Incarceration Nation


By Kevin Cooper

In February 2023, during another Black History Month, we African Americans, to a large degree, are still searching for, living for, dying for, dreaming about, working to get, and fighting for that mythical thing, and as some people believe, that mystical thing, called freedom.

Real freedom: it is the exact kind of freedom that the majority of white people have taken for granted ever since they first started living on this land.

This is freedom that Black people have been denied since we first came to this land in 1619 in chains as an enslaved people. Throughout the tortured history of Africans and their descendants in this country, we have been purposely left out of many things, including our birthright, which is freedom.

It seems that America as a whole sees itself as an individual standing alone, and on top, and all the other white people within it are part of this individualism. But the different non-white people in this country, and even before this land became a country, are seen as other individuals who are not part of this entity, or the manifest destiny that certain powerful people believed in back then, and still do today.

At the same time, they are purposely ignoring, and giving very little credit to the vast contributions that Black people have given and still are giving to the growth of this country and making it what it is today in every aspect, from our fighting, suffering and dying in each and every war that was on this land, both before and after it became a country, to elsewhere in the world, to everything else that we as a people have contributed in what remains the “Divided States Of America,” despite our efforts.

Yet, we are the least free of all people in this country—except the Indigenous peoples who once took care of this land but never owned any. It was the capitalist who came to this land and wanted to own everything on it, including certain people.

Why is this? Why is damn near every part of life in this country, in everything that is considered “positive,” Black people remain at the bottom of the list? But when it comes to everything negative in this country, Black people are still at the top of the list!

As an oppressed people, and a poor people, we Black people are triple traumatized by our race and class, and our real-life pain and suffering has led to an existence in this country that has been anything and everything but free, from the infant mortality rates suffered by Black people in this country to maternal mortality rates suffered by Black women, to our disproportionate hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 and other medical issues, and of course mental health issues.

The housing market is just as bad. If one looks at the housing crash that took place several years ago, it was Black people who lost the vast majority of homes because of the bad housing loans that they took on. At the same time or shortly thereafter, when those Black people did get good loans and were able to purchase their homes, their homes were appraised for less than they paid for them, and less than their white neighbor’s home, or white people’s homes in a similar neighborhood.

The criminal justice system

Then there’s the ever-present criminal justice system, which here in 2023 has more Black people enslaved than in 1823. This is just counting those incarcerated because they survived, unlike so many others, their first contact with the criminal justice system—the police.

Every Black person the police murdered at the front end of this so-called justice system had to honestly believe that they were free, whether it was Mr. George Floyd or Ms. Breonna Taylor and the thousands of others that were innocent yet murdered by law enforcement. They were led to think that they were free, and that despite our ongoing and known oppression, that we as a whole people were free.

But these truthful inhumane things that happened to them happened because they all were wearing their birthday suit—their Black skin. These inhumanities do not happen to a free people. They happen to oppressed people, to poor people, to people who are seen as and are deemed an inhumane people, an unwanted and expendable people, but not a people of worth, humanity or freedom.

These brief but undeniable truths are taking place in every part of the lives of Black people, and the powers that be within this country know this, yet very few of them will do, or are doing anything, to stop it from happening.

Does anyone actually believe that the water crisis that first happened in Flint, Michigan and is now happening in Jackson, Mississippi and elsewhere where poor Black people live, would be happening in a city where rich white people live, where wealth and whiteness in this country equal real freedom?

It appears to many Black people that the main way to become free in this country, without having a skin color change like the late singer Michael Jackson, is either to be born rich or become rich by any other means, because in most cases in this country, wealth supersedes race. Do you think that Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, would—or could—be anywhere near Donald J. Trump or those white supremacists that he hangs around with if he was a poor Black man? I think not.

Without wealth, which is the case for the vast majority of people, especially Black people, then what’s left? Becoming a modern-day slave on a modern-day plantation, called a penitentiary, or a working-class poor person who lives from paycheck to paycheck chasing the so-called American Dream while in fact living the American Nightmare of no healthcare, inferior housing, and everything else negative that will happen to a poor person who’s not living in America the beautiful, but who’s relegated to America the Ugly.

A racial and truth reckoning

As it stands now, this country is not just having to deal with a racial reckoning that it refused to deal with in the past, it’s also having to deal with a truth reckoning when it comes to class as well as race combined with oppression and all the evils that oppression brings to the table with it.

The only way for this country to deal with these all-too-real-life issues is to start by having an open and honest conversation to bring about the real change that is sorely needed in this land of not-the-free and home of the oppressed, changes that need to be done in all parts of this American experiment, where all people are given the chance to be “Free!”

This is why in 1963 the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, ending it by saying: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”

Many of us are still asking in 2023 when will we finally be able to have not just a dream, but a reality of being free at last. I could go on and on with example after example why we Black people still are oppressed and not free, but I don’t believe I need to because our collective hurt and pain has been shown to be true and has been discussed by so many different people, groups, and organizations.

But the insults, the racism, the classism, the sexism, the homophobia, the trauma, the crimes against humanity, the incarceration, the death penalty, homelessness, police brutality, poverty and hunger and so many other preventable and unnecessary things are still happening to us because in this, the wealthiest country on this planet, either because of our skin color, or our class, or both, no one seems to really give a damn about us as a people, or whether we live or die.

These truths, and the raw realities of life in this country for poor and oppressed Black people make it so very, very hard for most of us to honestly believe that we are in fact a free people.

No matter what we do, or no matter how hard we try, the majority of us cannot escape from feeling the history of yesteryear is still upon us. Yes, it’s true that things are much better now for Black people in this country than they once were. So as bad as it used to be, and still is, everyone should know just how much work still must be done.

As a freedom song was repeatedly sung during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s stated, “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle:”

They say that freedom is a constant struggle,

they say that freedom is a constant struggle,

they say that freedom is a constant struggle,

O Lord, we’ve struggled so long,

We must be free, we must be free.

They say freedom is a constant dying,

we died so long we must be free,

we’ve struggled so long,

we’ve cried so long,

we’ve sorrowed so long,

we’ve moaned so long,

we’ve died so long,

we must be free, we must be free!

No one can say that we haven’t struggled, and still aren’t struggling, for that thing called “Freedom.”

If anyone can truly encapsulate what can be a necessary step towards progress, it is Martin Luther King Jr.:

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity…”


Sheerpost, February 2, 2023