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Black Life in the Age of Incarceration

“Black Life in the Age of Incarceration” is the fifth chapter in the book, “The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on black life in America.” The book was written by Abu-Jamal and Hill and was published in 2014. This book chapter is undertaken as an interview exploring the impact of incarceration on black families in the United States. The critical race theory, social justice, and inter-sectionality are among the key theoretical perspectives addressed in the book. Notably, issues of race and racism are evidenced in the experiences of Black individuals. The interviewee also reiterates the need to foster a just and equitable society as he condemns the disparities and injustices against Black communities in employment and criminalization. Intersectionality is also explored, as the interviewee argues that black and white individuals receive preferential criminal justice treatment. Thus, this book chapter is characterized by various theoretical perspectives valuable to understanding black criminalization and incarceration.

I largely agree with the sentiments presented in the reading. An agreeable sentiment propagated by the interviewee is that prison life constitutes an essential facet of Black consciousness and culture. This statement is true, as Blacks are over-represented in the United States criminal justice system. The over-representation has subsequently impacted the African-American culture, as they are likely to interact directly or indirectly with the criminal justice system (Abu-Jamal & Hill, 2014). This over-exposure to the criminal justice system has, in turn, affected how blacks express themselves and their presentation of art. Evidently, most blacks draw from their experiences with the criminal justice system to address inequality and systemic racism. The hip-hop culture, for example, contains themes and lyrics drawn from the artist’s experiences with the police and incarceration. Thus, criminalization and incarceration are central to Black people’s lives.

Despite the agreeable sentiments I could resonate with, several others are disputable. A contentious and disagreeable sentiment relayed through the article is that de-industrialization and outsourcing are primarily responsible for the high crime rate and incarceration among blacks. I do not resonate with this sentiment as I believe that the criminalization and subsequent imprisonment of Blacks is due to structural factors, the war on drugs, systemic racism, and the growth of the prison industrial complex. Specifically, structural factors within the criminal justice system often exacerbate punitive policies related to sentencing, drug offenses, and minimum sentences, which negatively affect Blacks. The policy on the war on drugs, which commenced in the 1980s, is also largely to blame for the disproportionate incarceration of black individuals. This is exacerbated through systemic racism as blacks and the criminal justice system unfairly target Hispanics for minor offenses. Following the growth of prison industrial complexes, the incarceration of individuals has also proved profitable. Thus, Blacks are profiled and targeted to satisfy the profit motive of several selfish individuals.

Overall, this book chapter has been instrumental to understanding the criminalization and incarceration of Blacks in American society. Mumia’s sentiments on the topic are highly valuable owing to his experience as a Black individual with a long incarceration history. Therefore, he effectively articulated the impact of incarceration on blacks and their families and how it impacts their behavior, culture, and expression. As a reformed offender, Mumia also explains the impartiality of the criminal justice system when handling black and white criminals. While most of the interviewee’s sentiments are agreeable, he also suggests that the high rate of criminality among Blacks can be attributed to outsourcing. However, this is not entirely agreeable, as the supposed lack of opportunities would also have subjected the white population to criminality. Thus, structural factors and systemic racism are responsible for the high crime rates among Blacks.


Abu-Jamal, M., & Hill, M. L. (2014). The classroom and the cell: Conversations on black life in America. Chicago: Third World Press.


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