When my friend showed me a mailer that had been sent out by the New Mexico Republican Party this election cycle, I was furious. I can’t explain the shock and hurt I felt when I saw this mailer comparing people like me to a predator.
People have no idea how monumentally challenging it is to build a life for yourself after completing a sentence, and then completing probation or parole. And they have no idea how a conviction can impact your chances of getting a job, finding a stable place to live or even securing a loan. It’s infuriating how out of touch the lawmakers who regulate and influence our criminal system continue to be, and how little they know about the lives of people like me.
I’m tired of the racist, dehumanizing rhetoric I hear from politicians on both sides of the aisle when it comes to crime.
The mailers sent out by the GOP show a child getting a haircut, and the hands that are cutting the child’s hair have been darkened significantly. (The original stock image shows that the person cutting the child’s hair has white skin.) Clearly, the darkening of the skin tone is hugely problematic, implying that the state’s Republican Party thinks the types of people who are seen as “criminals” are people with dark skin.
Beyond that, this is yet another move from self-serving politicians to eliminate a lifeline that many in the system depend on in order to re-establish their lives on the outside.
Cutting hair is a trade that many who are incarcerated have the opportunity to learn, and it’s one of the few career paths that is relatively accessible to folks who have been incarcerated. A felony conviction can have a serious impact on finding a job, so many folks seek out trades like cutting hair because they can open their own businesses or find work without as many barriers.
Earning these types of licenses while incarcerated can make an immense difference in a person’s life when they leave a correctional facility, because they can start looking for employment right after their release. Professional licenses are a critical support for people who have been incarcerated, and these mailers show how laughably out of touch the GOP still is when it comes to people who have been impacted by the criminal system that they, as elected officials, make decisions about.
Let’s call this mailer what it is — racist dehumanization. We all know the criminal punishment system disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), because the system was set up to disenfranchise folks of color in order to maintain and further the white supremacist status quo.
What the state’s GOP intended to do with these racist mailers was to further demonize and dehumanize People of Color and people living in poverty who are more likely to have run-ins with the criminal system, in an effort to fear monger and place themselves on a morally superior pedestal.
We all see through this tactic, which is why the GOP failed to win so many of their elections this year. New México voters are smart and didn’t fall for their racist dog whistles.
I’m not a predator. I’m a person who had a past felony conviction and built a life for myself to the best of my ability, given what’s been stacked against me. And I’m tired of the racist, dehumanizing rhetoric I hear from politicians on both sides of the aisle when it comes to crime.
I expect (but don’t anticipate) that the GOP own up to this repulsive mailer, and apologize for the many ways in which this type of rhetoric causes harm to people who are rebuilding their lives after receiving a felony conviction.
Peter Rodriguez is a member of OLÉ who earned his barber’s license while incarcerated in Santa Rosa, and who still cuts hair professionally long after his release from prison. This oped is republished from Source New Mexico under a Creative Commons license.
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