Though containing roughly 5 percent of world population according to a 2005 report by the International Center for Prison Studies in London, the United States contains nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population. That’s roughly 2.1 million prisoners out of nine million worldwide.
Considering that minorities are vastly overrepresented in the U.S. prison population, it’s easy to conclude at first glance that we might have a race problem in this country. But this is simply not true.
As a social construction, race is not the problem that needs to be resolved. There is no such thing as a race problem in the United States. We have to be careful with language when we’re looking to find solutions for social issues. The truth is that we have a white supremacy problem. It is an attitude based on skin color, but it is not an attitude limited to people of white skin. White or not, your white supremacy doesn’t mean you’re a racist per se. You may very well be a true lover of all races; it’s just that you love one race more than the others.
Some of you might recall a certain figure named Clayton Bigsby, a fictional black-skinned white-supremacist leader, created by comedian Dave Chappelle and writer Neal Brennan. By taking the problem to such an extreme comic degree, Bigsby illuminates the white supremacy inside most, if not all, Americans, including those who are not white.
A key assumption for economic analysis is that in a closed economy, saving is always equal to investment. Given this assumption, imagine a closed economy populated by people of both black and white skin, and imagine that everyone in this economy arbitrarily believes that whites are better than blacks. Under this arbitrary condition when bank officials are deciding whether they should invest for blacks or whites, to whom will the banks disburse funds for investment?
Even if the bank officials are black-skinned, remember that everyone in this hypothetical economy arbitrarily believes that whites are better than blacks. In the real world, this model is powerfully manifested by approximate home ownership rates in the United States, with whites at 71 percent and blacks at 47 percent according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Home mortgages are by far the most widespread form of loans by banks. The numbers are even more skewed when it comes to small business loans.
The key for the model is that white supremacy is an unspoken, governing notion rather than a stated rule of law. We never talk about it, and that’s how it continues to pervade society, beginning with all of us, not just whites. The first step to solving our problem is deceptively easy: just talk about the problem and thereby counter the unspoken nature of white supremacy. In the struggle against this injustice, we don’t need to add to our nation’s embarrassing world share of incarcerated persons, but if we fail to address our white supremacy problem, we will continue to do just that.
Oscar Abello is a junior economics major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]