Why Inequality Matters

On the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, civil rights lawyer, author, and activist Michelle Alexander posted an update on her public Facebook page where she confessed that her focus on mass incarceration has been too narrow.
Stop Mass Incarceration
Michelle Alexander wrote the best-selling book The New Jim Crow– a book that has changed the conversation on mass incarceration in the United States. This is no small feat. It is thus all the more remarkable that Alexander views herself as not doing enough.

In her Facebook update, which was later posted in The Nation Alexander writes that she has not been speaking publicly about

“the relationship between drones abroad and the War on Drugs at home … about the connection between the corrupt capitalism that bails out Wall Street bankers, moves jobs overseas, and forecloses on homes with zeal, all while private prisons yield high returns and expand operations into a new market: caging immigrants.”

As Alexander points out, mass incarceration is a tremendous travesty of justice. It is also a travesty of justice closely connected with injustices both here and abroad.

Alexander takes inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King, who called for a “radical restructuring of society” and argued that we need to “connect the dots between poverty, racism, militarism, and materialism.”

From an academic standpoint, we could say that Alexander is advocating for an intersectional perspective. A narrow focus on race or an even narrower focus on racial disparities in incarceration rates will provide an incomplete understanding of inequality in today’s world.

Scholars of intersectionality argued that racism, sexism, and classism cannot be studied independently. Instead, we need to focus on how these forms of oppression intersect.

My colleague and co-blogger Zulema Valdez argues that the social structure in the United States is composed of three interlocking systems of oppression: capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. Capitalism produces inequality through a profit-based system. Patriarchy is a system of oppression that ensures male dominance in terms of power and property. White supremacy is a system of racial stratification with whites at the top. Valdez (2011), following the work of Patricia Hill Collins (1997), contends that these three systems are interdependent, and that, we cannot understand one system of oppression without looking at the others.

I agree with these analyses and it is in this spirit that I agreed to join this blog – Inequality Matters – where we will discuss the different matrices of inequality in the United States.

As Michelle Alexander said, “I’m getting out of my lane. I hope you’re already out of yours.”


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