Power can be defined as “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events” (Smallwood, 2013, p. 1). When people are made self-aware of power that they may possess, more than likely, it is abused for their own personal gain. In history, this ideology has been proven many times. For example, Adolf Hitler used his power to give jobs, food, and shelter to those who followed his rule by attempting to exterminate the Jewish population. Another lesser-known abuser of power in history is Lavrentiy Beria. Beria was involved in World War II working directly under Stalin. Beria was aware of the power that he possessed and knew that he was virtually untouchable by the public. Beria chose to use this power to rape women that he handpicked from the streets. To make the acts “consensual”, he would gift the women flowers afterward. If a woman was to fight back or refuse the flowers during the aftermath of the act, they would be arrested and sent to a labor camp, or the Gulags (Smallwood, 2013). Power may also be used positively. In a work environment, a boss may use healthy power to ensure that relations and responsibilities are completed efficiently. Having healthy power may also lead to connections and knowledge, ultimately benefiting whoever is using it, and the people surrounding it.
In the book The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, the author focuses on the abuses of power in the government and society towards the African American race. In today’s society, many people believe that we have overcome the era of racism, but there are still many loopholes and stipulations that still force a group of people below the law and push many people above it. Alexander begins the book by telling a story about a man named Jarvis Cotton, who “like his father, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather… were denied the most basic freedom… the freedom to vote” (Alexander, 2010, p. 29). Alexander talks about that with each generation of black men in Cotton’s family there were always stipulations as to why they couldn’t vote. Initially, it was slavery that kept black men below the law, then it was the KKK, which evolved into Jim Crow Laws, poll taxes, and literacy tests that nearly made it impossible for black men to thrive in society, and now it is incarceration and stereotyping of black men that disables them from succeeding in life. A major topic of Alexander’s book is “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have simply redesigned it,” (Alexander, 2010, p. 31). By using the word “caste” Alexander eludes back to a time when a caste system was used to separate social hierarchies by wealth, respect, occupation, and levels of exclusion, showing that in today’s society different races and different people are “locked into an inferior position by law and custom,” (Alexander, 2010, p. 54). She also explains how the idea of racism and race go hand-in-hand with one another. Alexander proceeds to explain the irony of Thomas Jefferson writing “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence while slavery was still being used. This was because then the African American race was not considered human.
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- Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press.
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