Entertainment Industry and other works

by Ellen Gillingham

Carceral Masculinity

            The prison system is a structuring mechanism of racial control in society.  “Carceral masculinity” is masculinities that are informed by relation to prison.  The prison is infused into black popular consciousness and culture.  Because movement defines a productive citizen because it leads to productivity, prison is able to make the “carceral masculinity” construct because imprisonment disproportionately closes that frontier.  This restriction disallows black men to fit the criteria of a successful citizen, so they become aliens.  Thus, they are not granted equal rights.  Repeated imprisonment situates men of color outside of the state.  They are given a certain set of scripts.  I would argue that this encourages scripts comparable to Jim Crow.  The drastic rise in number of prisons and people incarcerated, in Urban America, is an indication of suppression of blacks.  Conditioning environments lead way to the policing of black people at disproportionate rates, they have to accept this reality.  Prisonlike spaces prisonalize them with a scripted masculinity from systemic forces.  Carceral masculinity is inscripted in the minds and bodies of black men.

In terms of mobility, the foundation lies in the politics of respectability.  This contributes to the reproductive nature of the carceral state.  People are scared to associate with “criminals.”  This makes the fight for real justice a difficult struggle.  It is difficult to say whether this country can address all of these problems.  No one wants to tie their reputation and risk losing their status as good citizens.  The NAACP provides an example of this because they are committed to creating a sanitized image of the black man.  They present the ideal script by getting rid of imperfections and there is no room for messing up.  This sanitized image is dehumanized, but created for everyone to follow.  The political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and Marc Lamont Hill wrote The Classroom and the Cell, which reinforces how these feelings lead to the “endorsement of policies that further alienate and humiliate the Black poor” (Abu-Jamal and Hill 81).  This leaves no one to defend the poor.  They also underline how race relates to the uprising and the basic desire of the prisoners to be recognized as men.  Hill speaks to the naturalization of incarceration, as he never realized that prison was completely unavoidable. Growing up “if he didn’t see people for a while, [he] assumed they were locked up” creating a mental mindset that instituted prison and incarceration as a way of black life (Abu-Jamal and Hill 79).  Prison was a regular part of life.  As Abu-Jamal and Hill come together, they arrange the symbolic value of how many prisons have become a part of the lives of the working class black community.  It had become something that he expected to happen sometime in his life, as if it was a part of life to go to prison.

The play Brother Size continues Abu-Jamal and Hill’s ideas about the “commonsense” of incarceration by depicting police interrogation.  The police character is suspicious of Oshoosi and his friend because they are outside of where they belong.  This leads to their search and seizure.  Another scene shows that the carceral state is about preceding imprisonment as a productive and generative condition, as well.  Oshoosi and Ogun finish each other’s sentences while they talk about the sheriff (McCraney).  This shows the audience that there is a reproductive rhythm to policing.  Both men are aware of the procedures because it is a perpetual custom.  Additionally, Ogun feels that he has a life sentence to protect his brother from the incarceral state.  Carceral masculinity becomes part of Ogun’s identity in a negative way because his awareness of the prison system organizes how he lives.  The play offers an opportunity to think about the carceral state as a problematic and destructive condition.  Ogun is symbolic of personalities in the black community who are scared to show resistance against the state.  The fact that prison can be so normalized in their minds represents how powerful the state ideology has been.

In fact, the carceral system is even present and standardized in education.  The punish-and-reward system in elementary schools teaches children how to deal with authority.  Young black men are punished in school systems, so the prison system has an impact on black men’s lives from a young age.  James Baldwin speaks to this in his essay “My Dungeon Shook.”  He communicates how black manhood gets fixed in collaboration with white supremacy in systemic forces and institutions.  This creates constructs for black people because the system still enslaves them.  Civilization “intended that you should perish” (Baldwin 7).  In terms of the carceral state, Baldwin references the idea of being “a worthless human being” (Baldwin 7).  Prisoners are marked and dangerous and locked in cages.  In essence, they are treated as the epitome of worthlessness.  His thoughts reveal that identity is formed as a response to civilization.  What you see in civilization forms what it means to be black.  When you try to stand up, you unknowingly attack the entire power structure of civilization.

America has an unofficial “caste” system that is not in favor of minority races in society.  The carceral system is a way of disenfranchising black people.  This is a racial caste system like slavery, it is something that you cannot work or behave your way out of.  The old Jim Crow is a system of rules, laws, operations, and practices that operated to lock African-Americans into a permanent second-class status.  It authorizes legal discrimination against them.  In Urban America, they are incarcerated at a grossly disproportionate rate.  The War on Drugs has caused the incarceration rates to quadruple since it started in the 80’s (Alexander).  Somehow, the crime rate has dropped, yet incarceration has risen steeply since prisons were being built to be private institutions rather than punishment.  With prisons near positions of overcrowding, and a majority of those inmates being African Americans with nonviolent crimes, incarceration has become a new way of racism, giving birth to new prisons being built to hold inmates.  Arrests give people criminal records for life that will authorize legal discrimination against them in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits.  Alexander feels that in Urban America, the majority of young black men are warehoused in prisons or given criminal records permanently that trap them in a second-class status.  All people should be treated fairly with dignity and respect.  By unfairly creating a lack of opportunity for minority groups, individuals are unable to deviate properly from the “caste system,” which tries to maintain the racial group.

“Carceral masculinity” and its enormous presence in Urban America result from systemic inequalities.  The repetition of these inequalities by civilization ingrains problematic feelings in people’s mines.  In addition, the carceral state becomes normative throughout lives starting at a young age.  Then imprisonment affects people long after their release trapping them in a second-class status.  In many ways, the prison system is infused into black popular consciousness and culture to the extent that it informs part of their identity.


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This entry was posted on September 17, 2014 by in Reading Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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