Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Am I the Only Person Uncomfortable With President Obama's Choice to Visit El Reno Prison?

I offer an impolitic thought...and one that I believe quite a few other Americans--especially black Americans--may share.

President Barack Obama is the first sitting President to visit a United States gulag penitentiary.

Obama, he who is the first President of the United States who happens to be black, has sat inside the walls of a system that is the embodiment of a racist and classist carceral society and while there talked with the black and brown (and white) people condemned to its bowels.

To the degree they can be separated from one another, my moral sensibilities frame Obama's decision to witness the horrible machine he is the titular head of first hand as both noble and right, yet my intellectual and emotional sensibilities are not comfortable with the symbolism of his making that choice.

I feel that if Obama visited a prison while a former President that would only add shine and luster to his accomplishments and how history remembers his tenure. By visiting as a sitting president, still in office, the contradiction between his power as President and inability (choice) to not dismantle the same system that disproportionately punishes people who look just like him, reveals his impotence in the face of the prison industrial complex and new Jim Crow.

I am struggling with this one. Help me clarify my thinking if you would. How did you make sense of Obama's visit to El Reno prison in Oklahoma as documented on HBO's news documentary show Vice?

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