The Prison Industrial Complex

   Since its bloody and corrupt genesis, America has found a multitude of ways to prosper off the blood, sweat, and tears of their black population with little to no compensation. This has taken many different forms ranging from blatant slavery to a sharecropping system that upheld the same socioeconomic principles of slavery, to increased taxation on foods and appliances in lower-income predominantly black neighborhoods. While social progress has made it much harder for this extortion of black people to be as salient in present-day America, society has still found a way to make easy money off its black inhabitants, and that is through the embodiment of systematic racism that is the prison industrial complex.

   Since 1991 the rate of violent crimes in the United States has dropped by roughly 20 percent, while the number of people in prison or jail has risen by 50 percent (Schlosser) . The heart of this increase in jailing is not an increase in crime, but a capitalistic view of the prison system by a network of crooked politicians, private companies, private correctional facilities, and law enforcement. This is the prison industrial complex, a term used to describe the intersecting interests of industry and government that uses imprisonment, policing, and surveillance to try and solve America’s social, economic, and political problems.

Since 1980 spending on corrections has increased by five times its original amount (Schlosser). What was once a small operation for a handful of businesses has now become a multibillion-dollar industry with its conventions, websites, catalogs, and even direct-marketing campaigns. Wall Street investment firms handle stocks for private prisons, plumbing-supply companies, food-service companies, health-care companies, and companies that sell items ranging from bulletproof cell monitors to padded cell walls available in a “variety of colors” (Schlosser). These companies actively view the 35 million currently imprisoned in America as well as the people imprisoning them as potential customers for the products they offer and it is for this reason that spending on prison has gained traction over time when there is no need for increased spending in the first place.

How does the prison industrial complex go about exploiting prisoners for revenue? Well, one example of this is the usage of phones by prisoners. Being that phone calls are one of the only bridges to the outside world for these inmates, they are universally used by prisoners as a means of communication with their families and loved ones. A payphone at a prison can generate as much as $15,000 a year—about five times the revenue of a typical pay phone on the street. It is estimated that inmate calls generate a billion dollars or more in revenues each year. With this in mind, phone companies like AT&T, Bell South, and MCI install their telephone booth inside prisons at little to no cost but charge prisoners highly to use them, knowing that they have no choice but to pay these fairs if they want to communicate with the outside world expediently (Schlosser). MCI Maximum Security and North American Intelecom have both been caught overcharging for calls made by inmates; in one state MCI was caught adding a minute to every call. This is just one way in which corrupt big business partakes in the prison industrial complex. The prison industrial complex has turned America’s prisons into a marketplace for goods and services instead of a place for actual correction and the ones who are being hurt the most by this are, as always, Black Americans.

   African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites, resulting in African Americans and Hispanics comprising 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015, even though they make up approximately 32% of the US population (Criminal Justice Fact Sheet). With this being the case, the prison industrial complex’s biggest consumer, by no choice of their own, are these black men and women who are in these prisons. The fact that this is the case speaks to the perpetuation of mistreatment of blacks in America. The prison industrial complex is evidence for a much broader argument; the fundamental treatment of blacks in America has barely changed save for its blatancy. Not only does the prison industrial complex mirror the same type of economic extortion of black people that could be found in much less “progressive” periods of American history, but there are aspects of the complex that quite literally replicate slavery. Incarcerated Individuals (Who Are Mostly People Of Color) Are Legally The Property Of The Government, literally property (5 Ways America’s Prison System Mimics Slavery). With this being the case, these prisoners are often leased out to private companies to do manual labor, construction, and other physically taxing task for wages that are well below minimum wage. If one refuses to be leased out like property you are locked up in solitary confinement or they have family visitation rights taken from them, among many other brutal consequences (5 Ways America’s Prison System Mimics Slavery).

   In conclusion, This prison industrial complex is an embodiment of how far America has come in terms of its treatment of black people. In reality, things have not changed, they have only transformed to be less visible. This theme shows itself in far more than just the complex though. Take for example lynching of blacks in America. Blacks are no longer being strung up by ropes in trees or set on fire for hoards of white individuals entertainment, but unarmed blacks are stilled killed by wanton white police officers regularly, with there barely ever being any consequences. The foundation is still the same, but the manifestation is what has changed. As long as this foundation is still held steadfast by America, we cannot truly say that the positioning of blacks has improved

Citation Page

“5 Ways America’s Prison System Mimics Slavery.” Bustle, www.bustle.com/articles/142340-5-ways-the-us-prison-industrial-complex-mimics-slavery.

“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP, www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/.

Schlosser, Eric. “The Prison-Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 1 Dec. 1998, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/12/the-prison-industrial-complex/304669/.

Colorism In Rap

Nicolas Adeleye

Rap culture is infamous for many reasons ranging from the glorification of drug abuse and gun violence to the perpetuation of misogynistic themes and values. However, one of the most prominent issues within present-day rap culture is the perpetuation of European beauty standards, particularly light skin. How does the rap industry advertently and inadvertently endorse these standards of beauty? The answer to this can be found in the lyrics, videos, and interviews of your dearest rappers.

 In the summer of 2017 rapper, Kodak Black conversed with an interviewer on the topic of women, stating that he preferred a lighter-skinned woman over a dark-skinned woman (Witt). While it would be convenient to write this off as Black’s personal “preference” or an isolated incident of blatant colorism, statements such as these are ubiquitous within rap culture. When asked about red lipstick rapper A$AP Rocky stated: “light skin is the right skin”(On Hip-Hop’s Intersection of Colorism and Misogyny). This culture of colorism is not a modern rap issue, but a long-established staple of rap culture, observable through the mentions of “redbones” (light skin women) in the lyrics of popular old school artists like Cameron and Master P. In fact, this fixation with redbones emerges many times throughout vintage hip hop, especially in the lyrics, and now subsist in the diction of emerging stars like Blueface, Lil Yachty, and the aforementioned Kodak Black.

Colorism in rap materializes in far more than just verses though. In a casting call for Yeezy Season 4 Kanye West, who happens to be married to a white woman, stated that he fancied “multicultural woman” as models for his brand, a perspicuous placeholder for light-skinned women. This statement comes only days after Kodak was slammed for lyrics in an unreleased song which divulged his light-skinned fetishization, stating: “I don’t want know black bitch, I’m already black”(On Hip-Hop’s Intersection of Colorism and Misogyny). While these statements are quite blatant in their colorist nature, more elusive acts of colorism transpire in some of the most salable rap music videos of today. The women featured in these music videos as “video vixens” seem to share three indistinguishable traits: long hair, bright eyes, and most essential, light skin. All three of these traits fit the glove of European beauty standards securely and purposively. These women are meant to characterize the archetypal appealing woman for the watchers of these videos, and it is not fortuitous that dark-skinned women seem to seldom appear as the leads of these videos, but may (if lucky enough) be placed somewhere in the context of light skin and curly loose hair.

Being that so many people watch and listen to rap and the interviews that accompany it, many have been exposed to the glorification of European beauty standards by rap artist. How does this affect the psyche of listeners? Well, according to a study published in the Psychology Of Music by Morgan L. Maxwell, Jasmine A. Abrams, and Faye Z. Belgrave, rap music played a huge role in how young African American girls understood their blackness. They asked a focus group of 30 African-American girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen four questions about their perception of light-skinned Black girls; dark-skinned Black girls; messages about skin tone from rap music; and how those messages should be used. The data gathered produced 3 general themes present in all interviews: rap music sends messages showing preference to light-skinned females; messages about dark-skinned females were either missing in music or negative, and music used specific nicknames to describe females based on skin tone. Ultimately this music altered these kids’ perception of themselves negatively and made them feel as though there skin wasn’t the right skin (Semein).

 Feelings of inadequacy constructed by colorist themes materialize in black female rappers as well. An example of this is the distorted appearance of 90’s rapper Lil Kim, who’s skin tone progressively whitened throughout her career, going from brown in complexion to ghostly white produced by skin bleach and cosmetic surgeries. Through Lil Kim’s self-hatred driven mission to become the idolized “redbone”, we see just how deeply indelible this standard of beauty is within the rap game (Brown). When asked why she changed her appearance so drastically, Kim responded “ I have low self-esteem and I always have. Guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking. You know, the long-hair type. Really beautiful women that left me thinking, ‘How I can I compete with that?’ Being a regular black girl wasn’t good enough.” Lil Kim’s struggle with being a “regular black girl”, and the apparent rejection of her blackness by black men even before entering the rap industry shows that  America’s European standards of beauty produce a proclivity for light skin by men and a lack of self-confidence in black women, as seen in Lil Kim. With these European standards of beauty palpable in every part of the media and pop culture, its presence in rap is not nonplus. However, rap could change this narrative of “light is right”.

Rap is the number one music genre in the world and its themes and messages are expelled through speakers across the land. With this in mind, rap is capable of being quite influential. Many rappers have begun speaking out against colorism within the industry, like Tory Lanez, who chastised his director for swapping a dark-skinned model for a lighter-skinned one during a video shoot (Tory Lanez Claims Directors Tried Enforcing Colorism on Set of Video Shoot), and rapper Kendrick Lamar, who featured a dark-skinned woman as the lead for his “Poetic Justice” music video (Gordan) intentionally. While these instances may seem insignificant when compared to the years of colorism thus far, the conversations enabled by these actions serve as evidence for how influential rap can be for producing social change.In conclusion, while present-day rap culture is capable/does perpetuate European beauty standards through lyrics, videos, and lifestyles, it is this same culture that can, if used correctly, spread messages of black beauty and self-love universally.

Citation Page

Brown, Anyke. “Lil Kim, Skin Bleaching, Plastic Surgery, Self Hate & Colorism.” Beauty, Health and Curls, 2 May 2016, beautyhealthandcurls.com/lil-kim-skin-bleaching-plastic-surgery-self-hate-colorism/.

Coleman, C. Vernon. “20 ‘Light Skin’ And ‘Dark Skin’ References In Rap Lyrics.” Vibe, 3 Nov. 2019, www.vibe.com/photos/20-light-skin-dark-skin-references-rap.

Gordon, Taylor. “Kendrick Lamar Tackles Colorism in ‘Poetic Justice’ Video.” Atlanta Black Star, 6 Mar. 2013, atlantablackstar.com/2013/03/06/kendrick-lamar-tackles-colorism-in-poetic-justice-video/.

Semein, Tommeka. “How Rap Music Influences African American Girls’ Perceptions of Skin Color.” PsyPost, 29 Aug. 2016, www.psypost.org/2016/08/how-rap-music-influences-african-american-girls-perceptions-of-skin-color-44632.

“On Hip-Hop’s Intersection of Colorism and Misogyny – Features.” IMPOSE Magazine, 13 Sept. 2016, www.imposemagazine.com/features/on-hip-hops-intersection-of-colorism-and-misogyny.

Staff, TMZ. “Tory Lanez Claims Directors Tried Enforcing Colorism on Set of Video Shoot.” TMZ, TMZ, 16 June 2019, www.tmz.com/2019/06/16/tory-lanez-colorism-black-girls-music-video-shoot-directors/.

Witt, Aja. “Colorism in the Music Industry and the Women It Privileges.” Iowa Research Online, ir.uiowa.edu/honors_theses/187/.

The Good And Bad Of “Black Excellence”

In today’s society, the term “Black Excellence” is often used when celebrating the achievements of Black people within the American community. While this phrase has no specific origin, the intention behind its use seems to be genuinely positive. While it is imperative to acknowledge the achievements of black individuals in this society structured for them to fail, is it possible that the term “Black Excellence” is hurting the black community more than it is upholding and celebrating us? To understand and answer this question, one must first understand both the good and bad implications in the use of this phrase.

Firstly, what is “Black Excellence”? Urban dictionary defines Black Excellence as “Someone that is black and portrays great qualities and abilities that make the black community proud.”However, this definition fails to fully grasp the meaning and importance of the phrase black excellence and its significance when used to talk about blacks achieving things. When describing the meaning of black excellence, one author states, “Black excellence is, in fact, our ancestor’s wildest dreams. It is what we, as people of African descent, strive for each and every day. It is the lifeblood of what keeps us going when it seems our humanity is being questioned. Black excellence is me and every other Black person working towards the advancement of our people (Anya).” This definition equates Black excellence to more of an action than “a catchy hashtag or words written across the front of a hooded sweatshirt (Anya).” This type of black excellence is beneficial to the black community because it equities this excellence to a black individual upholding his/her community, as opposed to a single action which primarily benefits that one individual. However, “Black Excellence” can also be perceived as mentality instead of an act or set of acts.

 The perception of “Black Excellence” as a mentality completely alters its impact on the black community as a whole. As a mindset, Black Excellence is defined by one author as “the mindset, backed by continuous action, to look within ourselves and act in ways that progress our communities without discrediting the effect of forces outside of our communities (Debotch).” This viewpoint changes the impact of the phrase black excellence because by equating the word to a mindset expressed through continuous action it no longer limits black excellence to singular actions, but a literal lifestyles, essentially promoting black self-love and solidarity while simultaneously acknowledging all the roadblocks placed in our way by systemic racism within America. With these roadblocks recognized Black Excellence as a mindset allows for blacks to celebrate their achievements and the achievements of their peers against the backdrop of a race-based society structured to hinder the progression of blacks, while removing the implications of complacency associated with black excellence being used to describe a singular action, not a set of actions or continued action. This use of “Black Excellence” as a term used to describe a singular work is where the potential for this phrase to be restraining to the Black community lies.

            How could a phrase with such good intention inadvertently hurt the black community? Well, the phrase itself is not the issue, its how it may be used that poses this question. A prime example of this can be seen in the use of Black Excellence when celebrating a black individual getting into college. When looking at the statistics for enrollment in colleges, we see that “Forty-two percent of white students aged 18 to 24 were enrolled in college in 2013, compared to 34 percent of black and Hispanic students that age, according to the U.S. Department of Education (Parks).” With these statistics in mind, it seems reasonable to equate a black individual getting into college to excellence, as it is clear that people of color entering higher education has yet to become a normality in American society. However, just because it isn’t the norm doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat it as such. When we call achievements such as enrolling in college “excellent,” it creates a distinction by implying that this is excellent behavior, or this is an achievement only accomplished by “excellent” people of color, as opposed to this being normal behavior, accomplishable by any black person. If a young black person were to go on social media and see post equating getting into college with someone being excellent, this raises the potential for the creation of a distinction in the mind of this young adult along the lines of “well I’m normal, not excellent.” In fact, this raises the potential for this distinction within the black community as a whole, by associating such an action with excellence as opposed to normality. This particular use of the word black excellence restrains the black community by making things that we should be striving to establish as commonplace excellent. Furthermore, self-perception plays a considerable role in beliefs in one’s self/abilities (Calder), and so the first step in making college enrollment normal in the black community is to stop calling it excellent and start treating it like an expectation.

 In conclusion, the phrase “Black Excellence” as both a mindset and a series of actions is capable of celebrating or upholding the black community and celebrating black achievements while acknowledging all the challenges blacks face while trying to achieve. However, this same phrase is just as capable of holding back the black community when used to describe singular actions that we should be striving to establish as normal, such as getting into college. This essentially means that while we as a community should continue to use “Black Excellence” when celebrating our peers’ achievements, we should be more conscious of when we use the word and what it implies for a given situation. 

Works Cited page

Anyu, Ndeh. “Why Is Black Excellence so Important?” Diverse, 16 Jan. 2019, diverseeducation.com/article/136192/.

Calder, Bobby J, and Barry M Staw. “PsycNET.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, psycnet.apa.org/record/1975-31777-001.

Debouch, Roman. “Why Black Excellence Is a Mindset, Not Just a Hashtag.” Black Excellence, Black Excellence, 17 May 2019, blackexcellence.com/why-black-excellence-is-a-mindset-not-jut-a-hashtag/.

Parks, Casey, et al. “Facts about Race and College Admission.” The Hechinger Report, 14 Apr. 2019, hechingerreport.org/facts-about-race-and-college-admission/.