After watching the interview of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi from the Late Show with Stephen Colbert answer these questions in your discussion post:
1. What is the main point that you took away from this talk?
2. In your own words what is an antiracist?
3. What is one area of growth you would like to implement after watching this talk?
Lyndon Johnson championed civil rights, social democracy, and preventative criminal justice, even as he shipwrecked his Great Society in Vietnam. LBJ’stwo Texas successors then led the country rightward: George H. W. Bush, who rode the specter of Willie Horton, a black rapist, to the White House and widened the war on drugs when he got there, and his son George W. Bush, who funneled more money into law enforcement and incarceration, both foreign and domestic, than any chief executive before him. By the early twenty-first century, Texas had come to exercise unrivaled leadership in the political arena, especially in criminal justice, where it pioneered all manner of punitive policies, from lethal injection to prison privatization. With political conservatism ascendant, Texas became the country’s new bellwether state,19 To a large extent, Texas stands for the country as a whole. With its mythic history, multiracial population, and immense territory that stretches from the South to the Southwest, Texas, brings together vital threads of the American fabric. Its hardscrabble folk and wide-open spaces symbolize individual liberty. Yet this freedom has always traveled with a wrathful twin. Torn by social divisions and wracked by violent conflict-dramatized by the lynching of James Bird in 1998-Texas also signifies for many Americans intolerance, bigotry, and sangUinary justice.2o In the film Thelma and Louise, when Susan Sarandon makes Geena Davis drive hundreds of miles out of the way to avoid the state, audiences are meant to understand that Texas is no place for free spirits on the run. For both its punitive singularity and historical contradictions, Texas is a fruitful site to study criminal justice over the longue duree, from one period of pervasive unfreedom to another, from the age of slavery to the age of incarceration. From its inception, the state has served as a contentious testing ground for rival styles of penal discipline: corporal punishment versus Christian charity, exploitative field labor versus penitentiary-based confinement, retribution versus rehabilitation. A populist strain in Texas politics has inspired the most spirited penal reform movements in the South, from agrarian radicals who railed against forced labor to civil rights activists who assailed prison segregation. But an even stronger tradition of racial demagoguery and pennypinching conservatism, combined with the intransigence of the state’s prison guard establishment, has managed to beat back each of these challenges. In Texas justice, as in politics, left has always battled right, but the right has usually won. “It was one of the cliches … that we were dragging our state, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century,” recalls Ronnie Dugger, the founding editor of the Texas Observer, the state’s liberal standard-bearer. “But 10 and behold … Texas has dragged the United States back into the nineteenth.”2! The product pf this mismatched historical struggle is a uniquely harsh model of criminal justice, a regime of state-sanctioned punishment based on roughshod legal proceedings, racial subjugation, corporal punishment, and unpaid field labor that has persevered into the twenty-first century. Texas’s plantations are “probably the best example of slavery remaining in the country,” reported a national corrections expert in 1978.22 Twenty years later, when I first started visiting southern prisons, I reached the same conclusion. Nowhere else in turn-ofthe-millennium America could one witness gangs of African American men filling cotton sacks under the watchful eyes of armed whites on horseback. Plantation prisons at Sugar Land, Huntsville, and elsewhere have preserved the lifeways of slavery in carceral amber. For most of American history, Texas’s implacable punishment traditions relegated it to the margins of penology, a field devoted-in theory if not practice-to the “moral regeneration … of criminals.” In the late civil rights era, however, as rehabilitation programs faltered, crime rates soared, and a new breed of politician discovered that crime, especially black crime, galvanized white voters, Texas’s Lone Star became a gUiding light. State after state began copying elements of what prison experts called the “Texas control model,” while politicians looked with new fondness on the state’s severe sentencing statutes. Once dismissed as a “disgrace of Christian civilization,” Texas became the template for a more fearful and vengeful society. 23 Nationwide, tough new crime policies-far more than rising crime rates-fueled prodigious prison growth. Between 1965 and 2000, the U.S. prison population swelled by 600 percent, in Texas by 1,200 percent. Over the same period, sentences grew longer and early releases rarer. Prison education and counseling programs Withered, while supermaxes and death rows sprang up from coast to coast. “We were building prisons so fast we couldn’t find wardens to run them,” a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University told me. “It was like mobilizing for world war.”24 By the end of the century, the United States had embarked on an unprecedented experiment in mass incarceration, one that not only is changing the country’s approach to crime and punishment but is reworking the fabric of American society. This book tells the story of this punitive revolution with Texas at its epicenter. Examining the interplay of race, crime, and politics over almost two centuries, it explains how a proud frontier republic forged in democratic revolt came to build one of the roughest penal regimes in American history. It shows how a uniquely calloused, racialized, and profit-driven style of punishment that developed on slavery’s frontier became a model for the nation in the post-civil rights era. By analyzing the life and times of America’s harshest, largest penal system, Texas Tough proposes fresh ways of thinking about imprisonment and SOciety. First it argues that the history of punishment in the United States is more of a southern story than has generally been realized. By the numbers, the South has long been the dominant player in criminal justice.25 Open almost any book on the subject, however, and the states of the former Confederacy ar~ scarcely mentioned-except perhaps to underline their particularity.26 In the historiography of imprisonment scholars have hued to a remarkably unitary story line, with the first northeastern penitentiaries-foreboding public institutions that were meant to restore wayward citizens to virtue through penitent solitude-imperfectly evolving into modern correctional bureaucracies, complete with psychological counseling and parole. Although historians vary Widely in their approaches and viewpoints, they have overwhelmingly replicated narratives of halting progress in pursuit of the rehabilitative idealY Until recently, this progressive, regionally restrictive version of history possessed a certain logic. Because prison managers, whatever their shortcomings, steadfastly claimed reformation as their goal, and because most rehabilitative innovations originated in the North, it seemed only logical for historians to thus focus their efforts.28 Alas, now that the country’s prison establishment has largely abandoned the cause of “moral regeneration,” it is easier for us to detect southern roots. Over the last few decades, prisons have not become more humane, less racially divisive, less authoritarian, or even more supple in their exercise of power, as the dominant literature had led us to expect. Rather, American lockups have o become harsher, more regimented, more racially divisive, and markedly less rehabilitative. They no longer aim to repair and redeem but to warehouse, avenge, and permanently differentiate convicted criminals from law-abiding citizens. Today’s prisons operate less in the tradition of what the founding penologist Enoch Wines called “the reformatory idea” than in a retributive mode that has long been practiced and promoted in the South. 29 To piece together a more complete genealogy of the modern prison, therefore, this book redirects the spotlight from the North, the birthplace of rehabilitative penology, to the South, the fountainhead of subjugationist discipline, In addition to tracing the evolution of social welfare and the gospel of redemption, it examines the development of labor control, racial division, and corporal debasement. The result is that two ancestrallines come into view: one reformatory, one retributive; one integrative, one exclusionary; one conceived in northern churches and the other on southern work farms. Over the course of American history, these rival traditions have contended for influence, and in the closing decades of the twentieth century, exclusion and revenge gained the upper hand. In short, this book posits that most historians have studied only half of the family tree. American prisons trace their lineage not only back to Pennsylvania penitentiaries but to Texas slave plantations. This historical reorientation leads to the book’s second principal argument: the evolution of the prison has had surprisingly little to do with crime and a great deal to do with America’s troubled history of racial conflict and social stratification. Decoupling punishment from crime defies conventional wisdomj most citizens like to think that prisons keep predatory villains off the streets-and to a certain extent they do. Yet an examination of the historical record, as well as present-day statistics, reveals that state punishment has consistently served purposes beyond crime control. Indeed, the strong arm of the law has been regularly deployed not only to protect public safety but to preserve privilege, bolster political fortunes, and, most of all, to discipline those on the social margins, especially African Americans. The notion that the law serves the powerful is probably as old as the law itself. A character in Plato’s Republic asserted, “In every case the laws are made by the ruling party in its own interest.”3o Yet in the United States, where the highest court bears the inscription “Equaljustice Under Law,” this basic critique is too often ignored. We tend to see justice even where dominion resides. The history of Texas brings dominion into sharp focus. Although ~he Lone Star Republic was founded on the lofty principles of liberty and I~dependence, its 1836 constitution codified an inviolable hierarchy of nghts, barring all “Africans, the descendants of Africans, and Indians” from citizenship.31 After abolition, these rigid distinctions blurred but a two-tiered legal framework persisted. During the protracted epo~h of formal segregation, a variety of de jure and de facto contro…
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