Hm. Thanks for this piece, Eric.
Kindra J. F.

Something that’s often overlooked in these conversations is how powerless “white” people feel about changing the system. Yes, most of the elites who run it are white, but, most white people aren’t elites, and most white people don’t have influence over elites. The conversation often ends at “we should do something” because we all feel quite powerless. There are plenty of studies and articles that say the average person has little to no influence over government. I like to say my letters to congress get the same form letters in reply yours do.

The system as it is long ago passed into entirely serving itself rather than society. Take the DEA, for example. They just reaffirmed the status of marijuana as a schedule 1 substance despite the overwhelming evidence there are medicinal uses for it. Why? Would that organization cut its arm off because it’s the right thing to do? No.

If you want to untangle structural racism, you need to know what drives it. The truth is the average American, if put in jail for just 2 months, would likely be evicted, have most of his shit put on the curb, have his car about ready to be repossessed if he even had one, have lost his job, etc. by the time he got to trial much less served a sentence. Once that happens, now what? What about his kids? What about his wife who is suddenly on her own? What does he do after he serves his sentence and is left to his own devices with a record and no jobs available. Sell drugs, maybe? Steal to get food for his family?

There’s a cycle going on. “Society” says people need to be punished, and the punishment is creating the “need” for punishment. One we get to this point, there are private prisons and probation among other issues. We go along with militarizing the police because they say there’s a war out there and the bad people will win if we don’t. And they’re even right in many cases, but what’s causing it?

The “system” is serving itself, not us. We can write letters and express our displeasure with it, but we “whites” are for the most part powerless to stop it ourselves. I think that’s why you don’t see the step beyond acknowledging the problem. We can try to address the prejudices we gained from our upbringing and our individual problems, but that still leaves the system.

Stopping the drug war among other things will cost jobs in the short term. It employs a ton of agents, and they get cool toys. The pharmaceutical, alcohol, and tobacco companies like the drug war because it eliminates competition. The private prisons and probation and other oppressive institutions benefit a number of people who have influence and won’t give them up as well. We can’t keep all of these institutions humming along without a supply of people society doesn’t like to fill them.

I’ve written before about how I think if we help each other as individuals overcome these prejudices and forced identities maybe one day the system will no longer have a mandate, but that will take a generation or more. It’s not action that will address today.

We don’t answer “what should we do?” because we don’t know either.

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