Last night I attended a lecture by Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney who has worked with the families of many dead black boys and men. He was covering all the statistics I’d heard on the over-representation of black men and boys in our criminal justice system. And then he segued into how over-represented black families are in the foster care system, and how “they are taking our children away from us.”
That sentence fell on me like a ton of bricks, because I am part of the system that is the “they” in that sentence. I’ve written many times that if I had a magic wand, my kids would have stayed with their birth family and grown up healthy and happy. I love my children more than my own life, but when you love someone you want the best for that person, and the best for my kids would have been a healthy and happy raising by their family of origin. The “best” certainly doesn’t include years of trauma and abandonment and heartbreak beginning at birth.
My church often talks about its “original sin,” which is that our co-founder wrote the editorial that sparked the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. As Mr. Crump was speaking I thought “this is my original sin.” I acquired children via a remarkably inequitable system that is part of an overall structure, based in slavery, designed to weaken black families, incarcerate black men, and reduce/eliminate black wealth.
If you’re unsure of my point, here is some reading:
- Redlining – how the federal government ensured black families couldn’t access loans for mortgages, thus restricting generational wealth for decades, into present day. I heard Richard Rothstein speak a few years ago on his book, “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” and it’s an illuminating read. Since many school districts are supported by property taxes, redlining has also affected funding of education for black children.
- Incarceration- People of color enter the justice system at rates many, many times higher than white people. Involvement in the justice system is a lifetime sentence that results in serious restrictions in access to housing, jobs, education, and even social services. The US incarcerates its citizens at exponentially higher rates than every other country in the world. Mass incarceration benefits the companies who access virtually free labor via prisoner “employment.” Our system of mass incarceration is parallel to slavery, which is explained in Michelle Alexander’s work, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Read the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Fact Sheet here.
I honestly don’t know what I will do about my original sin. I hope sharing this is a start. Thank you for reading.