In the Spring of 2015 (my second year of college) I took this class called the Philosophy of the Prison Industrial Complex. When I saw the class, I thought it seemed interesting, fulfilled a core, and I needed a filler class. I knew nothing about the prison system except for the fact that my uncle was in prison when I was younger and he hated it (obviously). Before I took this class I truly thought that racism didn’t exist anymore (thanks to my ignorance and probably my white privilege).
While I was taking this class the Baltimore Riots also took place. I go to school at Towson University so the Baltimore Riots felt very close to home. For those of you that don’t remember, the Baltimore Riots took place when Freddie Grey was killed while in police custody.
My professor, Dr. Emily Parker (name used with permission) is probably one of the most amazing and intelligent women I have ever met. This was the first semester this class was taught and she had basically created the curriculum.
This curriculum changed my life.
Have you ever heard of the philosopher Michel Foucault? I hadn’t before this class. He was a pretty epic philosopher who was ahead of his time. During this class I learned about police brutality, institutional racism, how corrupt our prison system, and how racially driven the war on drugs is. This class was mainly discussion-based and I was one of those people that always had questions. Mainly because I had no idea such injustice still existed in our country. Jessica never ignored any of my questions and even began to encourage them.
Throughout the course of the semester, I could feel my ideology beginning to change. I remember one day vividly. We were discussing how some police officers target black people as they are walking down the street. One of my fellow classmates, who was black said something that struck me very deeply. He explained that his parents gave him a white name because they didn’t want him to be discriminated against when he was applying for jobs.
His parents believed that his job prospects would be limited if he had a black name.
As he said this my jaw dropped.
I had never considered the fact that someone could be discriminated on something as simple as their name – again because of my white privilege.
It was at that moment that everything changed for me. I realized how truly corrupt our society was. We are so superficial and judgmental that we judge people based on the color of their skin – the fact that they have more melanin in their skin. Let’s take a step back and think about that – people are targeted, killed, assaulted and denied jobs simply because they have more melanin in their skin.
This class taught me that I needed to acknowledge my white privilege – sometimes I still don’t see my white privilege. This class taught me that I need to stand by the black community. I don’t understand what it’s like to be black and live in America. I cannot even begin to fathom the challenges that the black community must face. But I will do my best to empathize and stand up for them whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Dr. Parker taught me how important it is to stay educated on what is going on in our society. She taught me that we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. She taught me to acknowledge my privilege. She taught me that our prison system is for profit – prisons literally make more money when there are more prisoners. The people that run our prisons are not focused on rehabilitation (even though they claim they are).
I now identify as a liberal, a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQA+ community, prison reform, universal health care, and pro-choice. I want to thank Jessica for creating this class. This class opened my eyes to the injustices of the world. I am eternally grateful to her and my college education.