Weekend Reading

You can read these links anywhere and everywhere.

In a wealthier Michigan county, kids convicted of minor offenses are almost always sentenced to community service, like helping out at the local science center. Doug Mullkoff, a criminal defense attorney in Ann Arbor, told me that prison in such circumstances is “virtually unheard of.” But Jamie is from Detroit, and in January 2012, she was sent to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, a prison that holds inmates convicted of crimes like first-degree homicide. From this point onward, her world was largely governed by codes and practices and assumptions designed for adult criminals.

Jamie is 20 now, but her soft brown eyes make her seem younger. When she first came to prison, women old enough to be her mother told her she was cute and promised to take care of her. “They rub on you and stuff, I can’t stand it,” she said. In the seven months before her 18th birthday, prison records show that Jamie was housed with at least three adult cellmates, including one in her 50s who had a history of cocaine possession. Jamie said she was also around adults in the showers and the yard. She had a bunkmate who did drugs she had never been around before, “something you snort.”

In this environment, Jamie found it hard to stay out of trouble. And when trouble came, she didn’t know how to explain herself to the guards. According to Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), Jamie “failed in every instance” to meet good-behavior standards that under Michigan law allow certain inmates to have their records scrubbed clean after they serve their sentences. In June 2012, Jamie’s special status was revoked and she was resentenced to up to five years in prison for her original crime.

Chilean capitalists were—then as now—gifted at spotting and exploiting opportunities. Many found that setting up shops in San Francisco was more profitable than searching for gold. Some of the richer Chileans who came to California brought theirpeones with them—dependent workers who claimed sites in their own names but worked them for their patrón (often for very little pay). That didn’t sit well with some American prospectors, nor did the fact that foreigners had claimed some of the best sites.

In December 1849, a group of Iowans decided to target and expel foreigners from sites they wanted to work. Intimidation tactics worked in some cases, but Chilean miners proved generally hard to intimidate. The Iowans claimed that the Chilean “peons” were slaves in a free state, and got a Judge Collier to issue an eviction order: The Chileans had eight days to vacate the site or be forcibly evicted. The Chilenos coolly informed the Iowans that they had never voted for Judge Collier and therefore didn’t recognize his authority. And what started out as a conflict in the mines of the Wild West devolved (or escalated) into a battle over paperwork: Finding a judge of their own, the Chileans asked him to issue a warrant for the Americans’ arrest, petitioned for authorization to personally make the arrests, and obtained it. They invaded the American camp, and managed to legally take more than a dozen extremely surprised Americans prisoner.

Africans existed in many different conditions in the colonies. Some Africans were free; there are even instances of Africans bringing lawsuits against Europeans — then called “Christians” — and winning. There are records of Africans adopting Christian babies. It’s only later that language changes from “free” and “slave” (or “African” and “Christian”) to “white” and “black.” Africans were available for enslavement in ways that other people were not.

For the first time in human history, the color of one’s skin had a political significance. It never had a political significance before. Now there was a reason to assign a political significance to dark skin — it’s an ingenious way to brand someone as a slave. It’s a brand that they can never wash off, that they can never erase, that they can never run away from. There’s no way out. That’s the ingeniousness of using skin color as a mark of degradation, as a mark of slavery.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s