During this year's Black History Month, like last, we will be treated to celebrations of Obama's presidency -- the ultimate symbol, we are told, of America's triumph over its ugly history of discrimination, exclusion, and racial caste. This is a time to rejoice, it is said, though we still have a long way to go.
That is the dominant racial narrative today among those who claim to care about racial justice: Look how far we have come, but yes we still have a long way to go.
Here are a few facts that run counter to that racial narrative:
* There are more African Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
* As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
* If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas, like Chicago, have been labeled felons for life. These men are part of a growing undercaste -- not class, caste -- a group of people who are permanently relegated, by law, to an inferior second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits -- much as their grandparents and great-grandparents once were during the Jim Crow era.