Africans must pay more attention to the predicament of blacks in the US

In 1896, the University of Pennsylvania requested one of its leading African-American scholars, WEB Du Bois to carry out a study of the conditions of African-Americans living in Philadelphia, the capital city of that state. For a year, between 1896 and 1897, Du Bois did a detailed statistical analysis of the lives of black folks in that city.

He went from household to household, interviewing people, finding out how they lived, getting to know their attitudes and prejudices and finally compiling data which, using sociological theories, he analysed and interpreted in the book he conveniently called The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study.

The major conclusion in this book was that the predicament of the African-American in Philadelphia could not be explained simply by the colour of his skin. It was the condition in which the African-American found himself, the historical context in which he was thrust into life and the structural dynamics of his time that shaped his fortunes and predisposed him to consider certain options in life.

For the majority of the Philadelphia negroes these options were very limited: they opened socio-economic options riddled with the trappings of poverty and an “under class existence.” In other words, an existence that kept the majority of black people “structurally” at the bottom of the social order: they were the janitors, the cooks, the drivers and the lowest of the factory workers. Quite a good number fell off into the streets as the beggars and “the street families.”

That condition has not changed much for many African-Americans in Detroit, south side of Chicago, the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, Watts in Los Angeles or the ninth Ward in New Orleans. What is worse is that the military-industrial complex elite who run the US today have found a new way of dealing with the so-called “black menace” in US society: imprison them. A new social study of this “threatened species” in America has been done by a present day Du Bois in the person of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In an article in a US-based monthly magazine, “The Atlantic”, Coates has written a long article entitled The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration. In this article Coates comes up with startling revelations how the prison has become a state-organised system of emasculating the African-American man right from youth.’

The statistics are telling. The United States now accounts for less than five per cent of the world’s inhabitants—and about 25 per cent of its incarcerated (imprisoned) inhabitants. Most of those imprisoned are black males in their prime years.

Among all black males born since the 1970s, one in four went to prison by their mid-30s. Among those who dropped out of high school, seven in ten went to prison. “Prison is no longer a rare extreme event among our nation’s most marginalised groups,” Devah Pager, a sociologist at Harvard, has written. “Rather it has become a normal and anticipated marker in the transition to adulthood.”

But this is sad since black youths are not genetically made to be criminals. They are profiled by the white dominant cultural prejudice as criminals; and the police force everywhere assume a black youth is a criminal even before he commits a crime. Cases further abound where the police use excessive force to apprehend black youths “suspected” to have committed crimes. Further, once imprisoned, a black person is tainted with criminality all his life. Pager adds: “Effectively the job market in America regards the black men who have never been criminals as though they were!” So where do we go from here?

Various US governments, whether Democrats or Republicans, have approached the prison crisis for black folks in the same way: build more prisons and keep these niggers in there for as long as possible. It is even worse at the state level. While a good number of black males are often given life imprisonment for the wrong reasons, getting paroled has almost become impossible in a state like Maryland where parole for lifers has been abolished.

In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles found guilty of crimes other than homicide were unconstitutional. Fifteen per cent of Maryland’s lifers committed their crimes as juveniles—the largest percentage in the nation.

The vast majority of them—85 per cent—are black. All these people will never have family life. And more will follow in their footsteps. In other words, the African-American community is slowly being reduced in population by a prison system that is nothing but genocidal. Coates has also published a new book: Between the World and Me, a must-read for those interested in the future of the black race and the prison genocide that face the black male in the US.

Who will save the African-Americans from this genocide? This question cannot be answered in the US alone. The African community of nations and African universities must come to the aid of the black race in the US.

The African Union needs to have a full-fledged division handling the African-American issue and issues of Africans in diaspora. The AU must be an active advocate, backed by sound knowledge, of justice and democracy for Africans and people of African origin wherever they are.

The African universities must provide this knowledge through research and teaching. I am surprised that very few universities in Africa have departments of African-American studies. This is a shame.

“In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage”—Coates.