Ghettoization of prison, prisonisation of ghetto: on the racism in the US

“The ghetto is not a segregated quarter, a poor neighborhood, or an urban district marred by housing dilapidation, violence, vice, or disrepute, but an instrument of ethnoracial control in the city. Another return to social history demonstrates that a ghetto is a sociospatial contraption through which a dominant ethnic category secludes a subordinate group and restricts its life chances in order to both exploit and exclude it from the life-sphere of the dominant. Like the Jewish ghetto in Renaissance Europe, the Black Belt of the American metropolis in the Fordist age combined four elements – stigma, constraint, spatial confinement, and institutional encasement–to permit the economic extraction and social ostracization of a population deemed congenitally inferior, defiled and defiling by virtue of its lineal connection to bondage. Succeeding chattel slavery and Jim Crow, the ghetto was the third “peculiar institution” entrusted with defining, confining, and controlling African Americans in the urban industrial order.

Penal expansion after the mid-1970s is a political response to the collapse of the ghetto. But why did the ghetto collapse? Three causal series converged to undercut the “black city within the white” that hemmed in African Americans from the 1920s to the 1960s. The first is the postindustrialeconomic transition that shifted employment from manufacturing to services, from central city to suburb, and from the Rustbelt to the Sunbelt and lowwage foreign countries. Together with renewed immigration, this shift made African-American workers redundant and undercut the role of the ghetto as a reservoir of unskilled labor. The second cause is the political displacement provoked by the Great White Migration to the suburbs: from the 1950s to the 1970s, millions of white families fled the metropolis in reaction to the influx of African Americans from the rural South. This demographic upheaval, subsidized by the federal government and bolstered by the courts, weakened cities in the national electoral system and reduced the political pull of African Americans. The third force behind the breakdown of the ghetto as ethnoracial container is African American protest, fostered by the accumulation of social and symbolic capital correlative of ghettoization, culminating with the civil rights legislation, the budding of  Black Power activism, and the eruption of urban riots that rocked the country between 1964 and 1968.

Unlike Jim Crow, then, the ghetto was not dismantled by forceful government action. It was left to crumble onto itself, trapping lower-class African Americans in a vortex of unemployment, poverty, and crime abetted by the joint withdrawal of the wage-labor market and the welfare state, while the growing African American  middle class achieved limited social and spatial separation by colonizing the districts adjacent to the historic Black Belt. As the ghetto lost its economic function of labor extraction and proved unable to ensure ethnoracial closure, the prison was called on to help contain a dishonored population widely viewed as deviant, destitute, and dangerous. This coupling occurred because, as previously suggested, ghetto and prison belong to the same organizational genus, namely, institutions of forced confinement: the ghetto is a sort of “ethnoracial prison” in the city, while the prison functions in the manner of a “judicial ghetto” at large. Both are charged with enfolding a stigmatized category so as to defuse the material and/or symbolic threat it poses for the broader society from which it has been extruded.

To be sure, the structural homology and functional surrogacy of ghetto and prison do not mandate that the former be replaced by or coupled with the latter. For that to happen, specific policy choices had to be made, implemented, and supported. This support sprang from the fearful reaction of whites to the urban riots and related racial upheavals of the 1960s and from the rising political resentment generated by government powerlessness in the face of the stagflation of 1970s and the subsequent spread of social insecurity along three tacks. First, middle-class whites accelerated their exodus out of the capsizing cities, which enabled the federal government to dismantle programs essential to the succor of inner-city residents. Second, working-class whites joined their middle-class brethren in turning against the welfare state to demand that public aid be curtailed–leading to the “end of welfare as we know it” in 1996. Third, whites across the class spectrum allied to offer ardent political backing for the “law and order” measures that primed the penal pump and harnessed it to the hyperghetto. The meeting ground and theater of these three political thrusts was the “revanchist city” in which increasing inequality, diffusing social precariousness, and festering marginality fed citizens’ rancor over the alleged excessive generosity of welfare and leniency of criminal justice toward poor African Americans. Two trains of converging changes then bolstered the knitting of the hyperghetto and the prison into a carceral mesh ensnaring a population of lower-class African-Americans rejected by the deregulated labor market and the dereliction of public institutions in the inner city.

On the one side, the ghetto was “prisonized” as its class composition became monotonously poor, its internal social relations grew stamped by distrust and fear, and its indigenous organizations waned to be replaced by the social control institutions of the state. On the other side, the prison was “ghettoized” as rigid racial partition came to pervade custodial facilities; the predatory culture of the street supplanted the “convict code” that had traditionally organized the “inmate society”; rehabilitation was abandoned in favor of neutralization; and the stigma of criminal conviction was deepened and diffused in ways that make it akin to racial dishonor. The resulting symbiosis between hyperghetto and prison not only perpetuates the socioeconomic marginality and symbolic taint of the African American subproletariat, feeding the runaway growth of the carceral system. It also plays a key role in the revamping of “race” by associating blackness with devious violence and dangerousness,45 the redefinition of the citizenry via the production of a racialized public culture of vilification of criminals, and the construction of a post-Keynesian state that replaces the socialwelfare treatment of poverty with its punitive containment”.

From: Loïc Wacquant Class, race & hyperincarceration in revanchist America

#CoV4 Conference: Inciting Transforming Possibilities started last night with carceral feminism, the criminalization of self defense, and Dr. Angela Davis. One of several takeaways was a call for communication with our incarcerated communities. A simple letter goes a long way to those beyond metal bars and concrete walls. #hyperincarceration #prisonindustrialcomplex #changemaker #RevolutionarySoul

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I officialy began my summer reading list with ‘Caught’ in which Marie Gottschalk examines how the carceral state has expanded its reach beyond prison walls to extensive parole/probation terms, debtors and youth jails and immigration detention centers. How can reform measures move to abolition practices to shrink the carceral state and decacerate a nation? #massincarceration #hyperincarceration #carceralstate #gradstudent #thesis #summer #summerreading

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#CoV4 #takeaway from the plenary Healing from State Violence - ‘Prisons don’t make anyone safe even if they are full of cops’
The photo is of a piece by printmaker, poet and labor activist #CarlosCortez who spent 18 months in jail as a conscientious objector. #stateviolence #blacklivesmatter #ChicanoArt #prisonindustrialcomplex #hyperincarceration

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