U.S. Prison Gulag vs. Global Human Rights

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford


In a whitewash of monumental proportions, the Obama administration refused to acknowledge vast racial disparities at every stage of the U.S. criminal justice system. "In sheer numbers, the American prison gulag dwarfs that of every other nation, and its racial composition is irrefutable proof that the American state functions as the principal enforcer of the color bar in U.S. society."


 

U.S. Prison Gulag vs. Global Human Rights


A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford


"Obama pretends that there is no such thing as the American prison gulag."


The recent U.S. report to the United Nations Human Rights Council is an excellent guide to how President Obama manages to paper over and deny the existence of endemic and systematic racism in US. governmental policy. Simply put, Obama pretends that there is no such thing as the American prison gulag, a vast penal system that houses one out of every four incarcerated human beings on the planet - half of whom are Black. In sheer numbers, the American prison gulag dwarfs that of every other nation, and its racial composition is irrefutable proof that the American state functions as the principal enforcer of the color bar in U.S. society. Yet the administration's report to the UN, although admitting the existence of racial discrimination in American life, fails to acknowledge the vast racial disparities that pervade every aspect of the U.S. criminal justice system.


The American Civil Liberties Union praises the Obama administration for, in their words, "its willingness to recommit to engagement on international human rights" - but they are far too kind. The relentless pressures of criminal justice agencies on Black America over the last 40 years poisons every arena of Black life, stigmatizing African Americans as a group and creating what Michelle Alexander has called a New Jim Crow caste system. The Black prison gulag is the mother of all domestic American human rights violations, an ongoing crime against an entire people. If there is any aspect of human rights for which the national government must accept full responsibility, it is criminal justice - the state exercising its monopoly on the power to confine or even kill other human beings. President Obama wants us, and the international community, to ignore the human rights elephant sitting in chains in the middle of the room. The administration's neglect of America's unique status as the world's number one incarceration state, makes its report to the United Nations an insult to humanity, and a lie.


"The administration's report to the UN fails to acknowledge the vast racial disparities that pervade every aspect of the U.S. criminal justice system."


The report reflects Barack Obama's habitual downplaying of race and racism. But his effort to join the UN Human Rights Council, for which the ACLU has so much praise, is a complex political maneuver. George Bush rejected membership in the Council, pandering to his white nationalist constituency, which abhors the very idea of the United States subjecting itself to the scrutiny of people of color. One of the main reasons corporate America rallied to Obama's candidacy was big business's desire to rework America's image in the world, to at least cosmetically turn a new page and leave the smell of Bush behind. But Obama wound up sabotaging the Second World Conference on Racism in 2009, in Geneva, under Israeli pressure, just as Bush did with the first conference, in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. Immediately, Obama began making overtures to the UN Human Rights Council, in a bid to repair the ill feeling among non-white nations. He is anxious for the U.S. to gain a seat in an international  forum, from which Americans can give speeches on human rights, while continuing to violate international law every time it suits their interests.


This administration specializes in propaganda, not substance. So it is fitting that the first report the Obama team submits to the UN Human Rights Council is a whitewash of America's massive violations of Black people's rights through the U.S. criminal justice system.


For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.


BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].