Drill Rap and Frustrations of The Urban Black Poor

 

The Rise of Drill Rap 

 

Chicago Rapper Lil Marc Killed Days After Releasing Music Video Mocking Rival Gang

  Drill Rap, taken from the Chicago colloquial term to ‘Drill’, means to carry out a shooting against a rival gang. Drill Rap is used by rival African-American gangs such as the Black Disciples, Black Stones, and Gangster Disciples to issue lethal threats at one another and boast of their weapon arsenal. The storytelling prevalent in drill rap, hip-hop musical genre that emerged in Chicago’s impoverished Black communities on the South Side demonstrates how: structural racism continues to produce bleak opportunities for Black social, political, and economic advancement. 

Video imagery of drill artists often contains young Black men brandishing automatic weapons with lyrics that contain messages of rebelliousness, lawlessness and defiance of authority.  It is common to see drill artists diss deceased members of rival gangs, use military style weapons brandished casually in videos and for drill artists to be gunned down shortly after the release of diss songs. What distinguishes drill rap from the many other genres within hip-hop is that  drill rap is inherently militaristic and its artists often live the life they speak about.  

Systemic structural racism has resulted in the prevalence of the underground drug economy and gang violence in black Chicago which undergirds the phenomenon of drill rap. Drill rap in its essence embodies the frustration of urban poor Black men. Drill artists so often discuss through their lyrics their fear that they may not make it past 21; they may end up with a lengthy prison sentence, and the fact that they see no way out of a miserable life of violence. Drill rap articulates the frustrations of the urban black poor in Chicago and shatter illusions of a post-racial America in which structural racism no longer serves as a barrier to black, social, and political advancement. 

The Saga of Yummy 

Lil Mouse, the rapper from Englewood, Chicago, made a song in tribute to Robert Sandifer, a child soldier from Chiraq. Lil Mouse spits “Yummy was a hitter, push a nigga shit back. Gutta’ in my blood. Leavea nigga laying flat.” Think back to the period you were nine years old, at this age, many kids in America live carefree and jovial lives while contemplating the cool new gadgets they want from Santa for Christmas. For African-Americans in urban areas throughout America, the experience is totally different for such kids.

When Robert Sandifer was only nine, he had already been in and out of jail multiple times and was deeply involved in the South Chicago street life. He was active in committing a series of armed robberies and arsons as a member of the Black Disciplines (BD) in Chicago’s Roseland community.  As a kid in the streets of Chicago, the kid was trading drugs for profit, committing burglaries and breaking into houses. Sandifer hadn’t even reached his teenage years before he began carrying out murders for his local gangs.

Worse yet, he didn’t even live to reach his teenage years.  At 4’6”, he was armed with loaded guns and was not even remotely afraid to use them.  Receiving the nickname ‘Yummy’ due to his love for junk food, he lived his life as a drug dealer and caused terror in his community by breaking into houses and stealing cars. Before reaching five feet tall, he was already putting people six feet in the ground. He committed a recorded twenty-three felonies and five misdemeanors while carrying out his missions for his local gang.  The only picture available of him on the internet is a mug shot—a photo that showcases pain, anguish, and depression.

 Telling this tragic story, Lil Mouse spits “Ask you what you’ claiming if you ain’t 7-4 hit you in your face Cock it back and let it blow.”  On August 28th, 1994, Robert Sandifer tried to shoot a member of a rival gang. Stepping between two storefront churches on Chicago’s south side, he began firing at teenagers playing football with a semi-automatic pistol.  Instead of hitting his target, he hit a 14-year-old black girl named Shavon Dean. Robert was only 11 years old at the time he took Shavon’s life. After this brutal murder, the police went on a relentless manhunt for the killer.

Fearful that Robert Sandifer would reveal secret information about the Black Disciples, Sandifer was met by two brothers in the Black Disciples, Craig and Derrick Hardaway, who were age 16 and 14 respectively. They lured Robert Sandifer to a viaduct underpass where they carried out an execution with two bullets leading to Sandifer’s death at age 11. In response to the story of Sandifer’s tragic life, Times Magazine ran a headline, “So young to kill, so young to die.”

From an early age, Sandifer’s father was incarcerated, and his mother became addicted to drugs. As a result, Sandifer lived with his grandmother whose household consisted of over 19 kids.  Upon discovering that he was being neglected, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) sent Sandifer to live in a DCFS shelter from which Sandifer ran away, involving himself in gang life with the Black Disciples. The Sandifer saga became symbolic of the gang problem in Chicago as it showcased the lack of opportunities and breakdown of social safety networks.  Robert Sandifer was born on March 12, 1983, and died on September 1, 1994.

Yummy was abused from an early age; having over 40 scars and parts of his skin burnt from cigarettes butts.  He was eventually placed under the care of the state and the minute he escaped from his government-mandated foster home, he quickly took to the streets. Hardaway, who was convicted for Yummy’s murder at fourteen years old, had this to say from prison, “Yummy was the average black kid growing up in a drug infested community. There are millions of Yummys, it’s just that Robert Sandifer gained national attention. He was an impressionable kid who looked up to everyone that was in the streets. I knew him but he was a kid to me. I was a kid myself but I was older and involved in a lot more stuff.”

Indeed, there are millions of black children in urban areas throughout America, especially in the Southside of Chicago, who hang out on street corners, looking up to nobody but gang members and illegal paths in an attempt to help them cope and temporarily relieve themselves of the stress and pains that they face every-day under the American capitalistic society.  This is a reason why ‘loud a type of Marijuana’ is such a huge subject of Chief Keef rap videos.

Drug economy remains the only mechanism to get things that most whites inherit at birth. These things include food, clothing, and shelter.  Like Yummy, Hardaway is also a victim; a victim of a racist, capitalist society that created the conditions where an illegal economy is the only way to provide for loved ones and possess the basic necessities of life.

Yet, over a decade later yummy Chicago rapper, Lil Mouse emerged on the rap scene highlighting the same dilapidated conditions still prevalent in Englewood, Chicago. From the hardcore streets of Englewood, Lil Mouse spits “Glock 40, I’m thumpin man, I’m rolling with my hitters. I’ll send my hitters to go get you.” In Englewood, the law of the streets prevails and individuals are quick to use guns to settle beefs and feuds   

Renowned African-American psychologist, Dr. Amos N. Wilson, provided the following insights to understand the violence we witness in the Black community. He wrote, “Black on Black criminality and violence represent quests for power and outraged protests against a sense of powerlessness and insignificance.” Feeling powerless and insignificant, having minimal opportunity for socio-economic advancement, acts of violence among brainwashed black brothers in the streets often instills a false sense of power.    

Lil Mouse spits, “Posted on the nine with some savages. Everybody scared of us cause we be clapping shit. Keep some killers with me that aint lacking shit. Call my brother Grupy he shoot like the Mavericks bitch.Many black youths in Chicago grow up in abject poverty and see only two paths for their future: prison or death. Their mothers feel hopeless as they are unable to earn enough wages to provide for basic necessities such as electricity, rent, insurance, and food. Black youths in these communities endure subpar living conditions as seen through the decaying housing, substandard schools, drugs, and poverty. After examining these appalling social conditions, people often claim that the gangs that terrorize the community with violence are driven by some “innate” delinquency or aggression amongst black youth.

 In reality, Chicago street gangs are a product of social conditions created by institutional racism, police brutality, and white vigilantism. Blacks have been systematically disempowered and live in the most violent areas, not because we are “naturally” aggressive. Rather, this is a result of the economic conditions that have been imposed on us by malicious outside forces

Robert “Yummy” Sandifer was killed by his own gang at the tender age of 11 and the reality is that Yummy, alongside millions of unnamed inner-city black youths never had a fair shot in this country. Still, America deludes itself as the foremost purveyor of freedom in the world. White Liberals who adamantly believe that black people are making ‘steady progress’ in this country, often point to blacks in high places such as Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, and, of course, the President Barack Obama. White Republicans also, a cesspool filled with vicious racists, refuse to give credence to the notion that systematic racism severely restricts the social mobility of African-Americans. Both political parties believe that the discrimination, oppression, and disenfranchisement of African-Americans was just a misunderstanding rather than a core element that has ensured the growth of the U.S. capitalist, imperialist system. The reality is that Civil Rights legislation were never passed for altruistic reasons and the condition of black people in urban areas of America has not improved at all since the Civil rights legislation was passed – and this is no accident.

The Trick of Civil Rights Legislation 

As a legal scholar, Derick Bell has noted in Desegregation as a Cold War imperative, White people did not suddenly have a change of heart and decide to give black people rights. Rather, the American government acted in their own self-interest.  During the ‘Cold War,’ America and the Soviet Union battled with competing ideologies and both of them sought to establish an imperialistic grip on the world. The American government branded itself as the epitome of freedom and democracy, while casting the Soviet Union as a communist, totalitarianism regime that did not place value on human rights and freedoms. While it should be noted that the Kremlin, with Josef Stalin as president, engaged in purges to kill his enemies and saboteurs, U.S.A was not a saint either.  

When it seemed like U.S was winning the P.R war, the Soviet Union began to use video footages which showed African-Americans in the south with their flesh being ripped and eaten by vicious canines. At this revelation, America could no longer tell the world it was the epitome of human rights and freedom while subjugating its black population to open overt torture and suffering. If she did, she would appear to be a hypocritical liar. Thus, superficial changes had to be made in the power structure of America as regards the manner in which it carried out its oppression against black people. This was one factor that contributed to the passage of Civil Rights legislation.  

Another factor that contributed to the decline of overt institutional racism against blacks was the threat of violence from blacks. After the cold-blooded assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., blacks in urban areas throughout America were outraged.  The government referred to the actions of African-Americans after King’s death as ‘riots’ rather than what they really were: rebellion! Something had to be done in order for America to gain an edge in the ideological war against the Soviet Union (also known as Cold War). In order not to look absolutely ridiculous when she proclaimed herself as the leader of human rights and freedoms, the U.S government pushed for the Civil Rights legislation to be passed.

Civil Rights legislation did a much better job at pacifying African-Americans than it ever did at putting an end to racial inequality, discrimination, and racism. In every area of American society from housing to health-care to employment opportunities, black people still face discrimination to this day because Civil Rights legislation was never adamantly enforced. Take a look at the facts; Chicago is among the most segregated cities in America and while whites live lavishly on the Northside, impoverished Blacks have been suffering throughout Chicago for decades.

When Dr. Martin Luther King first came to Chicago, he arrived with the intent to protest housing segregation and the substandard housing of Chicago’s black population. In response, White residents threw rocks at him while others held signs in protest, one reading, “Roses are red. Violents are Black. King would look good with a Knife in his back.” They then led a cheer saying ‘Kill Him!, Kill Him. Over 40 years later, Southside Chicago neighborhoods are nicknamed (and for good reasons) ‘Terrortown’ and ‘Killaward’ in the streets; areas that are just as ‘substandard’, and worse off than its state when King took part in his first protest.  When a reporter asked Chief Keef how dangerous the Southside of Chicago was he simply responded with one word: “Chiraq.

Anti-black discrimination continues to be ubiquitous throughout American society, from housing, to employment, and education. While civil rights legislation merely removed the overt signs of racism, such as “No blacks allowed” signs, it did not mitigate the everyday practices of racism which manifests in different spheres of daily American life. These manifestations of discrimination can be found in blockbusting and redlining tactics of real estate agents in housing, the discriminatory predatory loans practices of banks, or courtrooms which continue to bequeath harsher sentences to black offenders. At large, the black population in America is segregated in ghettos in which the only viable source of employment is the drug economy. This population is systematically deprived quality education, healthcare etc. and the results of this are, constant breeding of lethal gang violence, neighborhoods filled with food deserts, terrible living conditions where many residents die from diseases that could have been prevented.

Racial discrimination is as pervasive as it was during the ‘60s; the only change being the way the current racism manifest itself. After years of solidifying anti-black discrimination in every facet of American society, discrimination has toughened to the extent that it continues without an overt legal mechanism to support it. Taking all these into account, it is clear that civil rights legislation protected white supremacy by putting an end to the overt manifestation as a recuperative mechanism. This was merely done to create an illusion of equality.

 The truth is that it is governmental actions from the neighborhood composition act, the denial of essential social services to Chicago’s Black community, the intentional placement of Black communities near toxic waste dumps,  the Chicago police department ‘s wholesale torture of Black communities, and the multiple massacres white people have perpetrated on Chicago’s Black communities that has created desperate social conditions whereby gang-involved Black youth are forced to compete over the control of a fleeting drug economy.  In American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass, sociologist Douglass S. Massey notes that due to practices such as redlining, racial steering, and blockbusting that developed in the Post-Jim Crow era, “the level of Black-White segregation has hardly changed. 

In Racism Realism, Derrick Bell famously stated that “[t]he adverse psychological effects of nonexistent opportunity are worse than the economic and social loss.”   The themes of drill rap, whereby young Black artists make known their bleak life prospects  reveal that continued impact of structural racism on black socio-economic mobility. The genesis of the neighborhood and communal conditions that gave rise to drill rap as a genre were birthed by systemic institutional racism which civil rights legislation failed to adequately address. The  themes highlighted in Drill Rap particularly that of invincibility and bravado function as a survival mechanism to exist in a world of bleak opportunities in which black-street organizations have been forced to compete over crumbs in a criminalized market.

 

 

Civil Rights Legislation Did Not End Structural Racism.

The civil rights movement is often romanticized as having been victorious; the mainstream public discourse purports that racism, as a factor oneimpeding black social mobility, is increasingly on the decline. It is claimed that America is coming closer to achieving Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream with each passing day. Such a dangerous myth obfuscates the true plight of African-Americans; the reality is that civil rights legislation proved ineffective in improving the plight of black Americans, and discrimination against African-Americans is ubiquitous throughout all of American society, even in the era of a black President.

two    America is still a segregated society; the masses of blacks are confined to ghettoes, where they are completely ostracized from mainstream American society. Civil rights legislation failed to even put a dent in segregation. When the legislation was passed, white citizens created various neighborhood improvement associations throughout America. Racism was masked under the agenda of protecting property value and maintaining safety in the neighborhood. Neighborhood Improvement Associations actively lobbied the city council to carry out zone restrictions, endeavoring to preserve white racial homogeneity. Strategic boycotts were organized against real estate agents who had the audacity to sell their homes to blacks. Thus, institutional racism would remain an integral part of city planning, all seeking to keep blacks living in a perpetual state of segregation.[i]

African-Americans who made it to the middle class would often seek to escape the narrow confines of ghetto life. Real estate agents would takewhitetenants advantage of these black customers by selling a home in a predominantly white area, yet, subsequently, these white real-estate agents would alert whites in the area that blacks would be moving in; with fear and panic, they would often sell their homes. Poor African-Americans were then targeted, and these same real estate agents would then sell them homes that they could not afford. A cash advance and several months of mortgage would be collected, and after inevitably defaulting, they would be evicted; afterwards, another black family would be subjected to the same process.

 

segregationThese discriminatory practices, known as blockbusting, ensured that segregation would be maintained despite the passing of civil rights legislation.Douglas S. Massey concluded, “Since the passing of the Fair Housing Act, the level of black-white segregation has hardly changed.” Within these segregated neighborhoods, the educational systems reflect these apartheid-influenced conditions.[ii] A Harvard study on civil rights recently concluded that – even in the 21st century, after the Brown Vs. Board of Education decision – the majority black students were found to not only have attended schools that were in a de facto state of segregation, but they were also found to attend schools that were more likely to be at the bottom of the socio-economic latter with less resources available for students.[iii]

 

The discrimination in educational opportunities significantly harms equitable access to the job market—a job market in which black candidatesdiscrimination2 are already at a disadvantage for merely having dark skin. The study titled, ‘Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?’ concluded that job applicants with more ‘black-sounding’ names were less likely to be called back for an interview than applicants with more ‘white-sounding names,’ even with identical credentials.[iv] A more troubling study from found that white convicts and blacks without a criminal record, with otherwise identical credentials, have an equal opportunity for employment.[v] Such a social reality demonstrates a dire situation for black ex-convicts seeking to improve their lives.

 

 

 

 

policetortureSuch black convicts would have already been victims of an unjust legal system. Racism pervades the judicial system; blacks are more likely than whites to be stopped by the police and to become victims of police brutality. In court, blacks routinely have poorer representation compared to white defendants; blacks are more likely to receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as whites. Instead of standing firmly for justice, whether an individual is rich or poor, black or white, the report, ‘Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System’ [vi] concluded that, “The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities.” As a result of these discriminatory practices, America incarcerates its populations at rates that surpass all other nations, and the majority of these prisoners are black, Latino, or a member of other minority communities.

Yet, the discrimination against black people in the judicial structure is part of a broader problem that seeks to feed the prison industrial complex. The apartheid prison system is becoming an increasingly important factor in the U.S. economy, with the government issuing out private contracts to construct prisons. The federal prison industry (UNICOR), which is owned by the U.S. government, even utiliprisionlaborzes the labor of prisoners to produce miscellaneous goods, including solar panels. Furthermore, many mainstream corporations, such as Microsoft, Boeing, IBM, and Texas Instruments, take advantage of this prison labor. Merrill Lynch has made heavy profits from investing in prison construction bonds. Eve Goldberg notes:

“Prison labor is like a pot of gold. No strikes. No union organizing. No health benefits, unemployment insurance, or workers’ compensation to pay. No language barriers, as in foreign countries. New leviathan prisons are being built on thousands of eerie acres of factories inside the walls. Prisoners do data entry for Chevron, make telephone reservations for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, make circuit boards, limousines.”[vii]

Thus, discrimination continues to be ubiquitous throughout American society, from housing, employment, and education. Civil rights chiefkeeffgbelegislation merely removed the overt signs of racism, such as “No blacks allowed” signs, but it did not mitigate the everyday practices of racism which manifests in the blockbusting, redlining, tactics of real estate agents in housing, the discriminatory predatory loans practices of banks, or court rooms which continue to bequeath harsher sentences to black offenders. At large, the black population in America is segregated in ghettos in which the only viable source of employment is the drug economy; they are systematically deprived of quality education; their communities host lethal gang violence; their neighborhoods are often food deserts; and inside these ghettoes many die from preventable diseases.

 

Racial discrimination is as pervasive as it was during the ‘60s, the only change being how this racism manifested itself. After years of solidifying anti-black discrimination in every facet of American society, discrimination was able to continue without an overt legal mechanism to support it. Taking all this into account, it is clear that civil rights legislation protected white supremacy by putting an end to the overt manifestation as a recuperative mechanism to give the illusion of equality.

In the next article, we will take a look at how Civil Rights Legislation was passed with the intent to protect white supremacy.

———————————————————————————-

 

[i] American Apartheid, Segregation and the making of the Underclass by Douglass S. Massey A. Denton

 

[ii] IBID

[iii] http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news_events/features/1999/orfielddeseg06081999.html,

[iv] Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? http://www.chicagobooth.edu/pdf/bertrand.pdf,

 

[v] “Discrimination in Low Wage Labor Markets.” http://paa2005.princeton.edu/papers/50874

 

[vi] Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System, http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/rd_ICCPR%20Race%20and%20Justice%20Shadow%20Report.pdf

[vii] Racism matters http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Prison_System/Masked_Racism_ADavis.html

 

The Crack Epidemic: How Will I Make It in Harlem? (Hood Series)

 

bigl43In the Post-Civil Rights Era, African-Americans are said to be progressing in society; institutional racism is written off as a sad social reality of the past, but now it is claimed that a window of opportunity is available for blacks. During Dr. Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month, Americans reminisce over how racist America used to be as King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech is routinely read and heard.  Society then reflects upon prominent African-American figures such as Barack Obama, and thinks to themselves how far America has come. In a song entitled “How Will I Make It?” Lamont Colemon gives narratives that profoundly challenge the sociological myth of black progress in the Post-Civil Rights Era. Coleman, who went by the name Big L, was not a politically conscious rapper like Tupac Shakur (who routinely drew links between capitalism and the plight of black Americans) or Nas (who constantly discusses fratricidal ghetto life and routinely draws links to the roots of institutional racism). As such, Coleman is free of all of the biases that may come from a formal study of Critical Race Theory and thus provides an organic insight on the status of black youth that disrupts the myth of steady progress.

Lamont Coleman in describing his upbringing states that, “I’m only at the age of 10 and life already seems to me like it’s heading for a dead end. Cause my Moms be smoking mad crack. My dad went out for a fast streetstruck34snack and never brought his a** back.” Coleman grew up fatherless and with a mother who was addicted to crack; the crack epidemic led to an uprising in violent crime as unemployed black youth who were discriminated against in the job market resorted to selling the cost-efficient cocaine derivative to move up the social economic ladder. This era produced an entire generation of neglected children subjected to pre-natal cocaine exposure (often referred to in the streets as “crack babies”), mass incarceration, and social decay in the black community. For Coleman in particular, at only ten years old, he states that, “Nobody knows how I feel, it’s quite ill Cause I had to steal to fill my stomach with a nice meal.” Reading this, one would think he grew up in a third world country, but in reality he was growing up in the heart of America. Heading into his teenage years, Coleman states, “Now I’m at the age of 15, no more fun and games it’s time to get cream… Now every day I creep with the heat, ain’t nothing sweet, I rob for meat. If I don’t steal, I don’t eat.” In such economically oppressive social conditions, Coleman had to resort to crime merely for food. As he lives a life of crime for mere survival, he laments that he may end up in jail but that he is forced into such activities through economic necessity. Nonetheless, he makes a very revealing statement:

“Where I grew up it was a living hell. Then I started to realize – I’m better off in a prison cell. Now I can sleep, now I can eat.” Being born into yk54poverty in the street of Harlem and realizing that being in prison actually makes it easier to eat regular meals is a serious indictment of the socio-economic system of America in the Post-Civil Rights Era. One in three black males can be expected to be under the tutelage of the criminal justice system either through prison time or parole throughout their lives. As prisons become increasingly privatized, rich white CEOS have begun profiting from the mass-incarceration of black youth who are funneled into a life of crime due to the economic conditions that they live in. Eventually, Coleman, after carrying out a robbery, was convicted; however, upon getting out, he quickly finds himself in the same social situation

“It’s getting crazy hectic

Cause I’m broke and can’t get a job cause of my jail record

Before you know it, I was robbing them same ducks”

From growing up in a poor black household, Coleman’s criminal pursuits to begin with had nothing to do with wanting to choose a life a crime, but rather it materialized from economic necessity to survive. Upon leaving jail, Coleman quickly finds himself in the same social situation. Prisons are less about reform, and even after leaving jail there have been no job training programs to steer him in the right direction. Coleman states, ”Either I’mma go to jail or get murdered, but do I deserve it? All I tried to do was live the one life that I got but it seems like I can’t get a fair shot.” Coleman was never given a fair shot due to one basic fact: he was born black in a white supremacist system and, like so many other black youth, either felt he was going to be killed xewk23at a young age or go back to jail.

When it comes to black-on-black crime, the conservative media often attributes it to bad behavior, a lack of morals, or the influence of Hip-Hop. They call for self-responsibility and simply saying blacks need to will themselves into doing the “right” thing. In his song ”Street Struck,” Coleman advocates self-responsibility for black youth in an interesting manner, stating, ”Some of my peeps are still in the game sellin ‘caine. If that’s what you gotta do to maintain, go ‘head and do your thang. But with the cash profit make an investment. And try not to go to the grave like the rest went.” Essentially, he recognized the inevitability of black youth turning to the drug market for survival, but encourages them to use profits from drugs and to turn it into a legitimate enterprise.

 

Tbig4544he real question is: when will whites began to take responsibility for the unjust social system their forefathers created that has resulted in the drug economy being the only way for black youth to have basic needs? When will whites take responsibility for having created the unjust prison industrial complex, partaking in redlining, and the discriminatory loans that targeted blacks and led to the subprime mortgage crisis and causing a crisis in the black community. The calls for “self-responsibility” among blacks by whites is a way in which they can absolve themselves from having to challenge the white supremacist power structure that they continue to benefit from; essentially, blacks must exercise supreme levels of discipline and responsibility, as they pull themselves out the hood by their boot-straps. Such a discourse also neglects that fact that due to institutional racism, whites who partake in self-destructive behaviors (alcohol, drugs, etc.) are less likely to be harmed by it than blacks due to their extensive social safety network developed from institutional racism.

In the midst of oppression and white scapegoating, Coleman – with no formal study of sociological issues, critical race theory, etc. makes a profound statement:
“In the ghetto, all you can wish for is a better tomorrow. It ain’t getting no better, it’s only getting worse, word up.”

Effectively refuting the myth of black progress in the Post-Civil Rights Era, for black youth, the conditions are only becoming worse.

 

 

 

 

 

Did Civil Rights Acts improve the living conditions of Blacks?

The civil rights movement is often romanticized as having been victorious; the mainstream public discourse purports that racism, as a factor oneimpeding black social mobility, is increasingly on the decline. It is claimed that America is coming closer to achieving Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream with each passing day. Such a dangerous myth obfuscates the true plight of African-Americans; the reality is that civil rights legislation proved ineffective in improving the plight of black Americans, and discrimination against African-Americans is ubiquitous throughout all of American society, even in the era of a black President.

 

two    America is still a segregated society; the masses of blacks are confined to ghettoes, where they are completely ostracized from mainstream American society. Civil rights legislation failed to even put a dent in segregation. When the legislation was passed, white citizens created various neighborhood improvement associations throughout America. Racism was masked under the agenda of protecting property value and maintaining safety in the neighborhood. Neighborhood Improvement Associations actively lobbied the city council to carry out zone restrictions, endeavoring to preserve white racial homogeneity. Strategic boycotts were organized against real estate agents who had the audacity to sell their homes to blacks. Thus, institutional racism would remain an integral part of city planning, all seeking to keep blacks living in a perpetual state of segregation.[i]

 

African-Americans who made it to the middle class would often seek to escape the narrow confines of ghetto life. Real estate agents would takewhitetenants advantage of these black customers by selling a home in a predominantly white area, yet, subsequently, these white real-estate agents would alert whites in the area that blacks would be moving in; with fear and panic, they would often sell their homes. Poor African-Americans were then targeted, and these same real estate agents would then sell them homes that they could not afford. A cash advance and several months of mortgage would be collected, and after inevitably defaulting, they would be evicted; afterwards, another black family would be subjected to the same process.

 

segregationThese discriminatory practices, known as blockbusting, ensured that segregation would be maintained despite the passing of civil rights legislation.Douglas S. Massey concluded, “Since the passing of the Fair Housing Act, the level of black-white segregation has hardly changed.” Within these segregated neighborhoods, the educational systems reflect these apartheid-influenced conditions.[ii] A Harvard study on civil rights recently concluded that – even in the 21st century, after the Brown Vs. Board of Education decision – the majority black students were found to not only have attended schools that were in a de facto state of segregation, but they were also found to attend schools that were more likely to be at the bottom of the socio-economic latter with less resources available for students.[iii]

 

The discrimination in educational opportunities significantly harms equitable access to the job market—a job market in which black candidatesdiscrimination2 are already at a disadvantage for merely having dark skin. The study titled, ‘Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?’ concluded that job applicants with more ‘black-sounding’ names were less likely to be called back for an interview than applicants with more ‘white-sounding names,’ even with identical credentials.[iv] A more troubling study from found that white convicts and blacks without a criminal record, with otherwise identical credentials, have an equal opportunity for employment.[v] Such a social reality demonstrates a dire situation for black ex-convicts seeking to improve their lives.

 

policetortureSuch black convicts would have already been victims of an unjust legal system. Racism pervades the judicial system; blacks are more likely than whites to be stopped by the police and to become victims of police brutality. In court, blacks routinely have poorer representation compared to white defendants; blacks are more likely to receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as whites. Instead of standing firmly for justice, whether an individual is rich or poor, black or white, the report, ‘Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System’ [vi] concluded that, “The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities.” As a result of these discriminatory practices, America incarcerates its populations at rates that surpass all other nations, and the majority of these prisoners are black, Latino, or a member of other minority communities.

 

 

Yet, the discrimination against black people in the judicial structure is part of a broader problem that seeks to feed the prison industrial complex. The apartheid prison system is becoming an increasingly important factor in the U.S. economy, with the government issuing out private contracts to construct prisons. The federal prison industry (UNICOR), which is owned by the U.S. government, even utiliprisionlaborzes the labor of prisoners to produce miscellaneous goods, including solar panels. Furthermore, many mainstream corporations, such as Microsoft, Boeing, IBM, and Texas Instruments, take advantage of this prison labor. Merrill Lynch has made heavy profits from investing in prison construction bonds. Eve Goldberg notes:

“Prison labor is like a pot of gold. No strikes. No union organizing. No health benefits, unemployment insurance, or workers’ compensation to pay. No language barriers, as in foreign countries. New leviathan prisons are being built on thousands of eerie acres of factories inside the walls. Prisoners do data entry for Chevron, make telephone reservations for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, make circuit boards, limousines.”[vii]

Thus, discrimination continues to be ubiquitous throughout American society, from housing, employment, and education. Civil rights chiefkeeffgbelegislation merely removed the overt signs of racism, such as “No blacks allowed” signs, but it did not mitigate the everyday practices of racism which manifests in the blockbusting, redlining, tactics of real estate agents in housing, the discriminatory predatory loans practices of banks, or court rooms which continue to bequeath harsher sentences to black offenders. At large, the black population in America is segregated in ghettos in which the only viable source of employment is the drug economy; they are systematically deprived of quality education; host lethal gang violence; their neighborhoods are often food deserts; and inside these ghettoes many die from preventable diseases.

 

Racial discrimination is as pervasive as it was during the ‘60s, the only change being how this racism manifested itself. After years of solidifying anti-black discrimination in every facet of American society, discrimination was able to continue without an overt legal mechanism to support it. Taking all this into account, it is clear that civil rights legislation protected white supremacy by putting an end to the overt manifestation as a recuperative mechanism to give the illusion of equality.

In the next article, we will take a look at how Civil Rights Legislation was passed with the intent to protect white supremacy.

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[i] American Apartheid, Segregation and the making of the Underclass by Douglass S. Massey A. Denton

 

[ii] IBID

[iii] http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news_events/features/1999/orfielddeseg06081999.html,

[iv] Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? http://www.chicagobooth.edu/pdf/bertrand.pdf,

 

[v] “Discrimination in Low Wage Labor Markets.” http://paa2005.princeton.edu/papers/50874

 

[vi] Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System, http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/rd_ICCPR%20Race%20and%20Justice%20Shadow%20Report.pdf

[vii] Racism matters http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Prison_System/Masked_Racism_ADavis.html

 

Chiraq: Has There Been Progress?

                                                     Has there been improvement?


In The Street Scriptures, we took a look at the literary and poetic works of Nasir Jones and Tupac Shakur to challenge the erroneous and dangerous notion that the post Civil Rights era led to a major structural improvement in the lives of African-Americans

When one reads the history of the civil rights movement, it is often told as a tale of victory and triumph of oppression. Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches are played and people reflect on how racist the situation in America “used to be.” During black history month, society generally prides itself on how much progress has been made in society in getting rid of the racism that used to be there. With the election of a black president in Barack Obama, many people are convinced of the fundamental premise that America is becoming more equal and its black population is progressing more and more.  But with the end of legal discrimination, has the material condition of African-Americans actually improved in the post Civil Rights era?  No one can deny the rise of racial tolerance, interracial relationships, and ascendency of more African-Americans to political power, but, again, has the material condition of the masses of African-Americans really improved?

In his iconic and often played speech, “I Have a Dream,” Dr. Martin Luther King says:

“One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

Has this actually changed? Do the masses of black people still not languish in the corner of society? Liberals, while generally acknowledging the unequal conditions facing black people, would generally  like to believe the myth of “steady progress,” and that things are steadily getting better for black people and that – eventually – they will reach an equal status with white people. Conservatives generally go as far as to deny any role of institutional racism in impeding that social mobility of African-Americans, often blaming “thugs,” “gangsters,” or “black criminals” for the hardship faced by blacks that the system has forced them into. Both positions are egregiously wrong, and the reality is that the end of legal discrimination did not lead to an end of dejure discrimination, and it did not put an end to defacto discrimination, nor did it really affect or get rid of the common traditions and norms which excluded blacks; rather, it simply led to the end of formal, legal discrimination.

In reality, black people still “live on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” Black and latino youth live in isolated impoverished ghettos, lacking access to basic health care, jobs, and decent schooling. The amount of youth graduating high school is low, and the amount of youth who are incarcerated or killed is disgustingly high. These ghettoes are great sources of violence and despair. Street gangs viciously fight over territory in an effort to dominate an illegal economy. Stray bullets rarely find their intended target, instead choking the life out of the innocent. Parents who are unable to provide food for their children watch as they yearn for nourishment. Children grow up paranoid as they walk the streets, hoping they are not caught in between gang crossfire.

The organic Intellectual Tupac remarks, ”There’s never a good day, cause in my hood theyblet they AK’s pump strays where the kids play And every Halloween, check out the murder scene, Can’t help but duplicate the violence seen on the screen. My homies  dyin’ fore they get to see they birthdays, These is the worst days.”

In Chicago, just one of the numerous inner-cities where blacks still ”live on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” display staggering statistics:

In Chicago, black men between the ages of 17-25 with a prior arrest history are the most likely group to be murder victims or to be accused of murder.

In 1960, the median income for African-Americans families was $4,800 and for white families it was $7,700. In 2010, the average income for African-American households was $29,371, but for white families it was $58,752. This is not progress or steady improvement.In 1960, 69% of African-Americans lived in community areas that were 94% black. In 2011, 63% of African-Americans lived in community areas that were 95% black. This is not progress or steady improvement. In 1960, the poverty rate for African-Americans was 29.7% and for whites was 7.4%. In 2011, the poverty rate for African-Americans was 34.1% and for whites 10.9%. This is not progress or steady improvement.The unemployment rate for African-Americans in 1968 was 7.6% and for whites it was 2.3%. In 2012, the unemployment rate for African Americans was 19.5%; for whites only 8.1%. This is not progress. [1]

Tupac elucidates on the damaging result of unemployment in the black community and articulates the impact it has on black youth, ”God help me, cause I’m starving, can’t get a job
So I resort to violent robberies, my life is hard
Can’t sleep cause all the dirt make my heart hurt
Put in work and shed tears for my dead peers”

In these ghettoes with no real employment opportunities, youth often turn to the drug economy or crime as the only way to have basic necessities of life.  Indeed, in Chicago’s ghettoes, it’s not afterschool programs, Ford, or McDonalds that holds the spot as the number one source of employment. Rather, it is the drug economy.

There is a myth in the famous “I Have a Dream” speech which must be exposed; Dr. Martin Luther King stated:

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The reality is, this nation’s founder explicitly  intended it to be one which exclusively benefited white men with blacks, Native Americans, and women excluded. There is no evidence that it was a “promissory” note which eventually wanted to include non-whites and give them access to the privileges and benefits handed to whites.  The constitution was written by white supremacists for the purposes of white supremacy. It was not an otherwise benevolent document that was simply interpreted  incorrectly, it is the deviation from the mainstream interpretation of the constitution that has allowed for some legal progress from the otherwise racist document which  explicitly labeled blacks as 3/5th of a human.

What are unalienable, constitutional rights to  black youth growing up in ghettoes in which the reality is that they may be hit by a stray bullet at any time?

What is the unalienable right to liberty when the social structure of America  has established it as such that blacks will be lured into a life of crime out of economic necessity and be a subsequent victim of the prison industrial complex legalized by the 13th amendment?

“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.”

What is the unalienable, constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness to black youth who – through no fault of their own – are born into ghettoes, lacking the basic necessities of life and living in a white supremacist social structure which guarantees their desperation.

The constitution from its inception was never intended to benefit black people, so it was not a “promissory note” as was mentioned in Martin Luther King’s speech. Rather, it is doing exactly what it was intended to do: guaranteeing white men the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at the expense of black people who are victims of the prison industrial complex and at the expense of Native Americans who live largely impoverished on reservations while whites have access to the benefits of their land.
The passage of civil rights did not end the state-sanctioned oppression of black people, not even close, instead, black people would be exploited and subjugated in new, slyer ways.

The civil rights amendments were passed not because the rulers of America had a change of heart, but because America was in competition to become the world’s global hegemon with the Soviet Union; it was difficult for America to brand itself as the exemplar of freedom and equality with legal discrimination and events such as Emmitt Till’s death and the dogs ordered to attack black youth – such events became an obstacle to America in its competition with the  Soviet Union—so legal discrimination ended, but the white supremacist structure remained in tact. Tupac Shakur states:

Cause lady liberty is a hypocrite she lied to me
Promised me freedom, education, equality
Never gave me nothing but slavery
And now look at how dangerous you made me

The ‘America’ that many people would like to believe in simply doesn’t exist in reality. America brands itself like other corporations, and America claims to be the home of freedom, progress, and equality. In reality, America was built from the wholesale slaughter of Native Americans and the enslavement of blacks. These two events are intrinsic to America’s national building project and has come to define it’s existance as a fundamental anti-black state, despite its promulgation of freedom and justice. America never had a promissory note for black people to cash-in; rather, the framers of the constitution were explicit in considering black people to be outside of humanity and, fundamentally, black people still live outside of mainstream American life.

When Dr. Martin Luther King came to Chicago, it was to protest segregation and the poverty affecting black youth.

The only thing which has changed is that there are no longer ’“NO niggers” signs, but the same conditions still exist in Chicago which caused him to come to the city in the first place.

The black ghettoes are in shambles. Parents are bitter because they are struggling to keep up with the rent; they are struggling to keep food in the refrigerator, they are struggling to keep up with the light and water bill.

With the deaths of Hadiya Pendlenton, Joseph Coleman, Derrion Albert and countless other youth, it is time we realize the severity of the situation black people are in and reject the myth that blacks are making “steady progress.” We are oppressed – severely oppressed.

[1] http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/african-american-percentage-poverty-unemployment-schools-segregation/Content?oid=10703562