The American news media ends its evening bulletins with the inevitable ‘do-gooder’ report, designed to assist US citizens in believing how wonderfully selfless they all are. The BBC chose a slightly different slant on America this Christmas. One that more aptly describes what this country is truly like, particularly if you’re black and living in poverty.
Imagine living in a nation where a woman can spend nine years in prison just for attempting to snatch a handbag, and her daughter gets a similar sentence simply for aiding her escape from the crime-scene. No violence was involved; it was no more than a brief, attempted, bag snatch from a customer in a supermarket.
If you live in America, you live in that nation.
A court in Baltimore, Maryland, deprived a six year old child of her mother and grandmother for nine years, for an offense that, in most civilized countries, would have resulted in probation.
Latasha Shelton is twenty-seven years old and black. Her mother, who shares a cell with Latasha, was a crack addict in need of money to fund her habit. Quite (pronounced ‘Cutie’) Shelton is Latasha’s daughter. Her father was a drug dealer, imprisoned, then murdered. She’s six years old and has to be looked after by her great-great grandfather, who’s seventy-six.
Occasionally, thanks to the generosity of the nation that banged them up, she’s allowed to visit her mother and grandmother for a few short hours.
This story isn’t unique. According to the BBC:
Despite the fact that African Americans make up only 30% of the population of Maryland, the overwhelming majority of women at Jessup [prison] are black – and so, as is the case nationally, it is black children that suffer most from America’s incarceration rate.
One in nine African-American children now has a parent behind bars.
One in nine children has a parent in prison. Now that’s a statistic to make any nation ashamed. Except, it fails to shame most Americans. Ask almost any white person how it makes them feel and the response will be something like, “Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.”
There’s a pitiless, heartless, element among American citizenry, particularly with regard to those living in poverty. Being poor is to have failed to live the American Dream. White, middle-class, America would rather not accept that their American Dream created the poverty in the first place.
CBS, NBC, FOX, and other news media do their best to maintain that attitude. Analysis of their ‘do-gooder’ slots reveals the constricted nature of such philanthropy. Usually, they are local community projects, or ‘one-man-bands’, that may assist a few middle-class citizens fallen on hard times.
Nowhere is there any continuous, concerted, attempt to truly help the poor in society – except around Christmas time when the Salvation Army dutifully requires destitute examples of their stilted benevolence to shiver for hours outside Wal-Mart stores, ringing a bell and begging for money.
This Christmas, middle class Americans – at least, those who still have a job – will be sitting down to dinner after exchanging gifts with all their family. No doubt the majority will pause to say grace. They’ll thank their god for the bounty before them, and for sending the baby Jesus on this day to save their immortal souls and guarantee them a place in Heaven.
At no point will Latasha Shelton and others of her ilk invade thoughts or prayers. Should ever it do so, a hasty, private, postscript to the grace will simply hope the likes of her don’t end up in our Heaven.
One of every three black males born today can expect to go to prison if current trends continue.
 “US children cope with parents behind bars” BBC, December 21st 2010
 “Sentencingproject.org” Research and Advocacy for Reform.
Filed under: A caring nation