Wacquant - From Slavery to Mass Incarceration - Critique and Reflection

1395 Words Mar 7th, 2014 6 Pages
From Slavery to Mass Incarceration: Necessary Extremes

Of the supplementary readings provided, I found “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration” by Loïc Wacquant the most intriguing. This particular article is based on “rethinking the ‘race question’ in the US” and the disproportionate institutions set apart for African Americans in the United States. The volatile beginnings of African Americans presented obvious hardships for future advancement, but Wacquant argues that they still suffer from a form of modern slavery. Wacquant introduces four “peculiar institutions” that are responsible for the “control” of African Americans throughout United States history: chattel slavery, the Jim Crow system, the ghetto, and arguably the dark ghetto
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The mass incarceration of African Americans in response to crime demographics is almost unconstitutional, according to Wacquant.
The institution of penal labor has been addressed by Wacquant as a form of modern African American slavery. The overwhelmingly black prison population being leased for hard labor with little or no profit to the incarcerated is not a new epidemic. Chain gangs and early “convict leasing” after the abolition of slavery benefited the Southern economy after the loss of free labor (Wacquant 2002:53). This practice has continued in both public and private prisons with little pay or “slave wages” being paid to the incarcerated individuals. Wacqaunt calls this a new form of “racial domination” (2002:53), as it was in the late nineteenth century, but today, race is not the motive for penal labor; overwhelming profit is.
The modern prison institution is indeed overgrown and disproportionately occupied by African Americans, but Wacquant’s argument that “[i]t is not only the pre-eminent institution for signifying and enforcing blackness, much as slavery was during the first three centuries of US history” (2002:57) is going slightly overboard. It implies that prisons were made to contain African Americans and to deny them of their civil liberties, such as cultural capital, public aid and political participation (Wacquant 2002:58). The implication that African Americans are the only members of the “’underclass’ of

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