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This week, Point of Inquiry welcomes Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale and co-author of a provocative essay in last week’s New York Times entitled Is the United States a ‘Racial Democracy? 

Dr. Stanley and his co-author, Dr. Vesla Weaver, argue that the disproportionate surveillance, imprisonment, and post-conviction voter disenfranchisement of black Americans threatens the very integrity of our democracy. On any given day, 5.85 million people are unable to vote because they are in prison, on parole, or disenfranchised as felons. A disproportionate percentage of them are black. Of the nation's 2.3 million prisoners, about 1 million are black, despite the fact that black people represent just 13% of the population. If current trends continue, 1 in 3 black men born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. 

You don't even have to get arrested to be affected by the surveillance state. New research shows that any unwanted contact with police, even something as relatively brief as a stop-and-frisk, makes the target less likely to vote. Approximately 85% of those who were stopped and frisked in New York City last year were black or Latino. 

The essay raises pointed questions of interest to any skeptical citizen: Why do we strip prisoners of the right to vote in the first place? Does our fervent belief in democracy and equality blind us to the realities of our political system? How does racially-charged propaganda advance certain views while subtly stifling conflicting perspectives? 

Racial Democracy was a surprise breakout hit from the Times' philosophy blog. It rapidly became the ninth most-emailed and twelfth most-tweeted item on the entire New York Times website. Rarely does an essay that cites Plato, Aristotle, and Dewey beat out the Modern Love column, but this is an unusual essay.