Tuesday, September 13, 2011

That's the sound of the men, working on the chain. gang.

Recently, I watched a documentary about the Prison Industrial Complex (say that three times fast,) called Fair Game?. It was directed by Mario Van Peebles. This is cool because I watched a different documentary several months ago about racism in the film industry that was directed by Mario's dad, Melvin Van Peebles. It's just nice to see the tradition for social activism being passed down from father to son. I also like the fact that they are both using a medium that they are very familiar with/I would assume somewhat passionate about: film.

I think that is one of the rules when it comes to taking action around creating social change: start with what you know; don't make it complicated. If you're a dancer, make a dance. An engineer? Do something engineering related. Have a passion for fashion? Incorporate that into your fight of the good fight. Me? I have a lot of opinions. I also prefer to have a captive audience that can't interrupt me when I'm giving said opinions, so we've got this here blog.

Ok, back to the documentary. The first time I heard the term "industrial complex" with another word in front of it, it was my sophomore year of college, in a Sociology class. We were talking about the Military Industrial Complex. Now I am sure the conscientious PhD student teaching that class gave us a definition of the term. I am also sure that sophomore year of college was a long time ago, and that I don't remember what the definition was. So I will do something else that I like to do on this blog: I'll make up my own.

When I think of an industrial complex, one of the main things that I think of is the idea that the actors involved have to continue to create something that, on the surface, they appear to be against. In the case of the military, it would be war. And in the case of the prison system, it would be criminals. Because think about it, if there was no war/threat of war, there would be no need for the military. And if there were no criminals, there would be no need for places to house criminals. So these organizations do different things to make themselves a necessary part of society. Sidenote: you can agree or disagree with this premise, I realize it may sound a little conspiracy theory-ish. I am just explaining it to you.

So in the case of the Prison Industrial Complex, these prisons (many of which are now private corporations run for a profit, ) need to continue to generate revenue, which means needing prisoners to fill the beds. This way, they can use the prisoners hella cheap/free labor to produce goods, and they can also charge taxpayers lots of money to house, feed and clothe these people. They do this in a variety of ways.

Here are just some of the lowlights that I learned from watching this video:

--All other things being equal, a black man without a criminal record will receive less consideration for a job than a white man with a criminal record.

--Private prisons are using 3rd and 4th grade reading achievement test scores to help them determine how many prisons they should build in the future.

--The out of wedlock birthrate for black children in the mid 1960's was something like 25%. Now, it is closer to 70%.

There was a quote from Chris Rock in this documentary that actually spurred the idea for this post. I was originally going to post it by itself and have that be the whole entry. But then I remembered what I wrote above about having a lot of opinions, so all the rest of this stuff got typed out too. Ok, here's the quote:

" Exceptional black people have always, kind of been rewarded. Martin Luther King's dream coming true is for mediocre black people to succeed in this world in the same way that mediocre white people do."

I think this is a really good way to sum up the sentiment. My problem is not with people who do wrong being punished. My problem is with certain groups being targeted, and punishment being meted out unfairly. I have often thought that if black people were 12% of the poor, that would be fine by me. Because in this capitalist society we live in, somebody's got to be poor.

If we were 12% of the poor, 12% of the middle class, 12% of the obscenely rich, and 12% of the prison population, I think anyone would be hard pressed to say that wasn't progress. But when the numbers are so skewed and not anywhere close to that, we have to look at the other factors that are in play and making things the way they are.

At this point in the blog post, I was all excited because I thought I would be able to give you a link that would allow you to download the documentary for free. But that is not to be, my friends. My itunes won't load, so I don't know if it is available for download there. And I checked amazon and they don't have it. But I would encourage you to check your local listings to see if is playing again sometime soon. It was a very well-written, thought provoking documentary, and I would encourage you to check it out if you have the opportunity.

And if you have any questions or comments about this topic, you know I would love to hear them.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your definition of industrial complex. That's helpful to me, and the first time I've so clearly understood the phrase. Do you think I'm part of the Therapy Industrial Complex...?