Yet, if we only cater to the needs of all women in general, including the richest, whitest, and closest to the top, many of those issues that are race or class-specific are not addressed and only get worse. Therefore, if we do not include racial justice and economic justice, true gender justice has not been achieved.
However, now I have been beginning to see a change, I have been seeing women who have struggled, who are at the bottom, and who look like me, slowly becoming faces and forefronts of the feminism movement. This change is long overdue, as a mainstream feminist movement that only serves to benefit certain women is one that I have never and will never support. But, a type of feminism that is including of, assisted by, cosigned by, and even ran by Black Women, who have so long been excluded from the conversation, is feminism that I can gladly identify with.
The struggles of the Health Care system, Capitalism, the Criminal Justice System, and Black Women are just a glimpse of evidence of the continued disenfranchisement of Black People. These problems are ever-present and affect millions of people every day. That is why I call on the young, up-and-coming generation to continue to stand up for what you believe in and mobilize. Use your voice, use social media, and all resources you have available to you to raise awareness, organize, and abolish the systems that have oppressed Black Americans for so long. Young men, continue to stand up for your sisters and young women continue to stand up for yourselves. You are the most powerful generation of young people there have ever been, and your age truly does not limit what your impact can be. Now, regarding my generation, I believe we need to stay active in our drive and our mission and continue educating the youth. However, our voices while powerful, need to start getting quieter and we need to not only start letting the youth lead us but also yet the youth teach us. Don’t limit them to just grassroots work and small-scale work, let go of your fear and let them hold positions of power. Yes, they are young, but they are ready, and with our help, they will be incredible.
In conclusion, this country continues to deny proper health care and basic needs to its black and brown citizens, harass and kill our people in the streets, incarcerate our people by the masses for profit, exclude and disrespect our women, and overall appeal to and benefit the racist, capitalistic, and sexist people and mindsets that have much overstayed their welcome. However, I am overjoyed to know that there is a generation of young, powerful men and women ready to dismantle and replace the system that fuels these issues, who are backed by a generation of experienced elders ready to guide and help in whatever way they can. Together we will continue to improve this country and transform it into one that supports the life, opportunity, success, and happiness of not some, but all of its citizens.
Angela Y. Davis
“Angela Davis – Why I Am a Communist (1972 Interview).” YouTube, YouTube, 11 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGQCzP-dBvg.
“Angela Davis Criticizes ‘Mainstream Feminism’ / Bourgeois Feminism.” YouTube, YouTube, 8 Jan. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzQkVfO9ToQ.
CBCtv. “Angela Davis Likens Abolishing the Prison System to End of Slavery, 2011 | Best of George Strombo.” YouTube, YouTube, 26 Mar. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6XlXN1HUo4.
Channel4News. “Angela Davis on Feminism, Communism and Being a Black Panther during the Civil Rights Movement.” YouTube, YouTube, 25 May 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3q_qV5mHg0.
“CoreCivic Revenue 2006-2021: CXW.” Macrotrends, www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/CXW/corecivic/revenue.
Kilgore, James William. Understanding Mass Incarceration: a People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time. New Press, The, 2015.
Painter, Elizabeth M. 2021, Demographic Characteristics of Persons Vaccinated During the First Month of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program. https://usblackchambers.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/MMWR-Demographic-Characteristics-of-Persons-Vaccinated-During-the-First-Month-of-the-COVID-19-Vaccination-Program-%E2%80%94-United-States-December-14-2020%E2%80%93January-14-2021-1.pdf
United States, Congress, Pallone, Frank. Hearing on “Health Care Inequality: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in COVID 19 and the Health Care System”, 2021, pp. 1–5. https://congressional-proquest-com.sandiego.idm.oclc.org/congressional/result/congressional/congdocumentview?accountid=14742&groupid=95453&parmId=178E1D812BB#300