Last night, on Netflix, I viewed "Many Rivers to Cross," part 4. This mini-series was done for PBS by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the African-American Yale graduate who has published man works on racism in America.
Part 4 examined the African American experience 1968-2013. This period of time is extremely important to me because it is the period in which hopes for African American equality began to be realized, and then something terrible happened -- something so terrible that I have felt devastated as I discovered it during the past year.
This "something terrible" is the revelation that, in large swaths of American cities, the jobless rate for African Americans is at least twice the national average during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Meanwhile, overall academic achievement by African Americans has flattened, while the incarcerations of African American males went to the horrifyingly high level of 33% -- that is, one in three African American men will spend time in jail during their lifetime.
During the Jim Crow era, these statistics were better. During the Jim Crow era, a black child was much more likely to grow up with both biological parents than now (see Bill Cosby's Come On, People! among other publications). A black man was much more likely to be employed than now, albeit not fairly paid. Incarceration of black men still was unjust back then, but the rate of incarceration was not as high.
The War on Drugs is one part of the problem and I think it is a very important one. Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs really does appear to have become a war on black men (and secondarily on Hispanic men, and tertiarily on poor people in general). Drug sentences that once carried a penalty of a year now received penalties of ten years. If you remove a man or a woman from his or her family for ten years, guess what happens to that person's children? If you emphasize targeting people of color in stop-and-frisk, and particularly target neighborhoods of color in police oversight of crime (but not in police oversight of protecting victims of crime), you will FAIL to find what is happening in white neighborhoods and overly penalize what occurs in neighborhoods of color.
And we wonder what has happened to black family structure?
The insane thing about all of this: There should never have been any river to cross. There shouldn't be any rivers to cross now. No person should ever have been treated differently based on race. It's crazy to have to say that any segment of the American population has "made progress." Such statements reveal that white Americans impeded the progress of millions of American citizens -- and also that significant impediments still exist.
When will we be sane?