Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Speech on Race

Today, Presidential candidate Barak Obama gave his much anticipated speech on race, in the shadow of Independence Hall. As he invokes history, let us not forget a history few Americans recognize.

Let's not forget that another important building, the Walnut Street Jail, was also built nearby, before Independence Hall. The jail was originally built with 18 by 20 foot cells which would hold 30 to 40 people in unsanitary conditions. These people sometimes had done nothing more than been runaway slaves or debtors. The jailer sold gallons of alcohol for whatever the jailees could afford--which was sometimes the clothes from another inmate's back.

This was, for some historians, the beginning of the American carceral system, a system which, through Black and poor convict labor built railroads, tended plantations and dug out coal mines. These are the roots of a system that is more powerful and corrupt than it ever was some 220 years ago--it is a system that today thrives on its own failures, eating up state and local budgets at the expense of other government functions. Today, the US prison-industrial complex supervises 7 million people, most of whom are working class and people of color.

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