City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965 (Introduction, 1)

So, this is the type of book where I can only read several pages at a time because 1) it’s horrifying, and 2) there’s simply so much to digest and internalize. Amidst every sentence there are far reaching implications and syntheses which should not be quickly passed over.

Kelly Lytle Hernandez set out to elucidate how settler colonialism and carcerality have shaped the Los Angeles into the city with the highest rate of incarceration and largest number of prisoners, what she called “the carceral capital of the world.”

“Mass incarceration is mass elimination,” she writes, explaining that “incarceration operates as a means of purging, removing, caging, containing, erasing, disappearing, and eliminating targeted populations from land, life, and society in the United States.” The six chronological chapters in the book show that the groups of people who have been targeted by the US government for incarceration (elimination and disappearance)  have changed depending on the interactions between the racial capitalist state (the US) and the residents of Los Angeles. Spanish colonization began the region’s history of prisons, as one of the first buildings colonists constructed was a jail to help in their efforts to eliminate the local Indigenous people. From there, the LA region’s prison system ensnared other groups over time, such settler men who deviated from labor or gender expectations, and Chinese migrants displaced by Western colonialism in Asia.

The fact that there was a time in which white, settler men comprised nearly 100% of the LA prison population may surprise those of us who are used to understanding carcerality within a settler colonial situation as an interlocking system of racist institutions intent on targeting racialized people. That’s all true, indeed. We must remember, though, that racial capitalism will construct its racially exclusive state with whatever exploitable labor it can, including settlers. Racial capitalism necessitates the existence of poor white people who are locked out of private property, coerced into cisheteropatriarchal and capitalist labor relations, and dispossessed from land. We see this today, as well, where hundreds of thousands of white people languish in the many prisons across the country. Most are poor and victimized by debt, police violence, homelessnesss, and eviction. Many are transgender, gender nonconforming, bisexual, and other identities victimized by cisheteropatriarchy.

So now if you ever encounter the question “But how can it be racist if there are white people in jail, too?” you can safely answer: racial capitalism exploits white labor, it punishes those who defy cisheteronormativity, and the presence of white people suffering carceral violence doesn’t negate the racialized logic of imprisonment in a settler colony.

 

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Briefly, On Courage

When will the day come when living settlers/colonizers realize that our collective system of power, comfort, and property (regardless of our exact personal benefit) was wrought through so much death and suffering?

When we will reckon with the fact that our existence in the US was predicated on the elimination of Indigenous people and the subjugation of enslaved Black people as property and pathogens to be permanently excluded and exploited?

When will we take responsibility for the crimes our ancestors have done and the ease with which we have continued them? Will it be when the environment no longer sustains us? Or when colonized peoples retaliate to the war we’ve waged on them?

Will we ever have the courage to look at this country, our lives, our properties and weapons and courts, for what it all truly is, and say, “Enough!”?

For me, I know that nothing that I’ve ever had in this land – not the homes I’ve made, not the degrees I’ve been granted, not the identity that was created for me without my consent – nothing is worth the price of keeping it. If the time comes when I can give it all away for justice, or tear it down in the hope of such, I know what side I’ll be on.

Capitalists Are Manipulative Bastards

Reading “The Black Jacobins” by CLR James, about the history of the Haitian Revolution.

One of the mind blowing things he described is that much of the momentum behind the abolition of the transatlantic African slave trade (and later slavery as a whole) came from the industrial bourgeoisie of Britain. Why?

Well it wasn’t actually because they cared about the mass death and oppression of stolen African peoples, though there were white Europeans who did.

It was because multiple events and circumstances came together to make it the most economically beneficial choice.

1) They had just lost access to the US colonies, but were colonizing places like India, 2) their slave trade was enriching the French slave colonies like Haiti (their main European competitor), 3) they did not need the slave trade to maintain slave populations OR to power their industries, 4) they now had the political and economic power to exploit colonies by other means, 5) and there was a rising tide of liberatory movements.

So, they realized that by agitating to end the slave trade, they could ruin the French market. They literally helped fund French abolition groups, and in part this worked because by mere luck, the French Revolution had already begun to simmer under the French bourgeoisie. They didn’t care about the French liberty or enslaved Africans or the people they would colonize next, they just wanted profit and domination.

The takeaway here is that this same process also happened during the US civil war. As the industrial North became richer and more powerful through slavery, they sought to challenge slavery not for reasons of humanity, but for control of capital. And, in general, capitalists have routinely used liberatory moments and rhetoric for their benefit, knowing that they have the power to change the sociopolitical relations of labor. It’s why today that slavery has continued under the auspice of prison; the issue has never been enslavement, but control of capital and of people.

The Creation of Blackness as Pathogen

The Transition from Blackness as Property to Blackness as Pathogen in the United States

This brief essay by William Jamal Richardson discusses the primary sociopolitical conditions which changed the relationship between black people and the US state “From Blackness as property to Blackness as pathogen,” or from chattel slavery to conditions of criminalization, containment, and segregation away from white communities.

One of the main ways this was accomplished was through redlining, or the massive government construction of new housing for white people, rating white neighborhoods as worthy of loans and investment, and rating Black neighborhoods as criminal, dangerous, and not economically viable. Such practices have perhaps changed in name but continue through banking practices and creditor/debtor relations like creditworthiness.

One thing I may study in law school is how this process of pathologizing Blackness grounds how white people understand gentrification, the quality of schools, and whether a neighborhood is “safe.” Because if you ask white people which neighborhoods we think are unsafe or unfit, we will without fail point to majority Black places. So it’s clear that unsafe is usually code for non-white, and especially Black. Given the history of segregation and morphing Blackness to a pathogen, white people still rely on the logic of redlining despite it being “officially” discontinued.

It’s still how creditworthiness is gauged, it’s how housing is granted, it’s the logic of segregation, and it’s how white people still think about Black people without having to explicitly say “I’m anti-Black.” White people clearly benefit from this systematic exclusion.

Law School Aspirations

I am speaking what follows into existence for law school.

Whatever type of law I practice, my work will be grounded in:

1) transformative justice — or safety and accountability from oppression/violence without relying on alienation, punishment, or State or systemic violence, incarceration or policing.

2) carceral abolition — or the dismantling of ideologies and systems of power which surveil, contain, criminalize, impoverish, incarcerate, and eliminate marginalized groups of people.

3) the struggle against settler colonialism, particularly in the US.

And the work I do will not be second-hand plagiarizing of what oppressed people have lived, theorized, and produced. I will find a way to learn everything I can from them without claiming it as my own or benefiting from their struggles with my privileged social position.

It will be my own work, my own research, and my own thought. I will focus my efforts on my own communities and the systems of power built for me to inhabit, while providing material solidarity to the oppressed however I can.

Can There Be Peace?

When you take in the totality of oppression and people’s investment in it, is a peaceful resolution really possible?

Whether it’s the massive carceral police state, the strength of the military and sophistication of surveillance/coercive technology, the sheer amount of people who view blackness as criminal or trans people as disposable —

What do we do with this? The entire political system is predicated on violence against the other, the “criminal,” and the “deviant,” and most of us who are relatively safe cheer it on like we’re at the Roman Colosseum. That is, if we’re even aware of it at all. Usually, we don’t care to learn about state violence or its victims.

So, what can we reasonably expect to happen as this state-perpetuated violence continues? Can we expect white settlers will peacefully allow colonial white supremacy to end? We never have.

That cishet men will peacefully allow cishetpatriarchy to end? We never have.

That capitalists will peacefully relinquish their wealth and property? That’s never happened.

So, what, then? History shows that power/social relations are never peacefully transformed. Hundreds of years of evidence plainly and absolutely shows that oppression, both its systems and its benefactors, would rather accelerate humanity towards suffering and oblivion than give up privilege and power through peace.

We have to reckon with that history.