The issue of mass incarceration is making its way up the list of the nation’s most pressing sociopolitical crises, thanks to the efforts of activists from both outside and, as demonstrated en masse with the Sept. 9 prison strike, inside America’s jails.

Meanwhile, it’s been 45 years since Richard Nixon launched the so-called “war on drugs,” and, as writer and narrator Shawn Carter, a.k.a. Jay Z, points out in this animated clip published by The New York Times, rates of drug use haven’t improved in the U.S., and black and brown Americans continue to be disproportionately penalized by drug laws. It’s all interconnected.

With the help of illustrations by Molly Crabapple, Carter covers a lot of territory to lay out these connections in just a few minutes. During the ’80s, the heyday of the “Just Say No” campaign, “No one wanted to talk about Reaganomics and the ending of social safety nets, the defunding of schools and the loss of jobs in cities across America,” he says.

“Young men like me [Carter was a drug dealer before his music career took off] who hustled became the sole villain and drug addicts lacked moral fortitude.” That kind of scorn, however, hasn’t been heaped on well-to-do whites with expensive cocaine habits or college students who deal pot on the side.

Today, he notes, “we imprison more people than any other country in the world,” and “crack is still talked about as a black problem.”

Coincidence? Watch as Jay Z traces the ties between race, class, drugs and the law in the video below:

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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