Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Racism, Rodeos, and the Misery Industries of Louisiana

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Racism, Rodeos, and the Misery Industries of Louisiana

Article excerpt

Racism is a multilevel and multidimensional system whereby minority groups are oppressed and scapegoated by the dominant group (Horton, 2002). Claims that America has become a post-racial society notwithstanding, manifestations of racism are all around us, especially in the state of Louisiana. Louisiana is home to some of the poorest, and the least educated citizens in the nation. The state is also the site of one of the country's most notorious prisons: Angola. Angola is a majority black prison where the inmate 'rodeo' provides annual entertainment for largely white audiences and hundreds of thousands of dollars to supplement the inmate welfare fund and matriculation in a local seminary. White racial frame is a useful paradigm for understanding the linkages between mass incarceration, the exploitation of the Black body, the miseducation of Black youth, as well as the persistent racial economic inequality in Louisiana and in US society as a whole. We extend the idea of white racial frame further to introduce a concept we call "bridges to benefits". Bridges to benefits are networks of white privilege, which flow between institutions, such as education, the economy, and the law, which involve capitalizing on the misery of Blacks while simultaneously protecting white supremacy.

Crime and the Post-Racial Myth

The Civil Rights Movement represented a commitment on the part of individuals and organizations to American ideals of democracy, equality, justice, and fairness, and prosperity. Men and women, boys and girls, fought against seemingly insurmountable odds to ensure Americans had equal access to education, housing, voting, and areas of public accommodation. Signature pieces of legislation passed during the era included the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. An increase in the Black middle-class and the increased concentration of poor Blacks led many to declare an end to the Jim Crow era (Wilson, 1978). Yet, overt manifestations of racism were soon replaced with more covert tactics, and the law remained a powerful tool used by the dominant group to control large segments of the Black population.

Alexander (2012) highlights the impact of the "War on Drugs" on the mass incarceration of young Black males in The New Jim Crow. Drug policies and other law enforcement tactics serve much of the same function as race-specific policies and codes during the enslavement era, argues Alexander. There are, currently, an increasing number of Black men who are apprehended, prosecuted, sentenced and punished by the criminal justice system today than several decades ago. The incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Americans since the 1970s-a disproportionate number of whom are Black or Brown-provides some of the best evidence of the continuing significance of race, thus debunking the myth that we are living in a post-racial society.1

The perception that we are living in a post-racial society has contributed to a host of factors, including a fear of crime that is articulated not in racialized terms, but is rooted in the negative stereotyping of people of color as deviant. The perception that we are living in a post racial society has also contributed to blaming the victim (Martin, 2013). If race no longer matters, then the experiences people of color face with crime in their communities is due to individual shortcomings and not to structural factors or a racialized social system which privileges members of the dominant racial group and disadvantages members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Despite experience that runs counter to embracing wholly the rhetoric of post-raciality, the dominance of American notions of equality and individualism framing understandings of crime and justice seem to effectively remove racial and structural analyses from view.

We recently interviewed residents in a predominately Black community in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The zip code where the interviews took place has some of the highest rates of homicides and violent crimes in the City of Baton Rouge and in the State of Louisiana. …

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