Political Science 506
April 10, 2014
The United States prides itself on the fairness of its criminal justice system, a system that promises to protect the lives, liberties, and property of all citizens. As the threat of being a victim of a crime applies to all citizens of the United States, most Americans would agree that wrongdoers must be punished in order to maintain a safe and civil society. However, as demonstrated in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow and Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing, the United States’ criminal justice system is a modern form of racial control. Although criminal laws are textually and facially impartial in regards to race, they are implemented in a way that is biased and discriminatory towards African Americans. Using Michael Foucault’s ideas on surveillance to guide our analysis, we can clearly see that the United States’ criminal justice system is a tool intentionally designed to promote and protect white superiority by limiting many blacks’ ability to access political and economic success.
In order to understand how the criminal justice system is an instrument of racial control, we need first to understand Michael Foucault’s philosophy regarding surveillance. Rather than perceive power as strictly authoritative and political, Foucault believes that society is structured in a way in which constant observation disciplines us to abide by social norms and expectations. This constant surveillance is present in the form of “infra-law,” or “methods of training that enables individuals to become integrated into these general demands” (Foucault 222). In other words, the law is not only a set of written rules and regulations. Rather, the law is a social practice in the sense that underlying biases and unbalances influence our behavior and beliefs.
A major way in which the law has guided our behavior and beliefs is through society’s expectation of colorblindness when discussing topics of crime and criminal justice. As Michelle Alexander explains, ‘there are certain code words that allow you never have to say ‘race,’ but everybody knows that’s what you mean and ‘crime’ is one of those’ (Alexander 105). In other words, obvious and direct forms of racial discrimination in the United States are viewed as socially unacceptable. For example, instead of talking about a need to put more African Americans in prison, “we talk about locking up more and more people, [but] what we’re really talking about is locking up more and more black men” (Alexander 105).
The reason we perceive the word people to refer to African Americans is due to tactics used by the media when reporting on crime. Rather than report on crimes committed by blacks as well as by whites, “news stories regarding virtually all street crime have disproportionally featured African American offenders” (Alexander 106). As a result of the media’s inaccurate coverage of crime, our “racial schemas operate not only as part of...