By Scotty Reid, 8/02/2012, news, politics
Tavis Smiley for the all the criticism he and Cornell West have received from members of the black community have been the most vocal advocates for reducing poverty in America who have access to mainstream platforms. I have heard many people call them “haters” and “jealous” of President Obama but yet I do not see many other high profile black people bringing attention to this dire issue of poverty created by among other things, the high unemployment that plagues our community.
Recently on the corporate media channel CBS, Smiley said,
“America has, of course, made great strides for freedom in regard to all of its citizens. But now America has regressed, and poverty is the new slavery,”
However, I have to disagree with Mr. Smiley labeling poverty the new slavery and America making “great strides” in freedom for everyone. People should be very careful in comparing anything to what enslaved Africans and their descendants had to endure at the hands of some of the most wicked people on earth. Yes, poverty is a very real issue for many people in America, not just black people and while poverty has increased in America and the worst it has been since 1965, it is not the “new slavery” and millions are losing their freedom everyday.
Despite what you were taught in one of America’s schools, public or private, despite what you have heard on mainstream media outlets like the History Channel, slavery was never abolished in the United States. It was not eradicated by President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation, which only freed the slaves in states that refused to rejoin the Union.
On September 22, 1862 a preliminary proclamation warned the break away states that Lincoln would order the emancipation of all slaves in any state of the Confederacy that did not return to the Union by January 1, 1863. When none returned, Lincoln signed and issued the proclamation freeing the enslaved people except in locations already occupied and controlled by the Union Army. On December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment was adopted and officially became part of the U.S. Constitution on December 18th.
However, the 13th Amendment did not eradicate slavery from the land either and left it in place for punishment of crime.
Section 1 of the 13th Amendment reads,
“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.”
If one has a clear definition of the word “except” then they have to accept that slavery still exists in the United States of America and has existed since the first African descendant person named John Casor, formerly an indentured servant was declared a slave for life by a Virginia court on March 8, 1655.
Some have argued that all the 13th Amendment did was transfer slavery from private hands to the states and ever since, African descendant people have always made up the majority of prison populations targeted under laws known as Black codes which were enacted across the south to entrap and re-enslave those who had gained their freedom. In 1868, the state’s prison system began to lease out “convicts” to the plantation owners and other businesses who had lost their slave labor after the Civil War.
While prison contracts awarded to private businesses is nothing new, during the 1980s they saw a new opportunity as strict enforcement of new Black codes enacted under President Nixon that led to the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency. In 1984, the Corrections Corporation of America was given control of its first prison in Hamilton County, Tennessee. This was the first time in history a for-profit corporation took over a state prison facility. The Drug War has led to increasing prison overcrowding which has become a burden on taxpayers with many state budgets decimated by associated costs. Notable corporations engaged in slavery today are the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, Inc, and Community Education Centers.
When the Corrections Corporation of America recently sent out a letter to 48 states offering them millions of dollars in cash to take over their prisons, part of the deal was that the states had to agree to keep the prisons 90% full, this conspiracy to deprive people of their freedom barely made a blip on Black politicians and their constituencies radar. To this date President Obama, whom some would have you believe is possibly descendant from the first enslaved African has said nothing about this conspiracy to lock up people for profit. In fact, he has tried to stifle any real conversation about ending Nixon era Black Codes that has led to the United States having the largest prison population on earth, most of them non-violent drug offenders.
The mass re-enslavement of Black people has destroyed countless families and among other things has contributed to the poverty you see in the community. Prisoners are paid less than $2.60 cent for a day’s worth of work while producing tens of millions of dollars worth of products for the plantation owners. While they are being used as slave labor, they are not paid enough to send any amount back home to their families. With moves in Congress to cut Medicaid and Food Stamps, how are those families supposed to survive? They are not. They are being set up to go into the streets to make money any way they can to house, feed and clothe themselves which is eventually going to lead them to becoming slave labor on one of Americas new concrete plantations.
So while Tavis Smiley should be commended for being a vocal critic of policies or the lack thereof that is leading to increased poverty in America, poverty is in no way the “new slavery” because the old slavery never went away, it just transformed itself.
Scotty Reid is the founder of the non-profit new media organization Black Talk Media Project and the associated Black Talk Radio Network. He has personally produced over 1,000 online episodes of Internet radio and has talk to many professionals and ordinary citizen about issues impacting the Black/African global community.