Political activists Carl Dix and Cornel West held an intense dialogue about mass incarceration on the Upper West Side of Manhattan Monday evening. The event, “Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide,” served to challenge the sociopolitical forces herding a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic men in to prisons. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network/ Revolution Books-sponsored event was tinged with revolutionary fire, which was-a testament to its keynote speakers.
Watch the promo video for Dix and West’s incarceration dialogue here:
Dix first set the tone by sharing a letter he got from a prisoner in California, describing his solitary confinement experience. “He’s held 22 and more hours each and every day in a small, windowless cell. Someday they let us [the prisoner] exercise, but all that means is he gets to go from that small cell to a small cage,” the Revolutionary Communist Party co-founder said.
“Visits from his family and his lawyers can be cut off at any time or denied for any reason or no reason at all. He’s denied human contact for weeks, months, and even years at a time. His cell is sound-proof, so he goes long periods of time without hearing any sound. In his rare visits, it hurts his ears to hear his mother’s voice.”
Dix noted a contradiction in America’s inmate treatment while chastising other countries. “These are the conditions forming solitary confinement, right here in the U.S.A. country whose rulers never tire of going around the world, lecturing other countries about human rights violations. We’re not talking about a few hard cases treated this way; we’re talking about more than 80,000 people held under these conditions.
“Now studies have shown that long term denial of human contact and long-term soundlessness can drive people insane. Yet this government arrogantly rejects international calls to limit solitary confinement to no more than 15 days.”
Mass imprisonment is part of a larger scheme for killing off people of color, Dix argued.
“A slow genocide has been more at work here in this country for quite sometime,” he said. “Grinding away, breaking the bodies, and crushing the spirit. The slow genocide can easily become a fast one, unless we act to stop it. This oppression is built in to the very fabric of this society. There ain’t gon’ be no savior coming down from Heaven or from the White House who can and would do anything about it.”
Cornel West’s turn at the podium proved no less energetic. The beloved civil rights activist set the crowd ablaze with his vocal performance, repeatedly lowering his voice to a controlled state, before a crescendo into a passionate climax of political outrage. “How shall integrity face oppression?” he asked. West shot his arms out in a show of asked support, back hunched, questioning the audience. “How shall honesty face deception?!”
West then briefly spoke about W.E.B Dubois’ works about the African-American state. “Dubois was speaking on behalf of a great people, of a Black people who’d been terrorized, traumatized, and stigmatized for 400 years in a land that understands itself to be the moral example of liberty!”
“These days, anybody who musters the courage to tell the truth about the conditions: imperialism, capitalism, White suprema[cy], male suprema[cy] — the system under which we live — you better be ready to die! These folks will kill you!”
“But the important thing is what you’re up against — the criminality against poor people, the criminalizing of young people, disproportionately Black and brown,” West said, through his trademark southern gentleman twang mixed with hints of bombastic Black pastor.
According to West, true change can only come through Black struggle: “There will never be sentimental transformation in this country until Black rage is channeled through moral, political, and ideologically progressive venue. Because the fundamental threat to the status quo in this nation, it started with Black men. The way that this nation was founded [with] emergence and sustenance so tied to White supremacy that if you don’t hit it head on, you can have all the best ideas in the world, and you’ll never be able to have a truce in place.”
The two men shared their revolutionary visions for more than an hour, leaving many issues to ponder. This was the sixth such discourse between Dix and West, who both started the Stop Mass Incarceration Network in 2011.