Weekend Reading

Let’s start with pieces – new and old – on Band Aid and “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”

Now back to your regularly scheduled reading:

California is in many ways emblematic of our current moment of U.S. empire. Our stage of late liberalism allows California to proclaim itself both the most “progressive” state while simultaneously producing among the most brutal carceral practices. We can look to California and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) as a cautionary tale of how even well-meaning prison reform almost always produces more violence, rather than stopping it.

To understand how “progressive California” became the way we talk about the operators of one of the largest prison systems in the world, we could look to the recent Proposition 47, the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” for an example. It is championed by many state prison-­reform groups because it claims it will help pull some people out of prisons and jails through resentencing of what the legislation calls “nonserious nonviolent” inmates.

And it might! At first glance, this seems like something that all of us fighting against the prison-industrial complex (PIC) could support. We know that decarceration is one strategy in the long vision that is abolition. However, written into the proposition is a provision that would mandate all the “savings” from releasing people be placed into a fund that would increase police presence in schools and mandate harsher truancy discipline. What looks like a victory in our struggle would actually build up rather than dismantle the PIC.

Protests and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations.

White rage recurs in American history. It exploded after the Civil War, erupted again to undermine the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and took on its latest incarnation with Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House. For every action of African American advancement, there’s a reaction, a backlash.


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