Per Caritatem

Below is a brief description of my colleague, Dr. Jill A. McCorkel’s new book, Breaking Women: Gender, Race, and the New Politics of Imprisonment.

Since the 1980s, when the War on Drugs kicked into high gear and prison populations soared, the increase in women’s rate of incarceration has steadily outpaced that of men. In Breaking Women, Jill A. McCorkel draws upon four years of on-the-ground research in a major US women’s prison to uncover why tougher drug policies have so greatly affected those incarcerated there, and how the very nature of punishment in women’s detention centers has been deeply altered as a result.

Through compelling interviews with prisoners and state personnel, McCorkel reveals that popular so-called “habilitation” drug treatment programs force women to accept a view of themselves as inherently damaged, aberrant addicts in order to secure an earlier release. These programs work to enforce stereotypes of deviancy that ultimately humiliate and degrade the women. The prisoners are left feeling lost and alienated in the end, and many never truly address their addiction as the programs’ organizers may have hoped. A fascinating and yet sobering study, Breaking Women foregrounds the gendered and racialized assumptions behind tough-on-crime policies while offering a vivid account of how the contemporary penal system impacts individual lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Both philosophers of race and sociologists have explained how the racialization of phenotypic differences and negative socio-political narratives of race such as equating blackness with criminality detrimentally affects economically disadvantaged African Americans, especially young, black males. However the stigmatization of places such as ghettos and particular urban areas also reinforces an us/them divide and negatively impacts the life chances of its residents. Along these lines, Ato Sekyi-Otu, in his work, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, analyzes how the colonized suffer violence in fixed, segregated space, or as Frantz Fanon might put it, “Manichean” regions of (non)being and mere subsistence. As Sekyi-Otu argues, spatiality takes center stage in Fanon’s descriptions of colonized existence, where separate quarters and fixed social (im)mobility constantly confront the colonized person.[1] This is not to suggest that temporality has no place in Fanon’s theorizing. Fanon, for example, speaks of the colonized existing in “dead time” and makes multiple references to the fact that the black person’s past and future, because already negatively scripted by dominant white narratives, constantly threatens his or her present.[2] It is, however, to claim that Fanon’s thematizing metaphors of spatiality and the primacy, analytically speaking, that he gives them, is part of a larger critique of classical Marxism (and certain currents in existentialism.)[3] Rather than explicate inequality in terms of  “social relations of production” and time or unfree, alienated labor, which involves a qualitative loss and distortion of our experience of time, Fanon unmasks the “logic of social hierarchy which ‘parcels out the world’ by virtue of a politics of space founded on race.”[4]  In other words, for Fanon, that spatiality, like temporality functions as a primordial or basic component of human experience is granted and uncontroversial. However, the controversy instigating Fanon’s protests arises when spatiality is transformed “into an extraordinary state of coercion.”[5] Thus, to accurately portray the character of the colonial experience, Fanon thematizes or, as Sekyi-Otu puts it, dramatizes “the ursurpation and coercive structuring of space as the defining reality of social domination, indeed of social being.”[6] With Fanon’s insights concerning the connection between race and the “politics of space” in mind, let us examine select passages from his book, The Wretched of the Earth.

Fanon’s analyses focus on the “compartmentalized world” of the colonized and the ways in which the colonized experience psychological harm and collective injury as a result of being forced to live as a dishonored group in a sequestered and “fixed” physical and social region. For example, Fanon describes the colonized world as “a world divided in two. The dividing line, the border, is represented by the barracks and the police stations.” [7] The divide is of course drawn along racial lines where the “white folks’ sector” (colonists) and the colonized constitute a Manichean space whose darker regions are “kept under close scrutiny, and contained by rifle butts” and other explicitly violent measures.[8]  Fanon goes on to highlight the stark differences—politically, economically, and sociologically—between the colonized and the European sectors.

The colonist’s sector is a sector built to last, all stone and steel. It’s a sector of lights and paved roads […] the streets are clean and smooth, without a pothole, without a stone. The colonist’s sector is sated, […] its belly is permanently full of good things.[9]

In contrast, the colonized live in dilapidated structures signaling transience, stagnation, subjugation, and dishonor. “It’s a world with no space, people are piled one on top of the other.”[10] From the architectural structures to the lack of human goods to the constant police surveillance and threat of violence, the colonized are engulfed in a geopolitically carved nether-region that constantly communicates their alleged inferiority and status as social refuse. The “native” sector signifies “a disreputable place inhabited by disreputable people.”[11] Living in such confined, stigmatized, and coercively instituted spaces adversely impacts a group’s self-perception. Given the economic, political, and legal differential between the colonized and the colonists, it is unsurprising that the “colonized’s sector is a sector that crouches and cowers, a sector on its knees, a sector that is prostrate.”[12]

            In addition to his emphasis on the politics of space to describe the structure of domination in the colonial world, Fanon also examines the colonists’ racialized discourses, highlighting their role in vilifying and dehumanizing the colonized.  Similar to the contemporary racist narratives prevalent in the U. S. that equate black males with criminals and deviants, Fanon observes that the Manichean world of the colonists backed by its “agents of law and order” is not satisfied with enacting physical, spatial constraints to restrict and keep the colonized under its surveilling gaze. To these already violent and coercive measures, its public discourses transmute “the colonized into a kind of quintessence of evil.”[13] According to this narrative, it is not that the colonized possess weak values or lack certain values, rather, as Fanon explains:

The “native” is declared impervious to ethics, representing not only the absence of values but also the negation of values. He is, dare we say it, the enemy of values. In other words, the absolute evil. A corrosive element, destroying everything which involves aesthetics or morals, an agent of malevolent powers, an unconscious and incurable element of blind forces.[14]

Here the “native” is judged not only a social reject but also a dangerous “corrosive element,” which thus must be coercively sequestered so as not to harm or contaminate the alleged moral, aesthetic, and intellectual superiority of the European colonizers.

Although I do not develop this connection here—but I am presently working on a chapter for a book project where I discuss this link extensively—Loic Wacquant’s work on America’s northern ghettos (1915–68), the subsequent post-1968 hyperghetto, and the hyperghetto-carceral continuum similarly serve to forcibly contain, restrain, and stigmatize dishonored populations. As time warrants, I hope to post more on these and other Wacquant-Fanon areas of overlap.

Notes

[1] Michel Foucault also thematizes spatiality in his analyses of the prison and disciplinary power. However, as Lizbet Simmons observes Foucault’s account fails to attend to the role of race (and gender) in disciplinary institutions such as the prison and the school. See, Lizbet Simmons, “The Docile Body in School Space,” in Schools Under Surveillance. Cultures of Control in Public Education, eds. Torin Monahan and Rodolfo D. Torres. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010), pp. 55–70.

[2] See, for example, Frantz Fanon. Black Skin, White Masks, revised edition. Trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2008).

[3] Both Fanon and key figures of the Negritude movement such as Aimé Césaire offer stringent critiques of Marxism for its failure to take the “race” issue seriously, subordinating it to and subsuming it within the class issue. See, for example, Aimé Césaire. Discourse on Colonialism. Trans. Joan Pinkham (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000).

[4]  Ato Sekyi-Otu. Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 77 (italics in original). As Sekyi-Otu explains, in Marx’s depiction of “totalitarian egalitarianism, time as labor-time, as the common measure of work and objects, becomes a collusive agent in the expulsion of quality from the human world. Here labor-time and the laborer himself are commodified and thus quantifiable. In this sense, we have a fall from free-flowing heterogeneous time to fixed homogenous time; time is frozen and morphs into space (ibid., 74).

[5] Ibid., 77 (italics in original).

[6] Ibid., 76.

[7] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 3.

[8] Ibid., p. 4.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. Fanon, of course, goes on to describe the anger and resentment that the colonized experience and their desire to see the colonial world dismantled and destroyed.

[13] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 6.

[14] Ibid.

 

Below is an apropos, thought-provoking (and lengthy) excerpt from a Christmas reflection by John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at DePaul University.  You may access the article in its entirety here. I also highly recommend, “More Parables for Our Times: Not Your Grandmother’s Prince of Peace,” by Rev. James Martin, S.J.

Artwork by Fr. Gabriel Chavez de la Mora, O.S.B., of Tepeyac Abbey, MexicoArtwork by Fr. Gabriel Chavez de la Mora, O.S.B., of Tepeyac Abbey, Mexico

Artwork by Fr. Gabriel Chavez de la Mora, O.S.B., of Tepeyac Abbey, Mexico

“When Jesus is born in Bethlehem–ancestral city of David, the once and future king of Israel–an angel tells shepherds that, ‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord’ (2:11-12).

Angels direct, as it were the narrative traffic of both [Luke and Matthew] those infancy stories but there is one very special case of angelic intervention found only in Luke. This involves not just a single angel but the entire heavenly choir who descend to earth and chant in the reversed parallelism of typical biblical poetry: ‘Glory to God / in the highest heaven / and on earth peace /among those of [God's] favor’ (2:14). But, since this is poetic parallelism, divine glory in heaven is human peace on earth. Not either, but both, or neither.

A lovely couplet of hymnic hope, to be sure, but where is the challenge of that first Christmas vision? To find it watch the titles already given to Jesus and to Caesar. Jesus was proclaimed as ‘Son of God,’ ‘Savior of the World,’ and ‘Messiah/Christ (1:32; 2:11). In between those titles appears the name of ‘Caesar Augustus’ (2:1). But, before Jesus the Christ was ever conceived, Caesar the Augustus had been already proclaimed by Roman imperial theology as ‘Son of God,’ ‘Savior of the World’ and ‘Imperator/Autocrator.’ Also, the vaunted Pax Romana was already incarnated and embodied in Caesar himself by the consecration of a magnificent Ara Pacis Augustae, the Altar–not just of Roman–but of Augustan Peace at Rome.

Granted Luke’s Roman matrix for this Jewish child, what precisely was the difference between those identical titles and identical proclamations of ‘Peace on Earth’? If the Roman Augustus had already established peace on earth, what was left for the Jewish Jesus to accomplish? How was the presence of Roman imperial peace different from that promise of Jewish messianic peace–on this one and only earth?

The difference was not in the that of peace but in its how, not in the purpose and intention of peace but in the mode and method of its accomplishment. For Rome, as you can see clearly on the beautiful bas-reliefs of that above-mentioned Altar of Augustan Peace, the mode and method was: religion, war, victory, peace. Rome believed, as did every empire from the Assyrian to the American, that the future of civilization demanded peace through victory. But the messianic vision of the Jewish Jesus proclaimed a different program: religion, non-violence, justice, peace. Its mantra was peace through justice. Or, as Jesus told Pilate in John’s powerful parable: God’s Kingdom, as distinct from Rome’s Kingdom, precludes violence–not even to liberate himself from imperial power (18:36).

Victory’s violence establishes not peace but lull–until the next and always more violent round of war. The Christian challenge of Christmas is this: justice is what happens when all receive a fair share of God’s world and only such distributive justice can establish peace on earth. But how can we ever agree on what is fair for all? Hint: ask what is fair–in first or 21st century–of the 99 percent of earth’s people and not of the 1 percent.”

 

Gun Control and Message from the GraveThis post is dedicated to the memory of the twenty precious children at Sandy Hook Elementary whose lives tragically, unexpectedly, and senselessly were taken from them—as well as from their families and friends—and the six brave women who selflessly gave their lives to save as many children as possible.

Charlotte Bacon, female (6 years old)
Daniel Barden, male (7 years old)
Rachel Davino, female (29 years old)
Olivia Engel, female (6 years old)
Josephine Gay, female (7 years old)
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, female (6 years old)
Dylan Hockley, male (6 years old)
Dawn Hocksprung, female (47 years old)
Madeleine F. Hsu, female (6 years old)
Catherine V. Hubbard, female (6 years old)
Chase Kowalski, male (7 years old)
Jesse Lewis, male (6 years old)
James Mattioli, male (6 years old)
Grace McDonnell female (7 years old)
Anne Marie Murphy, female (52 years old)
Emilie Parker, female (6 years old)
Jack Pinto, male (6 years old)
Noah Pozner, male (6 years old)
Caroline Previdi, female (6 years old)
Jessica Rekos, female (6 years old)
Avielle Richman, female (6 years old)
Lauren Russeau, female (30 years old)
Mary Sherlach, female (56 years old)
Victoria Soto, female (27 years old)
Benjamin Wheeler, male (6 years old)
Allison N. Wyatt, female (6 years old)[1]

I won’t repeat the details of Friday morning’s massacre, as you are likely quite familiar with the news by now. Nor will I present arguments for stricter gun laws (which I in fact support). Rather, I ask you to try to put yourself in the place of those who have lost loved ones.  Imagine what it must have been like for the parents of those twenty children—those six to seven year olds—who were shot Friday morning, reports say, at close range and multiple times.  It began like any other morning. I’m sure that many were rushing around trying to get their children dressed, fed, and in the car in order to make it school on time. All of us who are parents know how hectic it can be in the morning before school. Perhaps there was an argument over what could or could not be worn that day. Or even if things went relatively smoothly, the opportunity to say all those things that a parent wants to say, that a parent feels every day and multiple times a day when thinking of his or her child—those opportunities are gone, forever gone in a matter of hours. Imagine too hearing the news that a shooting has occurred at your child’s school. You hear the report; you drop everything, rush out of your house, get into your car and drive as fast as you can to the school, hoping that your child has somehow been survived.  You wait. You see police officers, neighbors, and other parents, crying, screaming, anxious, numb. Some fortunate parents have been reunited with their children, but you are still waiting. You begin to doubt as the hours go by and your child hasn’t come out. Then finally along with twenty other parents, you are told that your child didn’t make it.

As a parent, I simply cannot imagine the pain, the loss, the anger, the despair that these parents are experiencing and will experience in the days, months, and years to come.

Public officials, such as Jay Carney, claim that now is not the time to talk about gun control. No, Mr. Carney, I disagree. Would it be time to talk if one of the victims had been your child, your mother, your wife? As Alex Koppleman at the New Yorker writes, “Carney’s response was a predictable one. This is the way that we deal with such incidents in the U.S.—we acknowledge them; we are briefly shocked by them; then we term it impolite to discuss their implications, and to argue about them. At some point, we will have to stop putting it off, stop pretending that doing so is the proper, respectful thing. It’s not either. It’s cowardice.” Where are the public officials who are willing to take the hit, put the platitudes and promises aside and follow through with new, more restrictive legislation?

As a Christian, I am praying and will continue to pray for the families who have lost loved ones. But I will also act in other ways (even if they seem infinitely small), and I encourage you to do so as well. The time to talk about gun control and our culture of violence is now. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to call your elected officials, congresspersons, representatives. Now is the time to protest, to petition (or here), to speak out against our lax gun laws, policies, and protocols that make it so easy to obtain weapons completely unnecessary for civilian life. How many more lives must be lost before we enact change? How many children must perish? How many parents must pick up the pieces of their shattered lives after having lost their children? What will it take to change our hearts and minds about the needless, rampant gun violence in our country? Will it taking losing your children or mine? Are not these children and these children and these children our children, our brothers, our sisters? Awaken us, Lord, to Rachel’s weeping; take away our deafness and make us hear her wailing. Then move us to action so that concrete steps might be taken and legislation passed to end or at least drastically reduce this violence.

“Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more”
(Jeremiah 31.15)

 

 

 



[1] This list was taken from a post, which can be accessed here. The gunman’s mother is also said to have been among the victims. However, at present I do not have her information.

 

I recently finished an essay on Augustine and Foucault that brings both thinkers into critical dialogue.  Although in the essay itself I highlight strengths and weaknesses of both Foucault and Augustine, the excerpt below (taken from my concluding section) focuses primarily on how a contemporary Augustinian of a particular sort might benefit from a dialogue with Foucault.[1]

What might a dissatisfied, contemporary Augustinian gain from a conversation with Foucault? First, Foucault’s conception of power relations are immensely valuable to Augustinians with feminist sensibilities and interests in peace and conflict studies as well as, those who desire to expand and develop Augustinian trajectories that might speak to contemporary social justice issues. Embedded in Foucault’s conception of power relations and resistance possibilities is his insight that freedom must be expressed bodily. As many critics of Augustine have pointed out, his position is wrought with dualistic tendencies,[2] which are then appealed to in order to defend a status quo position. For example, Augustine encourages slaves to submit to their masters and women to submit to their husbands even when both master and husband violently abuse them (see, e.g. City of God 19.16.) Such exhortations and calls to obedience are based, among other things, upon commitments to various dualisms. For example, spiritual freedom is touted as superior to bodily freedom just as the spiritual is superior to the material. In addition, the call to accept violent relations (such as slavery and spousal abuse) is often undergirded with an appeal to a future other-worldly justice where all wrongs will be set right.  If the Augustinian were to appropriate Foucault’s insight that freedom in this life must be expressed bodily, she could avoid some of the problematic dualisms that surface in Augustine and at the same time highlight the in-breaking of God’s transformative grace in this life.  That is, just as the redemptive power of the Christ-event irrupted into Augustine’s life, removing his bonds and re-integrating his life, so too can divine grace work through Christians and all people of good will to change unjust social structures and thus to bring healing to exploitative and violent human relationships. Of course, the Augustinian need not adopt false utopian hopes for a perfect society; Foucault had no such pseudo-hope.

Most Augustinians today readily acknowledge that relations of violence such as slavery and domestic violence hinder human flourishing and are incompatible with the Christian call to love and to promote human dignity for all. In light of these contemporary commitments, adopting some variant of Foucault’s critical philosophy of ongoing critique would be a helpful “tool” in reassessing gender relations, stereotypes, and other concepts that we have been conditioned to see as universal and necessary but which are in fact particular, historical, and contingent.

In other words, the Augustinian might engage in a type of “theologico-philosophical interrogation” that problematizes our current understanding of gender relations (or other dominating relations), re-tracing how its own tradition has come to its present position and how its past views were historically conditioned and shaped. Here the tradition asks itself:  How have we—for example, through formulating our own erroneous views (of women or slaves), adopting false views from other traditions, or misapplying our own principles—created a trajectory in the tradition that has diminished biblical emancipatory insights or worse has offered spiritualized interpretations of relations of violence that encourage their continuance rather than challenge their existence? For example, given our present understanding of slavery as intrinsically unjust and our rejection of women as rationally or morally inferior to men, what might a re-reading of St. Paul’s—“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”[3] and Genesis 1:26 look like? A Foucauldian-inspired genealogical study of power relations and relations of violence between husbands and wives and masters and slaves yield significant analytical and socio-political insights. Employing Foucault’s critical philosophy, what we find, for example, are alleged universal, “natural,” and necessary concepts of women and what it is to be a woman or a wife (e.g., receptive, passive, docile, submissive, morally or intellectually inferior—interestingly, these are more or less the same concepts regularly used to describe the “essence” of a slave) are in fact particular, contingent, and socially constructed concepts.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, for Foucault, there is no outside to power relations; however, given his understanding of the correlativity of power and resistance, neither is there an outside to resistance. In other words, resistance possibilities always exist so long as genuine power relations obtain. Given the contingent, historical character of power configurations and the ever-present possibility of resistance, change over time is possible.  Thus, there is room for hope and a cautious, but in no way naïve, optimism. Rather, as Foucault himself explains, “[t]here’s an optimism that consists in saying that things couldn’t be better. My optimism would consist rather in saying that so many things can be changed, fragile as they are, bound up more with circumstances than necessities.”[4]

Analogous to Foucault’s claim regarding the ubiquity of power, for Augustine there is no outside to sin. But as Augustine’s own story testifies, God’s grace is also operative in this world. Just as divine grace transformed Augustine, healing him and bringing him into intimate union with God, so too can God’s grace transform individuals and groups today, working through and with them to change institutional structures, legislation, cultural practices, and political and religious narratives so that they might better respect human dignity and foster human flourishing. Eschatological perfection is not the goal for this world; however, a communal striving with all people of goodwill to bring into being proleptic glimpses of the world to come is completely consonant with Christian hope.

Notes

[1] The arguments for my conclusions are given in the full essay; however, the complete essay is far too long for a blog post.

[2] Augustine does, of course, proclaim the goodness of creation, employing both philosophical (e.g. goodness and being are coextensive) and theological arguments (e.g., creation comes from God and thus must be good). Nonetheless, dualistic tendencies remain.

[3] Gal 3:28; New Revised Standard Version.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.

[4] Foucault, “Practicing Criticism,” 156.

 

Like a voice crying out in the wilderness, Frederick Douglass speaks both eloquently and powerfully to the brutality and injustice of chattel slavery. For example, in his 1852 oration, “The Internal Slave Trade,” Douglass offers his own analysis and stringent condemnation of America’s participation in the trafficking of human beings for economic gain. He begins by drawing our attention to “the practical operation” of America’s slave industry, an industry “sustained by American politics and American religion! Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market.”[1] Driven around the country like mere animals, these men, women, and children are beaten, prod, and whipped, as they process in dirge-like fashion toward the New Orleans slave market. Douglass then zeros in on a few of these infelicitous, iron-clad souls—an elderly, gray headed man, a young mother with sun-scorched back and teary eyes carrying her infant child, a teen-aged girl mourning the violent separation from her mother. Tired and exhausted from hours of exposure to the blistering sun, the young mother begins to lag behind. Then you hear it—“a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream that seems to have torn its way to the center of your soul.”[2] What was this awful sound, followed by a high-pitched, piercing scream? The sound was a whip striking the young mother’s bare shoulder; the scream needs no explanation. As the slave traders drive this human herd to the auction block, where the males will be “examined like horses” and the women ”exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers,” Douglass implores us not to forget “the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude.”[3]

This is simply one among many scenes depicting the hardships African American slaves endured on a daily basis as a result of the institution of chattel slavery. Enslaved by the love of money, the master’s vision becomes distorted. Not only does he see human beings as things, but the sounds of suffering fail to reach his muted ears. Deafened to the wailing of mothers torn from their children and children torn from their mothers, he transposes the dissonance of clanking chains into golden keys, which like the dual cut of a double-edged sword open the door to his future and secure the bonds of his brother.

To add to their humiliation and degraded status as mere property of the white man, slaves were subjected to public auctions where they were ordered to stand, often naked or nearly so, allowing the potential buyers to examine their bodies to ensure their suitability for long-term servitude. If a slave’s body showed signs of illness, disease, or possible weaknesses, they were passed over as bad investments, unprofitable for the master’s business. Scar tissue on a slave’s back—the number of scars, whether a scar was old or relatively fresh—became the subject of a mythology employed to determine a slave’s character. Too many scars indicated a rebellious spirit, whereas having few scars meant the slave possessed a docile, obedient spirit. “As they worked their way from inflicted scars to essential character, buyers fixed slaves in a typology of character according to the frequency, intensity, and chronology of the whipping apparent on their backs.”[4] While the slaves stood humiliated, exposed and wondering what kind of master might purchase them on that particular day, the slave buyers paraded themselves before the crowds as augurs who “could read slaves’ backs as encodings of their histories.”[5] The slave’s face, however, with its expressive capacities spanning the spectrum of human emotions—from compassion to agony, ecstasy to alarm—the face as the display case crafted to exhibit the eyes is of no interest to the slave buyers. Provided that it is free of work-hindering defects, the slave’s face is utterly insignificant to the purchase. “It was the instrumental value of these bodies that mattered to the buyer, their size and shape, the color and the ages, the comparability of parts and durability of attributes—not the faces.”[6]


[1] Douglass, “The Internal Slave Trade,” 436.

[2] Ibid., 437.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Johnson, Soul by Soul, 145.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 142–3.