Therefore, the first waves of African New World revolts were governed not by a critique of Western society but rather a total rejection of the experience of enslavement and racism. More intent on preserving a past than transforming Western society or overthrowing capitalism, they created maroon settlements, ran away, became outliers, and tried to find a way home, even if it meant death. However, with the advent of formal colonialism and the incorporation of Black labor into a more fully governed social structure, a more direct critique of the West and colonialism emerged—a revolt set on transforming social relations and revolutionizing Western society rather then reproducing African social life. The contradictions of colonialism produced the native bourgeoisie, more intimate with European life and thought, whose assigned task was to help rule. Trained to be junior partners in the colonial state, members of this bourgeoisie experienced both racism from Europeans and a deep sense of alienation from their native lives and cultures. Their contradictory role as victims of racial domination and tools in the empire, as Western educated elites feeling like aliens among the dominant society as well as among the masses, compelled some of these men and women to revolt, thus producing the radical Black intelligentsia. It is no accident that many of these radicals and scholars emerged both during the First World War, when they recognized the vulnerability of Western civilization, and the second world crisis—the international depression and the rise of fascism.
Could the veterans of the Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria uprising against police violence have guessed that a few decades later LGBT law reformers would be supporting the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a law that provides millions of dollars to enhance police and prosecutorial resources? Could they have imagined the police would be claimed as protectors of queer and trans people against violence, while imprisonment and police brutality were skyrocketing?
When we call for prison abolition, we are not imagining the isolated dismantling of the facilities we call prisons and jails. That is not the project of abolition. We proposed the notion of a prison-industrial-complex to reflect the extent to which the prison is deeply structured by economic, social, and political conditions that themselves will also have to be dismantled. So you might say that prison abolition is a way of talking about the pitfalls of the particular version of democracy represented by US capitalism.
Capitalism- especially in its contemporary global form- continues to produce problems that neither it nor its prisons are prepared to solve. So prison abolition requires us to recognize the extent that our present social order- in which are embedded a complex array of social problems- will have to be radically transformed.
Prison abolitionist strategies reflect an understanding of the connections between institutions that we usually think about as disparate and disconnected. They reflect an understanding of the extent to which the overuse of imprisonment is a consequence of eroding educational opportunities, which are further diminished by using imprisonment as a false solution for poor public education. Persisting poverty in the heart of global capitalism leads to larger prison populations, which in turn reinforce the conditions that reproduce poverty.
When I refer to prison abolition, I like to draw from the DuBoisian notion of abolition democracy. That is to say, it is not only, or even primarily, about abolition as a negative process of tearing down, but it is also about building up, about creating new institutions. Although DuBois referred very specifically to slavery and its legal disestablishment as an economic institution, his observation that this negative process by itself was insufficient has deep resonances for prison abolition today. DuBois pointed out that in order to fully abolish the oppressive conditions produced by slavery, new democratic institutions would have to be created. Because this did not occur, black people encountered new forms of slavery- from debt peonage and the convict lease system to segregated and second-class education. The prison system continues to carry out this terrible legacy. It has become a receptacle for all of those human beings who bear the inheritance of the failure to create abolition democracy in the aftermath of slavery. And this inheritance is not only born by black prisoners, but by poor Latino, Native American, Asian, and white prisoners. Moreover, its use as such a receptacle for people who are deemed the detritus of society is on the rise throughout the world.
And even when I later tried drugs like cocaine, I remained unscathed. Further, the reality is that my experience is actually far more typical of drug use than the dramatic addictions we see on TV, in movies, and in books. Most people who use any type of drug don’t get addicted; in fact, most people who try particular drugs don’t even use them more than a few times.
Consider our last three presidents: Bill Clinton, who claimed he “didn’t inhale” the marijuana cigarette(s) he smoked; George W. Bush, who admitted marijuana use and is widely suspected of having taken cocaine; and Barack Obama, who admitted to using both drugs. President Obama even said that inhaling “was the point” of smoking reefer. Whatever your politics, none of them can be seen as not having reached the pinnacle of power and success.
Their drug use was inconsequential—in large part because they all avoided legal consequences from it. If Barack Obama had come up in a time when the drug war was being waged as intensely as it is now, we probably would never have heard of him. A single arrest could have precluded student loans, resulted in jail time, and completely ruined his life, posing a far greater threat to him than the drugs themselves did, including the risk of addiction to marijuana or cocaine. Even among people at the highest risk, like I was, it is still the case that the majority do not become alcoholics or drug addicts.
…I’m…acutely aware that often, hard work isn’t enough, especially when the stupid things that black children do are punished much more severely and with much more lasting negative effects than happens with the equally stupid things that white children do. Of course, I’m not arguing that crimes like robbery and burglary shouldn’t have consequences. They should. I just think that the consequences should both be educational and allow for redemption.
And data shows us that the criminal justice system is not the best way to impose these consequences. Its personnel aren’t trained as educators or counselors; they’re trained to contain damage and dole out punishment. Besides this, prisons are difficult to run in a way that keeps children safe and healthy and they are far more expensive to operate than alternatives that are actually more effective. It’s not just my experience—or that of our last three presidents—that suggests that avoiding the justice system produces better outcomes. This is clear from multiple studies.
This data shows that teens who are either not caught or are given noncustodial sentences for their crimes do much better in terms of employment, education, and reduced recidivism than those who are incarcerated or otherwise removed from the community and grouped with criminals. [Goes on to cite two large, rigorous North American studies on the different outcomes for teens who are incarcerated and those who aren’t, even when they engage in the same behaviors]
And he’s a prison abolitionist! My infatuation grows. Also, just as Susan Dewey’s Neon Wasteland also functions as a bibliography for sociological and anthropological work on poor women and sex work, High Price, besides being a thoughtful biography of the kind of life history drug war hysteria distorts the shit out of and a neuroscientific manifesto, also functions as a bibliography of the best sociological and neuroscientific studies and theories on drug use. Of course he cites the Rat Park study, but to name just a couple, I’ve really got to read up on Howard Becker and Lawrence Kohlberg.
Plus, the perspective on what it was like to be part of the nascent rap scene in the late 70s is fascinating. He played with Run DMC before they were really even Run DMC (and he mocks their Just Say No PSAs by reminiscing about smoking “reefer” with them.)
The data from the above studies and others clearly shows that segregating troubled teens together in settings where there are no parents and few peers aiming for athletic or academic success tends to make their criminal behavior worse.3 Both being labeled as a “bad kid” and hanging out with peers who feel that their only source of manhood and identity is engaging in criminal behavior significantly increase risk for future crime. Social influences like incarceration during youth predict adult crime far more strongly than anything we’ve been able to identify so far related to biological factors like dopamine in the brain.
Moreover, because black youth are more than twice as likely to be arrested as whites,4 the negative effects of juvenile prison have a disproportionate effect on our community. (For drug offenses, the inequities are even more glaring: drug cases are filed against black youth at a rate almost five times greater than for white youth, even though more white youth, 17 percent, report having sold drugs than blacks do, 13 percent.)5 While these facts are discouraging because they show how big the problem is, they also suggest that a clear solution is minimizing juvenile incarceration rates.
The structure of the relations of production determines the places and functions occupied and adopted by the agents of production, who are never anything more than occupants of these places, insofar as they are the ‘supports’ of these functions. The true ‘subjects’ are therefore not these occupants or functionaries, are not, despite all appearance, the ‘obviousness’ of a ‘given’ of naive anthropology, ‘concrete individuals’ ‘real men’ - but the definition and distribution of these places and functions. The true ‘subjects’ are these definers and distributors: the relations of production
Farrrrr. That’s so amazing. You should email it to Tiopira from the department because he’s compiling Maori students’ undergraduate journal. He kindly put some of my…
It’s Kōrero Tīrairaka. I’m not sure if it’s been printed yet because he only just finished editing it a couple of weeks ago. I can send you a pdf if you can’t find it.
In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.
Trans women experience corporeality in a unique way. While capital hopes to continue to use the female body as proletarian machine to reproduce labor-power, trans women’s bodies cannot produce more workers and is constantly already viewed as denaturalized. Perhaps in valorizing this inoperability in reproduction, and willfully extending it to all forms of reproductive labor, we see the potentiality of human strike. Ways of extending this remain to be seen, but in this affront to capitalist-produced nature and matrices of heteronormativity which are crucial to the functioning of capitalism, we see the kinship between the human strike of trans women and the materialization of a non-reproductive, purely negative queer force. It seems that the trans woman too has no future, and thus through the building of this negative force might have a stake in wrecking everything and abolishing herself in the process. In any case, we do not have the answers that will render society inoperable, that will end the social reproduction of this world. Yet as trans women, we know that every strike against capital is a strike against the mechanisms of gender oppression, and that every strike against the gendered violence in our lives is a strike against the machinations of capital.
So some dudes were complaining lately, “Women are telling guys to stop telling them how to dress, but not all guys are total misogynists! Women do it to each other too!”
So. People. Let me tell you a thing.
This is a picture of a panopticon. It’s a kind of prison. See, it’s a giant circle, with all the cells around the rim. The tower in the middle is where the guards are. The guards can see into all the prisoners’ cells, but the prisoners cannot see each other, and they have difficulty seeing the guards. Each prisoner knows that at any time, they are being watched, and if the guards see them behaving incorrectly, they will come with truncheons and beat the prisoner up. They learn to feel that gaze on them, all the time; every movement makes them think, “What if this breaks the rules, and they see, and they come and punish me?” Soon, prisoners don’t need guards standing over them all the time to follow the rules; they do it themselves, because that gaze is omnipresent. Even when the guard house is empty, they still think, “What if someone is watching me?” (This is all from Michel Foucault. You want more on this, go read Discipline and Punish, enjoy the descriptions of medieval torture.)
The panopticon is a metaphor. In our society, we are constantly watched, tracked, disciplined, and punished, from childhood. The school says you skipped class today. The babysitter says you wouldn’t follow the rules. The police saw you at the park with your friends. We are held to valid rules, and to bullshit rules; some of them are necessary to make our society safe, and some of them just make us easier to exploit.
You are held to rules. I am held to rules. They vary. As a woman, I am held to rules that say be small be pretty defer to someone else and I’m punished in different ways if I don’t obey. My brother is held to different rules, that say be strong don’t feel dominate the situation. We end up policing each other; we meet and he says, “Looking good,” and I remember: people are watching how I dress and how I look. If I disobey, they will notice, and I could be punished. I meet him after his job and ask, “Do you think you’ll be promoted soon?” and he remembers: people pay attention to whether or not I’m in charge, and if I’m not dominant, I could be punished.
Sometimes the guardhouse is empty. Sometimes nobody is paying close attention to what I’m wearing. Sometimes the guards don’t come to punish me, so whether or not I am pretty or attractive does not affect whether I get to own property. (It used to: whether or not my ancestresses were married affected their legal and economic statuses hugely)
Feminism is about the work of dismantling the prison when it comes to bullshit rules. It’s about saying that we shouldn’t be held to stupid rules based on gender. So it’s about the work of getting rid of the cells and the watchtower, and getting rid of the guards with truncheons. We can stop telling each other these stories about all the rules we’re held to, and we can stop punishing each other for breaking them. My brother stops telling me, “You’ll never get a date if you dress like that.” I stop telling him, “You need to be strong and work hard so you come out on top.”
So no, feminists don’t believe that all men everywhere are 100% misogynistic. It’s just that a lot of women are conditioned to think that 100% of the time, there is a risk that someone is watching us, and we will be punished if the break the rules. It is really hard work to break the social structures and the internal attitudes that imprison us.
And yes, women can enforce the panopticon. Hell, I’ll even tell you a womanly secret: I cannot count the number of times I’ve received cruelty at the hands of fellow girls for the way I looked or dressed. My entire middle school experience was basically that and algebra. We’re working on fixing that! Please, do not doubt that we’ve been working on that among ourselves as a gender. Women have spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears trying to change how we treat each other. Now we’re asking you to pitch in.
Many of “Western Civilization’s” alleged achievements—for instance, the conquest of political liberties—were not handed down to us, as if through a legal transaction, by qualified representatives of the “Western Spirit.” Far from it, most of “the West’s” celebrated gains, particularly at the level of political rights, were worked and fought for by many who were not considered “Westerners.” Indeed, many of our political rights were wrenched into existence against the resistance of the most typical “Westerners.” The “Western Civilization” “legacy” metaphor also hides the role European and non-European workers (both were considered outside the pale of “civilization”) have played in building the wealth and culture of Europe and America. Typically, credit for technological development is laid at the doorstep of Greek Rationalism or is presented as the logical unfolding of a Promethean inner “Western” predisposition; rarely is it asked “Who built the factories?”
The point is that genocide was not an accident, not an “excess”, not the unintended side-effect of virile European growth. Genocide was the necessary and deliberate act of the capitalists and their settler shock- troops. The “Final Solution” to the “Indian Problem” was so widely expected by whites that it was openly spoken of as a commonplace thing. At the turn of the century a newspaper as “respectable” as the New York Times could editorially threaten that those peoples who opposed the new world capitalist order would “be extinguished like the North American Indian.”
Because we don’t speak about sex, there is no socially acceptable language surrounding it. So the language of porn has jumped in to fill that space, and that’s an issue, because in a male-dominated industry the language of porn is all too often male-generated. The person who coined the term “finger blasting” didn’t have a vagina. The person who coined the term, “getting your ass railed” never got their ass railed. Pounding, hammering, banging… And language matters, because when the only language you have available is abusive and one-directional, in terms of having things done to you, it creates a very weird view of how sex works.
When Audre Lorde made that much quoted yet often misunderstood cautionary statement warning us that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” she was urging us to remember that we must engage in a process of visionary thinking that transcends the ways of knowing privileged by the oppressive powerful if we are to truly make revolutionary change. She was, in the deep structure of this statement, reminding us that it is easy for women and any exploited or oppressed group to become complicit in structures of domination, using power in ways that reinforce rather than challenge or change.