Yesterday in class, we discussed the song “Accidental Racist,” which has two lines in particular that struck me:
“They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears
We’re still siftin’ through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years.”
To me, the phrase “siftin’ through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years” implies that racial problems ended with Reconstruction. This ignores the racism and problems that have occurred since then: Klan violence, racial segregation, and, perhaps most importantly, the racial caste system that still exists today.
Prior to reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, I was under the impression that racism had been mostly eradicated from our society. Yes, there were still racist individuals in the country, but on the whole, structural, legalized segregation had ended. Alexander’s text showed me how wrong I was. According to Alexander, young black men are targeted in the legal system, especially in the War on Drugs. In Washington D.C., 75% of black men serve some time in prison (pages 6-7), and other cities also have rates this high. Blacks are more likely to be searched randomly than whites, loaded with extraneous charges, and face more severe sentences. One passage emphasized this point:
“The study found that defendants charged with killing white victims received the death penalty eleven times more often that defendants charged with killing black victims. Georgia prosecutors seemed largely to blame for the disparity, they sought the death penalty in 70 percent of cases involving black defendants and white victims, but only 19 percent of cases involving white defendants and black victims.” (110)
To me, this demonstrates that the legal system is clearly racially biased. Not only are blacks more likely to be arrested for crimes than whites, but they receive harsher penalties for similar crimes. In both cases, the defendant was charged with murder; however, there is such a huge discrepancy between prosecution of whites and blacks.
Juries are more likely to be white, since selection pools are often drawn from voter registration and blacks are less likely to vote. Furthermore, lawyers can strike black prospective jurors by rationalizing their decision through other reasons; Alexander argues that “any race-neutral reason, no matter how silly, ridiculous, or superstitious, is enough to satisfy the prosecutor’s burden of showing that a pattern of striking a particular racial group is not, in fact, based on race” (122). Blacks are more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, even though whites are just as or even more likely to commit these same crimes. Alexander offers many more descriptions of the racist legal system in her book.
This legal discrepancy contradicts the song Accidental Racist in general, but especially the chorus:
And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
The question shouldn’t be about “re-writing history,” but rather about fixing the present, as racism still exists today. While the generation didn’t start the nation, nor did people alive today participate in slavery, this generation should be held accountable for the fact that blacks face more serious charges and are more likely to be convicted of crimes than whites. Finally, the phrase “fightin’ over yesterday” demonstrates that Paisley does not understand the racial situation in the United States; racism has not ended, but has merely taken another form.