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Using the power to change

Joshua Dumas | 10/26/2011, 5 p.m.

When I was in high school, an old man told me, "The way out of trouble is never as easy as the way in."

In Michelle Alexander's book, "The New Jim Crow," she emphasizes the role that the war on drugs plays in the mass incarceration of Black males in America. One thing that all Blacks share in common is the stereotypes that travel with us like a shadow. In chapter two of her book, Alexander mentions the "drug courier files" used by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for profiling criminals. These files are basically the what-to-look-for rules used for drug sweeps on highways, in airports and train stations. The profiles include looking for those traveling with or without luggage, driving an expensive car or a one that needs repairs; vehicles that contain occupants of more than one race, who are acting calm or nervous, wearing expensive clothes or jewelry, traveling alone or with a companion and practicing scrupulous obedience to the law.

Surely there are more but these are enough to make a person wonder, just what am I allowed to do. The answer is nothing as long as your skin is Black.

Your skin is your sin, and every time you enter a building you are tagged as a criminal. The sad truth is they don't care about us and would rather see us all behind bars.

The most prominent solution to this problem is not to fight the system right off the bat. The smartest thing that we can do as a race to begin to see the cycle of change that we want, is to not become part of the system.

We cannot continuously complain about the things that only we ourselves have the power to change. One idea that Alexander fails to shed light on in her book is the fact that we hardly ever hold ourselves accountable for the trouble we get into all by ourselves. The easiest thing to do in life is get into trouble, and we all know that once you become a part of the vicious criminal justice system, you are likely to spend the rest of, or at least a large part of your life trying to get away from its unyielding, deathly grasp.

The challenge that we as a people should be prompt to address is our image. It's easy to point the finger at Hip Hop and say that rappers and entertainers give us a bad name. I disagree, they are just entertainers and the fact that the youth of our society look at these entertainers as role models is not a bad thing.

We should stop pointing the finger of negativity, and use our opposite hand of positivity, to rebuild our image. We all know that there are positives and that the stereotypes are not all true. We must present the positives to the world and not the negatives.

Instead of turning on the television and watching videos of rappers with a blunt in their mouth, people should be able to turn on the television and see uplifting images.

Instead of the news only showing crime in our neighborhoods and schools, they should show the "A" students and community leaders working together to build a better future for ourselves.

And while it's true that African Americans don't necessarily control these images, they can very persistently and insistently demand that the people who do control these images include the positive.

Change does not come over night; we have a rigid grind ahead of us and it will require courage, support, unity and, most of all, ambition from all of us if we want to change our image.

We must want better as a race and get away from the complacency syndrome that plagues our minds. We cannot be afraid of the task before us, but be expeditious in our attack on negative images. We must not accept "no" for an answer, but instead must take the reins and mark the trail to our own destiny as only we have the power of doing. This is the route we must take, if we want better for our future.

Joshua Dumas is a freshman at Philander Smith College in Arkansas. He graduated form Hightower High School in Missouri City, Texas.