Race and the rise of neoliberal penality


Loïc Wacquant


Polity Press, 2004




Preface by Zygmunt Bauman


Foreword: On the paradoxes of Neoliberal Penality


1.- Ethnographic Prelude: Welcome to Men’s Central Jail


2.- From Slavery to Mass Incarceration

Reframing Black Hyperincarceration

Four “Peculiar Institutions”

The Kinship of Ghetto and Prison


3.- When Ghetto and Prison Meet and Mesh

How the Ghetto Became More Like a Prison

How the Prison Became More Like a Ghetto

Structural Fusion and Cultural Diffusion


4.- How the Prison is Remaking “Race” and Citizenship

The Resurgent Dangerousness of Blackness

Civiliter mortuus: The Triple Exclusion of Convicts

Race as Civic Felony


5.- Penal Fantasy Meets Carceral Reality: Four Strategies to Curb Carceral Costs

Correctional Cost-Cutting

Correctional Cost-Shifting

The Morality of Carceral Efficiency


6.- “Enemies of the Wholesome Part of the Nation”: Postcolonial Migrants in the Prisons of Europe

Sizing up Ethnonational Disproportionality

Selective Targeting and Preferential Confinement

The Penal Management of Foreign Intrusion and Extrusion

Penalization, Depoliticization, Racialization


7- A Dictatorship over the Poor? On the Penalization of Urban Marginality in Brazil

            Vertiginous Inequality and the Color of Violence

            Carceral Calamity and the Punitive Impasse

            Toward the Militarization of Urban Cleaveages








Three brute facts stare the sociologist of racial inequality and incarceration in America in the face as the new millennium dawns. First, in 1989 for the first time in national history, African Americans (who comprise 6% of the country’s population) made up a majority of men walking in through prison gates, marking an epochal transformation in the recruitment of inmates. In four short decades the ethnic composition of the U.S carceral stock reversed, turning over from 70% white at the mid-century point to nearly 70% black and Latino today, although the ethnic distribution of criminal activity did not change change fundamentally during that period.[1] Indeed, if the racial makeup of the population behind bars reflected the relative incidence of criminal apprehension, the jails and prisons of the United States would have “whitened” steadily over the past quarter-century since the ratio of black to white arrest rates has declined over time for all major offenses. Thus in 1970 blacks were 12 times more likely than whites to be arrested for murder, 15 times more likely for robbery, and 7 times more likely for aggravated assaults, as compared to 8.5 times, 11.3 times and 4.4 times respectively in 1990. This ratio has similarly dropped for property crimes such as burglary (from 4.1 to 3.0) and theft (from 3.7 to 3.1).[2]

Second, the rate of incarceration for African Americans has soared to astronomical levels unknown in any other society, even the Soviet Union at the zenith of the Gulag or South Africa at the acme of the violent struggles over apartheid. As of mid-1999, close to 800,000 black men were in custody in county jails, state prisons and federal penitentiaries, a figure corresponding to one male out of every twenty-one (4.6%) and one out of every nine ages 20 to 34 (11.3%). An additional 68,000 black women were locked up, a number higher than the total carceral population of all but two Western European countries (Germany and England).[3] Several studies, starting with a series of well-publicized reports by the Sentencing Project and the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, have documented that, on any given day, upwards of one third of African-American men in their twenties find themselves behind bars, on probation, or on parole.[4] And, in the segregated core of the formerly industrial cities of the North, this proportion often exceeds two thirds.

A third trend interpellates the social analyst of race, state, and punishment in the United States: the past two decades have witnessed a swift and steady deepening of the gap between the imprisonment rates of blacks and whites (from about 1 for 5 to 1 for 8.5), and this rising “racial disproportionality” can be traced directly to a single federal policy, namely, the War on Drugs launched by Ronald Reagan and expanded by the administrations of George Bush and William Jefferson Clinton. That this “war” targeted poor African-American neighborhoods explains the signal exception to the consistent reduction of racial disparities in offending rates: in the late eighties, blacks suddenly became five times more likely as whites to be arrested for drug-related crimes, as compared to twice as likely throughout the previous three decades.[5] In 10 of the 38 states in which this black-white disparity has grown, African Americans are imprisoned at more than ten times the rate of their compatriots of European origin. The political elite of the country is well placed to take note of the phenomenon since the jurisdiction that sports the highest racial gap in the land is none other than the District of Columbia, where blacks were 35 times more likely than whites to be put behind bars in 1994.[6] Moreover, these figures significantly underestimate the widening of the white-black incarceration gap since the category “whites” comprises a large and growing number of Latinos as the latter’s share of the total inmate population rises over time, and the more so in the states that have led the march to mass confinement such as Texas, California, and Florida.




These grim statistics are well known and agreed upon among students of crime and justice in the United States, though they have been steadfastly ignored or minimized by analysts of urban marginality and social policy, who have never properly registered the full disruptive impact that imprisonment has had on low-income black communities—indeed the pivotal role that the penal wing of the state has assumed in regulating race and poverty in the aftermath of the Civil Rights revolution.[7] What remains in dispute are the causes and mechanisms driving this sudden “blackening” that has turned the carceral system into one of a few national institutions dominated by African Americans, alongside professional sports and selected sectors of the entertainment industry. Most analysts have focused on trends in crime and endeavored to decompose the source of black overrepresentation in prison by sorting and sifting through patterns of criminality, bias in arrest, prosecution, and sentencing, and the impact of prior criminal records.[8] Others have expanded their compass to measure the influence of such non-judicial variables as the size of the black population, the poverty rate, unemployment, inflation, income, value of welfare payments, region, support for religious fundamentalism, and political party in office, as well as the changing social organization and urban ecology of black neighborhoods.[9] More general approaches to mass imprisonment have called attention to the rising fear of crime, the lubricative role of moralism, and the growing distrust of government in the American political field in recent years, presuming that more punitive policies tend as a matter of course to fasten onto blacks owing to their cultural status as scapegoats or their lower class composition.[10] But none of these factors, taken separately or jointly, accounts for the sheer magnitude, rapidity, and timing of the recent racialization of U.S. incarceration, especially as crime rates have been flat and later declining over that period. For this, it is necessary, first, to take a longer historical view and, second, to break out of the narrow “crime-and-punishment” paradigm to reckon the extra-penological role of the penal system as instrument for the management of dispossessed and dishonored groups.

In advocating this perspective, I merely return to the initial mission of prisons in the eighteenth century, which, as Peter Spierenburg reminds us, “did not start out as criminal punishment but as disciplinary institutions meant to deal with problems of poverty and marginality.”[11] And I heed the exhortation of Georg Rusche and Otto Kirschheimer in their classic tome Punishment and Social Structure when they write: “The bond, transparent or not, that is supposed to exist between crime and punishment... must be broken. Punishment is neither a simple consequence of crime, nor the reverse side of crime, nor a mere means which is determined by the end to be achieved. Punishment must be understood as a social phenomenon freed from both its juristic concept and its social ends,”[12] that is, its official mission of crime control, so that it may be replaced in the complete system of strategies, including social policies (broadly construed as encompassing not only welfare but also health, education, and housing), aimed at regulating the derelict, the disreputable, and the dangerous.

Yet decoupling crime and punishment is necessary but not sufficient if one proceeds then to bind penal institutions and practices tightly to a single institutional block, be it market, state, or community, as Marxist, neo-Weberian, and Durkheimian theories are wont to do, or to portray them as the offshoot of an all-encompassing and self-propelled disciplinary power as with Foucault and his followers. One must likewise avoid reducing penal policies either to an instrumental logic of domination and interest or to an expressive logic of communication and identity, for these dynamics typically work most effectively in tandem. To fully grasp the functional flexibility and structural versatility of the prison, its capacity to articulate dynamically with a range of social relations and purposes, it is thus indispensable to effect a second rupture, this time with the narrow materialism and reductionist classism of Rusche and Kirschheimer for which “every system of production tends to discover punishments which correspond to its productive relationships.”[13] In particular, I submit that we should not follow them when they


(i) postulate a direct link between brute economic forces and penal policy: such one-to-one correspondence negates the historical process of structural differentiation, bureaucratization, and professionalization that has given the institutions officially entrusted with the management of crime, deviance, and (dis)order a degree of autonomy, i.e., the constitution of a well-demarcated and formally insulated penal field inside the bureaucratic state endowed with its own categories of understanding and criteria of operation and therefore capable, to an extent, of refracting external demands according to its own structure and logic.[14] It is especially important to recognize this relative autonomy and its prismatic effects even as it is being curtailed, as occurred in the United States after the mid-seventies and in Western Europe in the late nineties.


(ii) limit economic forces to the sole state of the labor market, and still less to the gross supply of labor: the capitalist transformation of the past three decades has entailed not simple quantitative fluctuations in the workforce (as indicated by the stepwise rise of long-term joblessness and part-time employment) but the conjoint hypermobility of capital, polarization of the occupational structure, and bureaucratic loosening of wide segments of the job market. In the era of ascending neoliberalism, the most distinctive change for those located in the lower regions of social space has been not the “relative scarcity of labor supply,” as Rusche and Kirschheimer argued about the mercantilist age,[15] but the normalization of desocialized wage labor, a qualitative mutation of the employment relationship that translates into concurrent and sometimes conflicting processes of deproletarianization, casualization, and informalization. So the task faced by the penal apparatus in the neoliberal era has been not only to instill work discipline and to “make the labor power of the unwilling people socially useful,”[16] but also to sweep and store away those rendered marginal and supernumerary by economic changes.


(iii) restrict the control function of the prison to the lower classes, as distinct from other subordinate categories, ethnic, national or (post)colonial in particular: it is fact that “the criminal law and the daily work of the criminal courts are directed almost exclusively against those people whose class background, poverty, neglected education, or demoralization drove them to crime,”[17] or otherwise led them to engage in provoking public behavior liable to attract police attention and to trigger apprehension and arraignment. Close-up study at ground level converges with correctional statistics to confirm that the mass of people processed through jails in the United States are nearly exclusively of lower class provenance, “detached and disreputable persons who are arrested more because they are offensive than because they have committed crimes,” and because they lack the economic and status resources to avoid getting caught in the penal dragnet and escape short-term detention. Likewise, inmates throughout Western Europe are overwhelmingly drawn from the deskilled and precarious fractions of the working class.[18] But this does not mean that the penal apparatus cannot be trained also on stigmatized and marginalized groups based on social principles of vision and division other than class. Nor that it cannot be directed on those same categories for reasons unrelated to their actual propensity towards criminal offending. Indeed, Rusche and Kirschheimer suggest this much in their cursory notations on the injection, in German penal policy after the fall of the Weimar Republic, of “elements of a biological race-and-predestination doctrine” fostering the targetting of specific ethnic categories deemed injurious to völkische wellbeing.[19]


(iv) omit the powerful symbolic mechanisms that feed the penal system “upstream,” by directing state responses toward certain undesirable social conditions, conducts, and categories, and the ramifying symbolic effects it exercises “downstream” by drawing, dramatizing, and defending group boundaries, through the labels, images, and discourses it disseminates and the wide-ranging classificatory activity it anchors (e.g., as when an employer routinely checks the criminal background of a job applicant and decides against hiring based on a penal mark). Indeed, in the case of black Americans, both the symbolic causes and the symbolic functions of the expansion of the penal system turn out to be paramount, namely, to draw a demarcation of dishonor that overlays racial rejection with legal and moral censure, thereby legitimating the continued social seclusion of a group regarded as vile and menacing. We shall see in chapter 6 that the same is true of the penal containment of postcolonial immigrants in the European Union at the turn of the century; and in chapter 7 that a similar dynamic is at work in the penal encirclement of the favelas of the Brazilian metropolis.


To sum up, Rusche and Kirschheimer were right to assert that “specific concrete interests” and “not abstract feelings of justice” propell the historical trajectory of the penal state and determine the extant deployment of its sanctions at every epoch.[20] Only, that proposition applies to ideal interests rooted in manifold social divisions no less than to material interests rooted solely in class cleavage, chief among them the enforcement of ethnoracial or ethnonational borders geared towards the preservation of group honor and a sense of social superiority that is an essential part of the hard-core reality of social structures of inequality.[21]

In this and the next chapter, I implement these analytic principles to put forth two interconnected theses, the first historical, placing the carceral institution back in the full arc of ethnoracial division and domination in the United States, the second institutional, explaining the astounding upsurge in black incarceration in the past three decades as a result of the obsolescence of the ghetto as a device for caste control and the correlative systemic need for a substitute apparatus for keeping (unskilled and unwanted) African Americans “in their place,” i.e., in a subordinate and confined position in physical, social, and symbolic space. I further argue that, in the post-Civil Rights era, the remnants of the dark ghetto and the fast-expanding carceral system of the United States have become tightly linked by a triple relationship of functional equivalency, structural homology, and cultural fusion. This relationship has spawned a carceral continuum that ensnares a supernumerary population of younger black men, who either reject or are rejected by the deregulated low-wage labor market, in a never-ending circulus between these two institutions of forced confinement. This carceral mesh has been solidified by two sets of concurrent and interrelated changes: on the one end, sweeping economic and political forces have reshaped the structure and function of the urban “Black Belt” of mid-century to make the ghetto more like a prison. On the other end, the “inmate society” that inhabited the penitentiary system of the United States during the postwar decades has broken down in ways that make the prison more like a ghetto. The resulting symbiosis between ghetto and prison not only enforces and perpetuates the socioeconomic marginality and symbolic taint of the urban black (sub)proletariat, feeding the runaway growth of the penal system that has become a major component of the post-Keynesian state. It also plays a pivotal role in the remaking of “race” and the redefinition of the citizenry via the production of a racialized public culture of vilification of criminals.

A fuller analysis, extending beyond the black ghetto, would reveal that the increasing use of incarceration to shore up caste division in American society partakes of a broader “upsizing” of the penal sector of the state which, together with the drastic “downsizing” of its social welfare sector, aims at imposing desocialized wage labor as a norm of citizenship for the deskilled fractions of the postindustrial working class.[22] This emerging government of social insecurity wedding the “invisible hand” of the deregulated labor market to the “iron fist” of an intrusive and omnipresent punitive apparatus is anchored, not by a “prison industrial complex,” as political opponents of America’s policy of mass confinement maintain,[23] but, if one had to coin a distinctive term, by a carceral-assistential complex applying the same supervisory mode of management and punitive techniques across domains of state action. This novel institutional compound is the product not of the naked search for profit via prisons, whether through the absorption of surplus capital in carceral building, the alleged “enslavement” of prison labor (which, we shall see in chapter 5, remains so small as to be nearly undetectable), and the large private proceeds derived from the administration of public punishment (commercial profiteering mars the provision of all social goods in the United States, whether it be health, education, housing, “homeland security,” or national defense). Rather, it is the spawn of a distinctively political dynamic of state (re)making that applies to both the social and the penal poles of the bureaucratic field and couples them in novel ways. And it carries out its mission to surveil, train, and neutralize the populations recalcitrant or superfluous to the new economic and ethnoracial regime according to a gendered division of labor, the men being handled primarily by its penal wing while (their) women and children are mainly managed by a revamped welfare-workfare system designed to buttress casual employment. It is this masculinizing shift from the social to the penal treatment of poverty and its correlates at the bottom of America’s class and caste structure, subsequent to the denunciation of the Fordist-Keynesian social contract, that has brought the prison back to the societal center, counter to the optimistic forecasts of its impending demise by observers of the criminal justice scene in the early 1970s.

To recognize that the hypertrophic growth of the penal institution is one component of a more comprehensive restructuring of the American state to suit the requirements of neoliberalism is not to negate or even minimize the special office of race in its advent. If the prison offered itself as a viable vehicle for resolving the “black question” after the crisis of the ghetto—that is, for reformulating it in a way that both invisibilizes it and reactives it under new and politically fertile disguises: crime, “welfare dependency,” and the jobless “underclass”—, it is surely because America is the one society that has pushed the market logic of commodification of social relations and state devolution the furthest.[24] But, conversely, if the United States far outstrips all advanced nations in the international trend towards the penalization of social insecurity, it is because, just as the dismantling of welfare programs was accelerated by the conflation of blackness and undeservingness in national culture and politics,[25] the “great confinement” of the rejects of market society, the poor, the mentally ill, the homeless, the jobless and the useless, can be painted as a welcome “crackdown” on them, those dark-skinned criminals issued from a pariah group still considered alien to the national body. Thus, just as the color line inherited from the era of Southern slavery directly determined the misshapen figure of America’s “semi-welfare state” in the formative period of the New Deal and the ghetto uprisings rocking the metropolis arrested its expansion after the sixties,[26] the handling of the “underclass” question by the prison system at the close of the twentieth century is key to fashioning the visage of the emerging post-Keynesian state in the twenty-first.




To ascertain the pivotal position that the penal apparatus has come to assume within the system of instruments of (re)production of ethnoracial hierarchy in the post-Civil Rights era, it is indispensable to adopt an historical perspective of the longue durée so as to situate the prison in the full lineage of institutions which, at each epoch, have carried out the work of race-making by drawing and enforcing the peculiar “color line” that cleaves American society asunder.

Two distinctive features of America’s racial exceptionalism must be noted here by way of prolegomenon. First, the United States is the only nation in the world to define as “black” all persons with any recognized or traceable African ancestry, creating a rigid black/white division between two mutually exclusive communities of descent. In all other comparable societies born of the combination of colonial migration and African slavery, such as Brazil, the islands of the Caribbean, and South Africa, racial classification admits of intermediate categories and allows a modicum of mobility, within and across generations, along a color continuum defined primarily by phenotype.[27] For example, under apartheid, pursuant to the Population Registration Act of 1950, South Africans were divided into three officially defined “races,” whites, blacks or Bantus, and Colored, with the latter split among five subgroups, Cape Malay, Griqua, Indian, Chinese, and Cape Coloured. Allocation across categories was based not on blood ties but on physical appearance and social acceptability, with curliness of hair, skin color, and linguistic ability the deciding factors. The result is that siblings could belong to different racial categories and that individuals could engage a bureaucratic procedure to be reclassified up in a triadic racial schema (about a thousand did so every year in the 1980s), two things that the dichotomous American system based on ancestry forbids.[28] Second, within the United States, the “one-drop rule” and the principle of hypodescent whereby the offspring of any mixed couple are automatically assigned to the inferior category—here blacks, irrespective of their phenotype, upbringing, and other social properties—are applied solely to African Americans, making them the only U.S. ethnic group that cannot merge into white society through intermarriage, unlike persons of Hispanic parentage for instance.

This matchless conception of blackness arose in the American South to anchor the institution of slavery and spread nationwide in support of caste rule after abolition. Its origins can be traced to a 1662 Virginia statute aimed at discouraging “ffornication” between “any Christian” and slaves by consigning the progeny of such unions to bondage, as well as to a 1785 law in the same state defining as Negro any person with one quarter of African blood. By the 1850s, being Negro was decided by a single drop of black blood and the alternative tradition of gradational categorization influenced by the West Indies in South Carolina and the French Catholic heritage in Louisiana had been stamped out as “the dominant white society moved from semiacceptance of free mulattos” to their “outright rejection.”[29] The one-drop rule had quickly generalized throughout the South as a result of growing hostility toward manumission, “passing” by former bondspeople, and the fear of slave insurrection. It hardened after Emancipation when animus against mixing took on the tenor of collective hysteria fueled by the dread of “invisible blackness” (deftly captured in William Faulkner’s novels) and white guilt about the pervasive presence of individuals of hybrid parentage. By the eve of the Great Depression, this racial categorization had achieved ideological and legal hegemony nationwide, as indicated by the elimination of mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons from official enumeration after the 1920 census, even as their numbers kept growing (the Census bureau estimated then that three fourths of Negros were of “mixed blood”). And, in the wake of the collective mobilization of the sixties and the “Black is beautiful” movement, African Americans themselves became fervid defenders of the one-drop rule.[30]

It is key to keep in mind this double peculiarity of the American template of “race” because it is the pivot of a symbolic path dependency that, in combination with other forces, has determined the necessities and (im)possibilities of structural change and functional continuity at every major juncture in the national history of racial domination. Put succinctly, the task of defining, confining, and controlling African Americans in the United States has been successively shouldered not by one but by four “peculiar institutions”: slavery, the Jim Crow system, the urban ghetto, and the novel organizational hybrid formed by the vestiges of the ghetto and the expanding carceral system, as set out in Table 1 below.[31]


Table 1.- The four “peculiar institutions” and their basis


Peculiar institution

Form of labor

Core of economy


Dominant social type


SLAVERY (1619-1865)

unfree fixed labor






JIM CROW (South, 1877-1965)

free fixed labor

agrarian and extractive



GHETTO (North, 1916-1968)

free mobile labor

segmented industrial manufacturing

menial worker



fixed surplus labor

polarized postindustrial services

welfare recipient & criminal


The first three of these institutions, chattel slavery until the Civil War, the Jim Crow regime of caste subordination operative in the agrarian South from the close of Reconstruction to the Civil Rights insurgency that eventually toppled it, and the ghetto in the industrial metropolis of the twentieth-century North, have, each in its own manner, served two joined yet discordant purposes: to recruit, organize, and extract labor out of African Americans; and to demarcate and ultimately seclude them so that they would not “contaminate” the surrounding white society that viewed them as irrevocably subaltern and vile because devoid of ethnic honor. In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court officialized this notion by ruling, in Scott vs. Sandford, that the “African Negro race” did not belong “to the family of nations” as it was composed of “beings of an inferior order” who “had no rights which white men are bound to respect.” On the eve of abolition, which he pursued after 1862 as a means for achieving his military objective of preserving the Union, Abraham Lincoln reaffirmed what would be the dominant view of racial division in the country for another century and more when he asserted that “physical difference between the white and black races… will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”[32]

These two goals of labor extraction and social ostracization of a stigmatized category are in tension with one another inasmuch as to utilize the labor power of a group inevitably entails bringing it into regular intercourse with oneself, which invites the blurring or transgression of the boundary separating “us” from “them.” Conversely, to immure a group in a separate physical and sociosymbolic space makes it more difficult to draw out and deploy its labor in the most efficient way. When the tension between these two purposes, exploitation and ostracization, mounts to the point where it threatens to undermine either of them, its excess is drained and their institutional pairing restabilized by resort to physical violence: the customary use of the lash and ferocious suppression of slave insurrections on the plantation, terroristic vigilantism and mob lynchings in the post-bellum South, and periodic bombings of Negro homes and pogroms against ghetto residents (such as the six-day riot that shook up Chicago in the “Red Summer” of 1919, along with 25 other cities across the land) ensured that blacks kept to their appointed place at each epoch.[33] Only after the wave of ghetto riots of the sixties was naked physical violence replaced by the muted bureaucratic brutality of state policies of social welfare, public housing, and criminal justice: welfare was first shrunk and then replaced by “workfare”; subsidized housing for the poor was left to rot for decades before being torn down; and criminal justice was hardened and expanded on a scale beyond anything anyone ever imagined.

The built-in instabilities of unfree labor and the inherent anomaly of caste partition in a formally democratic and highly individualistic society guaranteed that each “peculiar institution” would in time be undermined by the weight of its internal contradictions as well as by mounting black resistance and external opposition,[34] to be replaced by its successor regime. At each new stage, moreover, the apparatus of ethnoracial domination would become less total and less capable of uniformly encompassing all segments and all dimensions of the social life of the pariah group. As African Americans differentiated along class lines and acceded to full formal citizenship, the institutional complex charged with keeping them “separate and unequal” grew more diffracted and diffuse, allowing a burgeoning middle and upper class of professionals and salary earners anchored by public service to partially compensate for the negative symbolic capital of blackness by their high-status cultural capital and proximity to centers of political power, while lower-class blacks remained burdened by the triple stigma of caste, poverty, and putative immorality (as well as place, the remnants of the crumbling ghetto being perceived as the crucible of all the “pathologies” of the “underclass”).

This historical schema should not, however, be read as an ineluctable forward march towards ethnoracial equality preordained by America’s universalistic ideology of civic membership and propelled by the radiating strength of core national values—as mainstream social science scholarship continues to presume unthinkingly.[35] For each new phase of racial rule has entailed regression as well as progress, and each has re-elaborated the conception of race it inherited from its antecedents. While it is true that there has been a kind of “civilizing” of ethnoracial domination (in Norbert Elias’s sense of the term) over the long run, in keeping with the general material softening and cultural euphemization of relations of group inequality across the centuries,[36] each regime has to be evaluated in light of the possibilities it harbored, not simply by contrast to its predecessor(s), and each has carried varied costs and benefits for the different components of the African-American community after abolition. The transition from slavery to the Jim Crow system of segregation, in particular, abruptly closed off other historical routes opened by the Reconstruction years towards a bridging of the white-black schism. It was marred by the removal of the customary protections afforded by the paternalistic brand of Southern slavery and by a spectacular escalation of physical aggression culminating in these veritable orgies of racial sadism that were public burnings and lynchings of “impudent Negroes.”[37] And it led to the thorough symbolic erasure of the persistent reality of sexual mixing across the caste divide, as cohabitation receded until the sixties under the press of combined black and white opposition.

Likewise, the shift from ghetto to hyperghetto-cum-prison has been accompanied by a deep class splintering of the black community, a gradual erosion of the capacities for collective action it had built over the preceding half-century, and a corresponding loss of traction over the major strategic allies of the preceding periods, liberal whites, the Democratic Party, and the federal government, which acted under duress to dismantle the caste system of the South in the sixties but reneged at the task when it came to the urban ghetto of the North in the seventies.[38] Worse yet, as unskilled blacks lost their economic role and political value, the state turned from passive protector to active agent of material and symbolic suppression, making the bureaucratic apparatus of crime fighting over into a potent and prolific machinery for enforcing the new geography of ethnoracial division. But to capture the distinctive rearticulation of race and penality in American society over the past three decades, it is necessary to return to the originating point of the arc of ethnoracial domination four centuries ago.[39]


            1.- Slavery (1619-1865): From the founding of the colony to the Civil War, slavery was the institution that single-handedly determined the collective identity and individual life chances of Americans of African parentage. Orlando Patterson has rightly insisted that slavery is essentially “a relation of domination and not a category of legal thought,” and, moreover, a relation unusual for the inordinate amounts of material and symbolic violence it entails. Premised on “natal alienation” effected through forcible seizure and rupturing of social ties, perpetuated by the organized powerlessness of the slave, slavery strikes the latter with a generalized dishonor so deep and abiding that it will typically persist for many generations after manumission or abolition.[40] In the Americas (as opposed to, say, in medieval Europe or the Islamic world, where it served no productive purpose), this violence was channeled to fulfill a definite economic end: to appease the insatiable appetite for labor of underpopulated colonies devoted from their inception to commercial agriculture. The forcible importation of Africans and West Indians, and the rearing of their descendants under bondage (the U.S. enslaved population tripled to approach four million in the half-century after the transatlantic slave trade was cut off in 1808), supplied the unfree and fixed workforce needed to produce the great staples that were the backbone of North America’s preindustrial economy, tobacco and rice, sugar and indigo, and later cotton.

In the early colonial era wage work was a marginal mode of labor organization that could not satisfy production needs, as free workers were scarce and dear and, for those very reasons, anything but submissive. In North America as in the other frontiers of the rapidly expanding European world-system, bound labor would have to be recruited and extracted on a mass scale, but what method of compulsion would prevail there? Through much of the seventeenth century, indentured servitude was economically more advantageous than slavery: servants coming from the British Isles to toil for three to seven years in exchange for free passage across the ocean were cheaper to acquire (from one third to one-half the price of an African slave); they were proficient with agricultural techniques and could fill an assortment of occupations from field laborer to domestic to skilled artisan; and they spoke English, which minimized the cost of work management. Moreover, they were effectively treated as quasi-slaves, being submitted to barbaric physical punishment often resulting in maiming and premature death, forbidden to marry without permission, and bought and sold as well as pawned and inherited almost as easily as livestock during their term.[41] But by the closing decades of the seventeenth century the increase in colonial population and life expectancy, the rapid growth of the tobacco trade, the need to encourage further voluntary immigration from England where the condition of the lower classes was improving following the restoration of the monarchy, and the powerlessness of African captives relative to European newcomers or native Americans combined to make African slaves the preferred source of labor.[42] Contrary to conventional wisdom, prejudicial beliefs about blacks as “heathens” from the “savage” lands of Africa played little role in determining this preference: it was dictated by the sheer availability of abundant, endlessly renewable, and cheap bodies from that continent (especially after the launching of the Royal African Company in 1672) in the face of the fast-dwindling supply of unfree laborers from Europe and the effective resistance of Indians to bondage. Moreover, the American colonies imported only 6% of the live slaves shipped out from West Africa. But thanks to the absence of tropical diseases, a better diet and balanced sex ratio, and the small size of holdings tending to a variety of crops, their enslaved population achieved a high natural growth rate such that, by the 1770s, four of every five slaves were American born.[43]

A brief comparison with the failure to drive American Indians down into bondage on a large scale is instructive here because it clearly shows the prevalence of structural over cultural factors in the turn to Africans as North America’s primary source of labor. Unlike human cargo imported in chains from across the Atlantic, Indians were not uprooted from their oekumene and they could draw on their continued social and cultural embeddedness to resist, escape from, and exercise reprisals against their masters.[44] Being mostly hunters and gatherers, they were less familiar with and less adept at agricultural work, which moreover redounded to women in their division of labor. Their limited numbers and high susceptibility to European diseases were such that they would never supply a sufficient quantity of laborers. Finally, they were viewed not only as “haughty and ungovernable” but also as members of independent nations that played a vital part in the competitive system of transatlantic politics entangling the English, the French, and the Spanish. Indeed, Indians performed an indispensable role as procurers and intermediaries in the vast fur trade that boosted the initial accumulation of capital vital to the colonial enterprise.[45] By contrast, Africans were nearly ideally suited to fulfilling the colonies’ bulimic need for labor in all of these respects. So when, after the 1660s, it became more advantageous for plantation owners to purchase slaves shipped in from West Africa or the Barbados than to obtain European tenants, bond-servants, and apprentices, the extinction of indentured labor and the reign of chattel slavery were jointly sealed. For slaves proved not only less expensive to buy; they were more productive and more reproductive, and they could be held permanently as could their offspring. Moreover they were much less likely to disrupt plantation output by resisting or escaping as their physical appearance made them conspicuous and their legal status unambiguous—whereas white servants could claim to be free persons and easily found alternative employment in the labor-starved colony.[46]

Invidious distinctions based on religion and skin color eased the deployment of violence required to discipline African captives and wring labor out of them on American soil, but such protoracial differentiations were neither salient nor necessary for establishing chattel bondage in the first place. It is true that blackness elicited negative representations and pejorative feelings among the English and their colonists.[47] American planters from Maryland to Georgia viewed their African slaves as congenitally slothful, careless, mendacious, and disloyal. But those were the exact pejorative features that they attributed to their European servants—especially those of Irish origins, who carried the double burden of foreignness and papism. Indeed, these defects composed the reigning representation of the English proletariat in statu nascendi back in the metropole during the decades when slavery was gradually becoming the prevailing form of labor in the American colonies. As historian Edmund Morgan has pointed out,


The stereotypes of the poor expressed so often in England during the late seventeenth and eighteenth century were often identical with the descriptions of blacks expressed in colonies dependent on slave labor, even to the extent of intimating the subhumanity of both: the poor were ‘the vile and brutish part of mankind’; the black were ‘a brutish sort of people’. In the eyes of unpoor Englishmen the poor bore many of the marks of an alien race.[48]


It is not by happenstance that the age of slavery in the Americas opened concurrently with the invention of the workhouse and the movement towards the incarceration of the marginals in Europe in prisons, hospitals, and asylums.[49] For these were two alternate techniques for controlling subordinate groups perceived as prone to idleness, crime, and disorder at home and in the colonies, and for enforcing so-called free labor upon the one and forced labor upon the other.

Class scorn and not racial prejudice was the initial symbolic fuel to the fire of North American slavery. Biracial partition was not a central causative factor in its establishment for the simple reason that it had yet to emerge: the collective belief in the natural division of humankind into disjoint and unequal biological groupings labeled “races” is an invention of the eighteenth century.[50] Indeed, the lack of systematic social and symbolic separation between African slaves and European servants in the first half-century of the colonial enterprise posed a serious and urgent danger to the rule of planters. The objective solidarities and subjective fraternization of these two segments of the laboring class, who often toiled alongside each other, shared similar living conditions, and commonly consorted, threatened to foster a unified uprising of the “giddy multitude” against the established order—as attested by Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia in 1676.[51] To lessen the threat of insurrection, the colonial rulers strove, through a series of legislative acts, to insert ethnoracial division as a wedge to split the workforce and “to separate dangerous free whites from dangerous slave blacks by a screen of racial contempt.”[52] On the one side, they improved the condition of British servants by ameliorating their food, accommodations, and the treatment of women, and by better enforcing the contractual terms of their service as added incentives to potential immigrants. On the other, they codified as well as devalued the status of slaves by stipulating that bondspeople and their descendants would serve “durante vita,” cutting off the bridge between religious conversion and emancipation, and annihilating whatever rights free blacks enjoyed (such as to marry whites, testify against them in court, and vote). Material differentials of power, symbolic differentiations of religion and nationality, the relentless quest for labor provision, and class division from above converged to foster the full-fledged institutionalization of slavery in the North American colonies—not the assumption of innate dissimilarities and perpetual inferiority of Africans later encapsulated by “race.”[53] By mid-eighteenth century slavery was firmly in place as a bedrock economic relation and core legal category, and the equation between black and slave, generated by the irrepressible need to recruit and tame labor, had solidified throughout the colonies: “Whereas a century earlier freedom was a vague concept and the lot of most laborers, white and black, was to one extent or another unfree, now the assumption was practically universal among whites that slavery was the natural state of blacks and freedom that of whites. Blacks were simply different,”[54] and that difference was ready to be racialized as bondage came under attack during the revolutionary era.

The American Revolution posed the first major threat to slavery and yet it eventually had the paradoxical effect of bolstering it while limiting its geographic perimeter. On the one hand, the War of Independence divided the master class, further sapped the faltering tobacco economy, and gravely disrupted plantation life, weakening labor discipline, and offering increased opportunities for slaves to gain a measure of autonomy, to win manumission, or to flee. The ideals of liberty and equality of rights it proclaimed fueled for the first time the questioning of slavery on moral, religious, and economic grounds.[55] The diffusion of the Enlightenment among the educated sectors of the British and American upper classes made the treatment of slaves deeply problematic while the evangelical awakening fostered a radical rejection of property-in-person since the latter obliterated free will and thereby denied the equality of all men before God. Philosophical ideas and religion thus allied with the new science of political economy, for which bondage was an inefficient organization of labor and a hindrance to “the wealth of nations,” to strip slavery of its doxic aura and portray it as degrading not only for the slaves but also for their masters and the environing society. On the international front, too, slavery found itself under unprecedented assault: the Spanish crown reformed it in 1789 in an effort to stem the power surge of planters in its colonies while the French, having toppled the Bastille, abolished it in 1794. The promulgation of the Rights of Man in Paris catalyzed the slave insurrection in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, leading to the bloody birth of Haiti in 1791, which in turn prompted France to eradicate bondage. The echoes of the first (and only) successful slave revolution in history reverberated throughout the Atlantic world, including in mainland North America where the specter of Toussaint L’Ouverture inflated both the aspirations of slaves and the anxieties of their masters, intensifying conflict as “whispers of discontent became rumors of insurrection and sometimes bloody confrontation.”[56] Such were the forces that converged to undermine slavery at the birth of the United States.

On the other hand, aside from the Quakers, few Americans embraced abolitionism and fewer still were prepared to renounce a fount of material and symbolic profits become epicentral to the historical project of a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant civilization facing the threefold task of subduing nature as well as taming inferior peoples both at home and abroad.[57] And the right of property, including property in human beings, easily trumped a nascent notion of human rights that had yet to solidify and gain social authority. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, an agreement was struck between delegates from the North (where slavery was marginal and declining) and from the South (where it was vital and thriving) to overlook the glaring contradiction between the egalitarian creed of human freedom and the heinous reality of human bondage in the name of securing a stronger union with an integrated legal and commercial system. The Constitution carefully avoided so much as naming slavery—it spoke, delicately, of “persons held to Service or Labor” in deference to the scruples of Northern delegates—and included the infamous clause stipulating that slaves would count as “three-fifths of a man” for purposes of congressional representation as well as taxation based on capitation. It forbade Congress to interfere with the slave trade—tactfully depicted as “Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit”—until 1808 and to tax the import of human cargo as well as all exports, in contravention of the general authority granted Congress to regulate trade. And it required the federal government to assist against slave rebellions and free states to return escapees to their masters “on demand,” in effect making slavery a national institution.

As a result of the constitutional bargain, bondage was programmed for demise in the Northern states where it was already moribund; the Northwest Ordinance circumscribed its territory by preventing it from spreading to the Midwest and beyond; and laws of manumission were liberalized in the South. But, even as the number of free blacks rose significantly between 1775 and 1810, the enslaved population grew faster due to the spike in imports from Africa, nearly doubling to give extraordinary velocity to a booming internal slave trade. America’s first statesmen not only failed to resolve the contradictions inherent in the counternatural marriage of slavery and democracy; they entrenched them by erecting a political edifice designed to bolster the power of the Southern states (e.g., through the device of the electoral college, the conditions for admission of new states to the union, and the procedure for amending the Constitution) and an electoral system stacked to deliver Congressional power and the presidency to slavemasters (Virginia planters alone procured eight of the first nine presidents of the country), as well as by setting “a proslavery tone, which enabled Congress and the courts to interpret seemingly neutral clauses in favor of slavery.”[58] On balance, then, the Founding Fathers did not merely “leave slavery intact,” as Klinkner and Smith intimate;[59] they powerfully reinforced it by granting it, for the first time in history, the imprimatur of a democratic state. The primal “peculiar institution” was indeed, if not a creature of the new Republic, its embarrassing ward.

After the Revolution, bondage was gradually abolished along the Eastern seaboard and prohibited north and west of the Ohio River but, contrary to the expectations of its foes, it spread and solidified throughout the South as the economic value of slaves rose in concert with the explosive increase in the demand for short-staple cotton and the persistent scarcity of labor in the new territories of the Southwest. A long-distance domestic slave trade arose to replace the international trade, whereby upwards of 100,000 slaves were forcibly relocated from Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas to the Deep South during every decade between 1810 and 1860, reactivating the trauma of deracination and revivifying the economy of the coastal states. Once it generalized, slavery transformed all of Southern society, culture, and politics in its image, fostering the concentration of economic and state power in the hands of a small slaveholder class tied to lower-class whites by patronage relations, kinship ties, and a shared sense of membership in a superior “race,” and to their slaves by a paternalistic code and elaborate rituals of submission that reinforced the latter’s lack of sociocultural autonomy and sentiment of inferiority.[60] Under this regimen, resident masters took personal interest in their slaves, whom they knew by name and considered “inferior members of their extended household from whom they expected work and obedience but to whom they owed guidance and protection.”[61] This symbolic patterning of relations of exploitation translated into improved material conditions as regards nutrition, housing, and medical care which, together with climactic and topographic conditions, explain the spectacular natural increase of the slave population in the nineteenth century—it is unique in the annals of slavery, as is the scale of domestic trading. Its flip side was the close supervision that masters exercised upon every aspect of the lives of “their people” and the enforced dependency they thrust upon them through constant interference with the slaves’ family and community life as well as through frequent and humiliating punishment. No matter how much masters euphemized and embellished it, slavery remained an exploitive relationship founded on brute force, riven with personal degradation, sexual abuse, and group denial.[62]

As for free blacks, they faced hardship, discrimination, and hostility everywhere, even as their economic opportunities expanded and their communities grew to develop a web of self-sustaining institutions anchored by family and religion. Excluded from schools, relegated to menial and casual jobs, subjected to widespread physical persecution, they were deprived of the vote and denied citizenship by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dred Scott vs. Sandford (1857). They were forbidden to immigrate in many midwestern states, subjected to black codes akin to the restrictive laws of bondage in western states, and always in danger of being reenslaved or expelled in the south, where their numbers dwindled as the decades wore on. Free African-Americans were commonly ostracized and feared as competitors by workers and skilled artisans in the Northern cities, and they were pressured into labor contracts as field hands in the rural South that imposed the same work and living conditions as slaves—and typically pushed them into debt, anticipating the peonage arrangements of the post-bellum period.[63] Though formally free, their dark skin kept them under the pall of slavery and locked them in a social and symbolic cage pithily depicted in this note from a well-traveled observer at the beginning of the nineteenth century:


They are not slaves indeed, but they are pariahs, debarred from every fellowship save with their own despised race…. All hands are extended to thrust them out, all fingers pointed at their dusky skin, all tongues… have learned to turn the very name of their race into an insult and a reproach.[64]


This is because, whereas in the early decades of the colony the status of slave and servant were virtually indistinguishable—the terms were even used interchangeably—and color distinctions incidental to social life, by the nineteenth century the legal opposition between bondsmen and freemen had been fully overlaid by a racialized dichotomy between whites and Negroes. The critique of slavery stimulated by revolutionary fervor had triggered an early essentialist apology for the bondage of Africans and their descendants which drew on Thomas Jefferson’s celebrated Notes on the State of Virginia from 1787, in which the American statesman declared the inferiority of blacks “fixed in nature,” to argue that blacks were constitutively “unfit for freedom.”[65] But it is not until the 1830s and the emergence of an “American school of ethnology” led by Samuel Cartwright, Josiah Clark Nott, and George Robbins Gliddon (rivaling the French school coalescing around Arthur de Gobineau and the British school of Charles Hamilton Smith) that the militant defense of slavery generated an elaborate pseudo-scientific ideology justifying the subhuman condition imposed upon blacks by their inferior biological makeup, exemplified by the animalistic traits, in turn childish and bestial, attributed to the archetypal figure of Sambo.[66] In the decades leading to the Civil War, the specter of insurrection and abolition resulted in increased hostility toward manumission, miscegenation, and “passing” by Negroes, as well as in the generalization of a rigid twofold racial schema based on the mythology that God had created blacks to be slaves and that one drop of “Negro blood” made one a Negro—persons of mixed descent were then believed to be against nature, congenitally prone to crime, and fated to physical extinction.[67] Slavery as a system of unfree labor thus spawned a suffusive racial culture which, in turn, remade bondage into something it was not at its outset: a color-coded institution of ethnoracial division devoted to white supremacy.[68]


            2. Jim Crow (South, 1877-1965): Emancipation posed a double and deadly threat to Southern society: the overthrow of bondage made slaves formally free laborers, which potentially eliminated the cheap and abundant workforce required to run the plantation economy; black access to civil and political rights promised to erode the color line initially drawn up to bulwark slavery but since entrenched in both the South and the North of the country, and thereby close out the symbolic edge of whiteness. In a first phase, during Reconstruction, the Dixie ruling class promulgated the Black Codes to resolve the first problem by passing “forced labor and police laws to get the freedman back to the fields under control” as well as to block his avenues of redress through the judicial and political systems.[69] Northern elites reacted by putting the Confederate states under military occupation and implementing a series of federal measures intended to reform the social structure and open the public institutions of the South to the former slaves: the Freedman Bureau was established in 1865 to provide food, schooling, and assistance in the transition to freedom; the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted citizenship to freedmen (but not freedwomen) in 1868, while the Fifteenth amendment, ratified in 1870, explicitly forbid any abridgement of the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

            But this reformist impulse was snuffed out and Reconstruction brought to a premature end with the Compromise of 1877 without any major land redistribution or aid program being put in place.[70] Northern white liberals forsook their concern for the fate of former slaves for the sake of sectional reconciliation with their Southern brethen, conceding to them the right to handle the “insoluble Negro question” as they saw fit. In state after state, Dixieland democrats took over government and rolled back the rights gained by blacks in the wake of abolition with shrill denunciations of “Negro domination.” Surfing on the vogue of social Darwinism, virulent antiblack sentiment swept through the New South, diffusing the notion that, with the removal of the civilizing restraints of slavery, African Americans were undergoing racial degeneracy and reverting to barbarism and bestiality, as evidenced by the rise in black crime. This necessitated putting in place a new set of restraints to hold them in check and avert the nightmarish prospect of the wholesale “mongrelization” of Southern society—or else an all-out “race war” would break out and usher in the extermination of the fiendish descendants of slaves.[71]

            This opened a second phase, covering the closing two decades of the century, during which the white lower classes, pressed by the dislocations wrought by declining farm prices, demographic pressure, and nascent capitalist industrialization, joined with the plantation elite to demand the political disenfranchisement and systematic exclusion of former slaves from all major institutions.[72] Absent the possibility of physical elimination or deportation through colonization (ruled out by the pressing need for black labor), the solution would be “to segregate or quarantine a race liable to be a source of contamination and social danger to the white community, as it sank ever deeper into the slough of disease, vice, and criminality.”[73] Thus the Jim Crow regime of systematic racial separation from cradle to grave came into being that would hold African Americans in its brutal grip for nearly a century in the Southern states and beyond.

            It should be stressed that the intricate web of customary rules and legal statutes enforcing white supremacy in the former Confederacy from the 1880s to the 1960s was not a Southern oddity out of kilter with the national evolution of ethnoracial relations. First, many of these separative devices were innovated and tested on free blacks in the urban North after abolition before being adopted and adapted in Dixieland,[74] and they would get reworked later in accord with the specificities of the metropolitan milieu to anchor the ghetto. Second, the institutional scaffolding of Southern white domination was consistently supported, legitimized, and when possible extended beyond the Mason-Dixon line by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of the federal government for most of eight decades. Thus in 1896 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Jim Crow statutes by an eight-to-one majority by rejecting the appeal of Homer Plessy, a light-skin Creole convicted for resisting eviction from a white-only car of the East Louisiana Railway. In Plessy vs. Ferguson, the country’s highest court ruled that “legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences,” and that equality of rights did not entail “an enforced comingling of the two races.” And while it declared that separate and equal services were constitutional, it failed to set standards and means for remedying the glaring inferiority of “colored only” facilities across the institutional spectrum.[75] In 1913 Woodrow Wilson set the pitch for presidential indifference to the mounting racial horrors of the South when he failed to mention the fiftieth anniversary of Emancipation or otherwise address black-white relations in his inaugural address even as scores of Southern blacks were being murdered in gruesome lynchings.[76]

            But studied indifference was only the more benign form of the state’s multisided contribution to the formation and perpetuation of America’s second “peculiar institution.” For that same year, President Wilson took steps to establish separate facilities and career tracks for black and white employees of the federal bureaucracy in Washington—“in the interest of the colored people,” he assured, “as exempting them from friction and criticisms in the departments.” With the support of Congress, which actively opposed or diluted all measures that would weaken Jim Crow, the federal state acted as a powerful engine for the nationalization of exclusionary racial patterns and practices in the half-century preceding the Civil Rights Act of 1964: after the Wilson presidency, every major federal administration, from the U.S. civil service and public employment exchanges to public housing and the armed forces, engaged in the systematic discrimination and ostracization of blacks.[77]

            To immobilize and extract Negro labor: the economic infrastructure of Jim Crow laid in superexploitative sharecropping arrangements and debt peonage that fixed blacks on the land, maintaining the hegemony of the region’s agrarian upper class and the work discipline of the antebellum plantation—the lash remained in use in Mississippi well into the interwar years. After abolition, the hope and aim of the former slaves had been to secure independence by acquiring plots to farm on their own account. But the promise of “forty acres and a mule” never materialized and white landowners ensured the occupational immobility of their Negro workforce, whom they regarded as naturally suited to agricultural toil, by barring them from the soil: in some states the Black Codes prohibited Negro ownership of arable land; in others the violent raids of the Ku Klux Klan (from 1866 till 1872 and then again after 1915) and the “Whitecappers” (around the turn of the century) terrorized black homesteaders and farm renters; and everywhere most descendants of slaves lacked the means to lease or purchase land. They therefore had few options but to become share-tenants, share-croppers working “on halves,” or hired field hands, a landless peasantry laboring on lots of ten to thirty acres cut out from the former plantations.[78]

            Like slavery, sharecropping is not in itself a racial institution; it is an organizational device for the extraction of agricultural labor that was applied to Southern whites as well.[79] But, coupled with the dichotomous racial division inherited from the era of bondage, the opposition between white landlords and black croppers functioned inseparably as the mainspring of economic exploitation and the hinge of symbolic domination perpetuating the dishonor of African Americans by perpetrating their dispossession and dependency. Under this system, the tenant or cropper and his family provided the labor and the owner supplied the soil, seed, tools, work animals, and a cabin to dwell in. After harvest, the cotton crop was sold with the cropper entitled to one third to one half of the receipts, but his share was typically deemed by the landlord (who controlled both the sale and the accounting) to be worth less than the “furnish” received and the debt incurred for current expenses over the year at the plantation commissary or the local merchant. The result is that at season’s close sharecroppers barely broke even or found themselves further into arrears and therefore forced to continue to work for their landlord.[80]

In most Southern states, the sharecropping contract had this further peculiarity that it could be enforced by the planter in criminal rather than civil court: “A sharecropper who skipped out after planting a crop would not be sued (he was not likely to have any assets anyway) but arraigned on criminal charges,”[81] and then imprisoned or either turned over to toil for his landlord (in exchange for erasing his debit) or leased out to a private operator as convict labor. Either way labor would be wrung from him. Together with vagrancy statutes, laws making “tenant stealing” a capital offense, and ordinances severely restricting the activities of labor agents in search of recruits for urban wage work, this combination of economic dependency and legal suasion amounted to establishing a “slavery of debt” in lieu of slavery tout court[82] that was in many ways worse than its predecessor. True, sharecropping offered blacks a measure of autonomy, the possibility of unifying their families, and reliable if meager payment for their work.[83] But the planter-sharecropper relationship was also one of naked exploitation stripped of the sociomoral trappings of noblesse oblige that traditionally allows serfs to gain some pull over their lords. And, from the standpoint of white planters, it was economically superior to slavery in that they no longer needed to feed and tend to their laborers in sickness and old age even as they continued to look upon them in a proprietary way as “their niggers.”[84]

Those who escaped from the long shadow of the plantation by seeking employment in turpentine camps and sawmills or in emerging mining and industrial towns found that their economic opportunities were similarly limited to the most dirty and dangerous “nigger work.” They got such jobs because they could be worked harder, for lower wages, and with rougher treatment than could whites.[85] Black women found paid employ easily enough in household service as cleaner, cook, laundress, and wet-nurse as all except the poorest white families retained domestics, but they did so for a pittance (as little as 25 cents a day, seven days a week, in early twentieth-century Mississippi) and at the cost of neglecting their own household given their strenuous schedules, not to mention the ever-present threat of sexual abuse by white men (who conveniently professed that no black female above the age of puberty was chaste).[86] As for blacks in the skilled trades, they were gradually pushed out and down into unskilled labor while the tiny upper class of Negro professionals and entrepreneurs concentrated in cities were doomed to stagnation by the crushing poverty of their black customer base and the mounting refusal of whites to patronize them—when they did not object to their success and drive them out through official harrassment and mob brutality.[87] Indeed, African Americans who had hoped that economic advancement and social uplift would gradually reduce the stigma of blackness, that the accumulation of wealth, the acquisition of education, and the mastery of manners would make their “skin lighter” discovered with dismay that, on the contrary, “evidence of blacks making good on that creed often provoked white resentment and violence rather than respect and acceptance.”[88]

            This is because successful African Americans presented a twofold menace for the structure of racial domination in the New South: on the material plane, they were potential competitors and threatened the monopoly of whites over desired goods and values; on the symbolic plane, they ruined the collective presumption of innate Negro inferiority and incapacity. They belied in deed the hegemonic public image of blacks as shiftless, ignorant, and vicious, raising the dreaded specter of “social equality” and thence “miscegenation” and the certain collapse of “white civilization.” Thus the core of Jim Crow consisted in a set of disjunctive relationships aimed at effecting the systematic separation of blacks and whites under what one might call the principle of racial “less eligibility”: that the lowest white must always stand above the highest Negro.[89] Accordingly, custom, the law, and violence were joined to sharply curtail social contacts between whites and blacks and relegate the latter to separate residential districts, public facilities and commercial establishments, waiting rooms and bathrooms, and to the reserved “colored” section of trolleys and buses, saloons and movie houses, parks and beaches, hospitals and post offices, orphanages and retirement homes, even to separate jails, morgues, and cemeteries—Florida used a different set of gallows to execute white and black convicts sentenced to death.[90] Former slaves and their descendants were prohibited from attending schools with whites (in some states, biracial education was even made unconstitutional) and resorted to creating their own churches when white churches insisted on granting them only second-class membership. And they were methodically banished from the ballot box thanks to an assortment of residency requirements, poll taxes, literacy tests, “grandfather clauses,” and disqualifying criminal offenses.[91]

            Blacks were expected to display deference and submissiveness at every turn in their encounters with whites on pain of being swiftly brought back in line by private violence or public sanction. They had to step off the sidewalk to leave ample room to passing whites, wait until all the white patrons were served in stores or offices, and approach white homes only from the back—so ingrained was the habit, and the belief that the Negro was a natural-born thief, that upon leaving their house white Mississipians locked the back door but left the front door open.[92] Terms of address and rules of face-to-face interaction converged to signify the inferiority and to diffuse the indignity of the descendants of slaves: whites were to be addressed as “Ma’am” and “Sir” (or “boss”) but they never reciprocated these terms or any common courtesies towards African Americans, whom they called by their first names or hailed as “boy,” “girl,” and “auntie.” Blacks who insisted on being addressed as Mister or Miss risked physical reprisals, banishment, or worse.[93] Established mores prohibited black motorists from overtaking cars driven by whites or from parking on the town’s main streets, as well as from owning expensive automobiles or even buggies, which were perceived by whites as evidence of “impudence” liable to trigger violent reactions. Any outward mark of Negro affluence, success, and pride, indicative of the possible desire to be treated with respect by whites, such as dressing up and coming to town for shopping on a weekday, could result in vigorous reprimand and immediate arrest, but also in vicious assault and outright assassination.

            The taboo over titles extended to shaking hands and eating together, indeed to any and all forms of intercourse that might imply “social equality” between the “races,” chief among them occasions for sexual contact across the color line. These were rigorously forbidden and zealously surveiled, and any infringement, real or imagined, savagely repressed. The hysterical dread of “racial degeneracy” believed to ensue from mixing, and justified by the self-evident and self-evidently abhorrent query “Would you want your sister to marry a nigger?”,[94] climaxed in periodic explosions of mob violence, beatings, whippings, and rioting against blacks who failed to “stay in their place” and exhibit proper caste deference. In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, some 2,060 African Americans were lynched, one third of them after being accused of sexual assault or mere improprieties towards white women.[95] These veritable carnivals of caste rage, during which the bodies of “bad niggah” were ritually desecrated by torture, burning, mutilation, and public exhibition, were fanned by the press, tacitly supported by the churches, and encouraged by the complicity of the forces of order and immunity from the authorities—sheriffs, judges, and local police routinely appear in the photographs of lynchings that were popular as postcards and trade cards to commemorate the happening.[96] African Americans could hardly turn to the courts for protection since the latter openly put the law of caste above the rule of law: lynchings were perpetrated by lower-class “rednecks” but with the consent and approval of white “quality,” for, as a Mississippi gentleman put it, “race is greater than law now and then, and protection of women transcends all law, human and divine.”[97] The rule of the mob in the streets and “Negro law” in the courts worked in tandem to protect white supremacy by granting impunity to those who enforced its dictates.

            Ultimately, the edifice of Jim Crow, with its core of systematic social separation governed by the principle of “no social equality” resting on an economic infrastructure anchored by sharecropping and stabilized by a superstructure of political and legal disenfranchisement, owed its solidity to the constant physical intimidation and stupendous volumes of violence it unleashed onto those who did not conform to its rules. For African Americans, every encounter with Southern whites during this era was pregnant with the possibility of unprovoked aggression and public repression, every setting and situation colored by the looming specter of heinous murder if they deviated in the slightest way from white expectations and demands. Proof that it had never achieved legitimacy in the eyes of those it subdued, no other segregationist regime in modern history—not South Africa from the birth of the Republic in 1910 to the advent of apartheid in 1948, not Nazi Germany from the first anti-Jewish laws of 1933 to the decision to implement the “Final solution” in 1942—has relied so much on raw physical constraint and murderous brutality as America’s second “peculiar institution.”[98] Forced dispossession, intimidation, expulsion, assassination, and riots: whites were bent on keeping their “darkies” down by all means necessary. No wonder so many African Americans deemed free life in the New South “worser” than the days of slavery.[99]


            3. The ghetto (North, 1916-1968): The very ferocity of Jim Crow on both the labor and the ostracization fronts sowed the seeds of its eventual ruin, for blacks had virtually no room for effective resistance and voice within it. And so they fled the South by the millions as soon as the opportunity came. Three forces combined to rouse them to desert Dixie and rally to the surging metropolitan centers of the Midwest and Northeast in the half-century following the outbreak of World War I. The first was the economic crisis of cotton agriculture caused by the boll weevil and later by mechanization, as well as arrested urbanization in the South due to the industrial underdevelopment of the region.[100] The second was the booming demand for unskilled and semiskilled labor in the steel mills, packinghouses, factories, and railroads of the North, as the war cut off immigration from Europe and employers sent their recruiting agents scurrying through the South to entice African Americans to come work for them.[101] But economic push and pull factors merely set conditions of possibility: the trigger of the Great Migration that transformed the black community from a landless peasantry to an industrial proletariat, and with it the visage of American society in toto, was the irrepressible will, intensified by the campaigns for migration waged by the “race papers” of the North, to escape the indignities of caste and its attendant material degradation, truncated life horizon, and rampant violence—it is not by coincidence that the emigration of Negros was heaviest in those counties of the Deep South where lynchings were most frequent.[102] These indignities were made all the more intolerable by the ongoing incorporation of “white ethnics” into national institutions and by the paradoxical role that the U.S. played on the world stage as champion of those very freedoms which it denied Negroes at home. The trek up to Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, and Philadelphia was thus undertaken by Southern blacks not only to “better their condition” but also to board the “train of freedom” (to recall the title of a well-known poem by Langston Hughes) on a journey filled with biblical imagery and political import: it was a race-conscious gesture of collective defiance and self-affirmation.[103]

            Yankee life did offer salutary relief from the harsh grip of Southern caste domination and significantly expanded the social horizon and life chances of the former sharecroppers, but it did not turn out to be the “promised land” of racial equality, economic security, and full citizenship for which the migrants yearned. For, in the Northern metropolis, African Americans came upon yet another device designed to allow white society to exploit their labor power while keeping them confined to a separate Lebensraum: the ghetto. As the Negro population rose, so did the animosity of whites towards a group they viewed as “physically and mentally unfit,” “unsanitary,” “entirely irresponsible and vicious,” and therefore “undesirable as neighbors,” in the terms reported to the 1920 Chicago Commission on Race Relations.[104] Patterns of ethnoracial discrimination and segregation that had hitherto been inconsistent and informal hardened in housing, schools, and public accommodations such as parks, playgrounds, and beaches. They were extended to the polity, where the promotion of a small cadre of black politicians handpicked by party leaders served to rein in the community’s votes to the benefit of the white-controlled city machine.[105] They were systematized in the economy, where a “Job ceiling” set conjointly by white employers and unions kept African Americans trapped in the lower reaches of the occupational structure, disproportionately concentrated in semi-skilled, manual, and servant work that made them especially vulnerable to business downturns.[106] And when they tried to breach the color bar, for instance by attempting to settle outside of their reserved perimeter, blacks were assaulted on the streets by white “athletic clubs” and their houses bombed by “neighborhood improvement societies.” They had no choice but to take refuge in the secluded territory of the Black Belt and to strive to build in it a self-sustaining nexus of institutions that would both shield them from white rule and procure the everyday needs of the castaway community: a “Black Metropolis” lodged “in the womb of the white,” yet hermetically sealed from it.[107]

            Enforced ethnoracial separation in the metropolis made it both necessary and possible for African Americans to evolve an intricate web of communal organizations that gradually duplicated—though at an inferior and incomplete level—the main institutions of the broader white society from which they were debarred. In the agrarian society of the South, social separation between the “races” operated in the context of population dispersion, grinding poverty, and personal dependency towards whites which conspired to stunt institutional growth and autonomy. In the North, by contrast, the sheer size, density and anonymity of urban settlement[108] combined with caste division to create a viable captive pool of clients for black businesses, professionals, and assorted producers of symbolic goods such as the press, pastors, politicians, and performance artists. Together with access to improved schooling and industrial employment and its higher pay scales, this fostered the mushrooming of militant “race papers,” the expansion of mainline churches and the proliferation of storefront churches, the founding of Negro clinics and hospitals, and the growth of black-based and black-oriented stores and taverns, lodges and social clubs, charities and lotteries, dance halls and sports leagues. Spatial confinement thus became overlayed with a parallel and inwardly-turned social structure that enfolded African Americans in a culturally homogenous and class heterogenous world unto itself wholly without counterpart among whites.

            It is important to clarify here that, during the era of industrial growth and metropolitan consolidation, European immigrants of subaltern provenance (Jews, Italians, Irish, Poles, and Slavs) initially resided in heterogenous ethnic neighborhoods that, though they may have been slums, were structurally and functionally different from the dark ghetto. They were temporary and mobile clusters born of sociocultural affinity, kinship ties, and occupational concentration. Segregation in them was partial and porous, driven primarily by immigrant solidarity and ethnic affinity; even where out-group hostility played a significant role, residential separation was neither uniformly nor rigidly visited upon the totality of the group. In 1930 for instance, at a time when the all-black ghetto of the South Side already harbored over 80% of the city’s Afro-American population, Chicago’s “Little Ireland” was a hodge-podge of twenty-five nationalities composed of only one-third Irish persons and containing a bare 3 % of the city’s residents of Irish descent.[109] More importantly, the distinctive institutions of European immigrant “colonies” were turned outward: they served to facilitate adjustment to the novel environment of the American metropolis and to spur entry and ascent into the broader Anglo-Saxon dominated world. They neither replicated the organizations of the country of origin nor perpetuated social isolation and cultural distinctiveness. Mutual benefit societies, group-specific kinship and religious practices, immigrant banks and commercial networks, labor exchanges, fraternal associations and foreign language newspapers: all these waned and eventually disintegrated as their users gained familiarity with and access to their American counterparts.[110] All of which is in polar opposition to the immutable ethnic exclusivity, persistent socioracial seclusion, and continued institutional alterity of the Black Belt. White working-class wards in the American metropolis were never, pace Louis Wirth and the liberal tradition of assimilationist sociology and historiography,[111] “ghettos” in any other than an impressionistic or metaphorical sense.

            African-American migrants entering the industrial metropolis did not simply confront more prejudice, discrimination, and segregation than their counterparts from Europe. Their mode of urban incorporation was qualitatively different—indeed unique: blacks were the only group ever to be ghettoized, i.e., to undergo forced institutional parallelism geared to permanent sociospatial confinement inside the city. From the outset, white ethnic neighborhoods and dark ghetto displayed divergent structures as they served antinomic purposes: the former were sociocultural “decompression chambers” for European newcomers, bridges to the broader society, and conduits for assimilation; the latter operated in the manner of a material and symbolic isolation ward for African Americans, an engine for the material and symbolic dissimilation of an outcast group.[112] What is more, the respective constitution of black ghetto and white cluster were forged in and through a two-way relationship of all-encompassing opposition: European intermixing and black ostracization proceeded not simply simultaneously but in organic liaison with one another, each enabling and bolstering the other.[113] Italians, Irish, Jews, Germans, Eastern Europeans, Scandinavians: all united with each other as well as with native Anglos when it came to defending “Yankeeland”—the nickname given by real estate agents to the lily-white lakefront neighborhoods of south Chicago, Oakland, Hyde Park, and South Shore in the interwar years. They produced their collective identity as “hyphenated Americans” in active repulsion of African Americans at home and work, in the factory no less than the “community,” an elastic term used to designate the various spaces deemed intimate and therefore closed to blacks, from the neighborhood to the club house to the bedroom. Indeed, the symbolic coalescence and sociospatial diffusion of diverse European immigrant streams in the metropolis eventually produced American “ethnicity” as we know it today, an elective, self-professedly cultural marker open to strategic manipulation and affective display, by decisively rejecting African Americans on the side of “race,” in the ambit of imputed biological determinism.[114]

            The “black city within the white”—as African-American scholars from W.E.B. Du Bois and E. Franklin Frazier to Oliver Cox and Kenneth Clark have consistently characterized the ghetto—[115] discharged the same two basic functions that slavery and the Jim Crow system had performed earlier, namely, to harness the labor of black Americans while cloistering their tainted bodies so as to avert both the specter of “social equality” and the odium of “miscegenation” that would inevitably result in the symbolic defilement of whites. But it differed from the two preceding “peculiar institutions” in that, by granting them a measure of organizational autonomy, the urban Black Belt enabled African Americans to fully develop their own social and symbolic forms and thereby accumulate the group capacities needed to escalate the fight against continued caste subordination. The urbanization of the descendants of slaves accelerated the “melting” of mulattos and Negros into a single overarching African-American identity. It also supplied the impetus for the gestation and growth of the gamut of organizations that took up the struggle for racial equality onto the national stage, from the gradualist Urban League and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to the militant Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to the secessionist Universal Negro Improvement Association of Marcus Garvey.[116] At the same time, the black ghetto always remained an appendage of the white metropolis: it did not and could not supply for its own economic needs and public services; its division of labor was incomplete and rested on outside demand and resources; it relied on employment, housing, and income support as well political toleration from the dominant group. Even the “numbers game,” the illegal street lottery that was the single largest employer of Harlem in the postwar decades, was controlled by whites. [117] The ghetto’s autonomy was simultaneously called for and curtailed by its structural dependency.

            For the ghetto in full-fledged form is, by its very makeup, a double-edged sociospatial formation: it operates as an instrument of exclusion for the benefit of the dominant group; yet it also offers the dominated group partial protection and a platform for succor and solidarity in the very movement whereby it sequesters it. The ghetto serves this “positive” function of buffer inasmuch as it affords a measure of independence from direct control and resources for community building and consociation (Gemeinschaftsbildung and Vergesellschaftung in Max Weber’s lexicon) within the constricted sphere of intercourse thus delimited. A rampart and cordon sanitaire erected by the superordinate category, it forms a stockade sheltering the lifeworld of the outcast community from the most brutal intrusion and dictates of its antagonist.[118] Inside the dark ghetto at the heyday of Fordism, African Americans could find “escape from the tension of contact with white people,” let their guard down, and enjoy sociability unburdened by the press of caste, something which they could not do under Jim Crow:


Within Bronzeville Negroes are at home. They find rest from white folks as well as from labor, and they make the most of it. In their homes, in lodge rooms and clubhouses, pool parlors and taverns, cabarets and movies, they can temporarily shake off the incubus of the white world.[119]


The flip side of this argument is that, to the degree that its institutional autonomy and completeness are abridged, the shielding role of the ghetto for the subordinate group is diminished. As we shall soon see, what distinguishes the fin-de-siècle hyperghetto from the communal ghetto of the mid-twentieth century is precisely the loss of this buffering capacity and its correlative devolution into a deadly machinery for naked relegation.

            As with slavery and the segregationist regime of Jim Crow, the state provided decisive backing for the erection of the ghetto as the urban container designed to hold contaminating black bodies at a safe remove while wringing vital labor power out of them. The New Deal in particular helped this parallel city coalesce by (i) further stimulating mass exodus from the South via agricultural programs that excluded black farmers and laborers: the county committees administering the Agricultural Adjustment Act systematically barred Negros from participation; local boards of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration paid African-American recipients much less than their white counterparts on grounds that they were accustomed to a lower standard of living; and the Social Security Act deliberately omitted from coverage the field hands and domestic service employees who made up a majority of black Southern workers;[120] (ii) extending public aid to jobless African Americans living in the Northern metropolis: in Chicago for instance, the inroads of the Communist Party with its slogan “Black and White Unite,” the growing mobilization of Black Belt residents to fight job layoffs and apartment evictions, and the looming threat of race riots goaded the state and city to supply comprehensive relief, so that by 1940 half of city’s Negro families relied on government programs for their subsistence;[121] (iii) building up its physical infrastructure through public works and the massing of social housing projects in the segregated urban core, while subsidizing white flight to the suburbs and refusing to guarantee loans to blacks seeking residence in white neighborhoods. On the private side of the housing market, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, signed into law by Roosevelt in 1933, not only revolutionalized lending by erasing the stigma of mortgages and extending long-term amortized loans at cheap rates to the upper and middle classes; it also innovated the infamous practice of “redlining” whereby black areas were systematically rated as “undesirable” and “hazardous” lending zones (this pattern of official bias was perpetuated by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board until at least 1970). The federal governement and the courts also countenanced overt discrimination in the real estate industry and restrictive covenants forbidding owners and their heirs to sell property to Negroes for up to twenty years—the Supreme Court deemed such restrictions constitutional until 1948. On the public side, the Federal Housing Authority established in 1934 and the Housing Act of 1937 accelerated the decay of the inner city by financing the mass building of single-family homes for whites in the suburbs while concentrating poor blacks in subsidized high-rise projects stacked up in all-black tracts that quickly became “dumping grounds” for the city’s refuse. After World War II, federal housing, lending, and transportation policies as well as toleration of continued racial discrimination in real estate and “community” organization similarly conspired to keep blacks firmly hemmed inside the ghetto.[122]




Specifying the workings of the ghetto as mechanism of caste closure and control makes readily visible its structural and functional kinship with the prison: the ghetto is a manner of “ethnoracial prison” in that it forcibly encloses a stigmatized population which evolves within its boundaries its distinctive organizations and culture, while the prison functions as a “judicial ghetto” relegating individuals disgraced by criminal conviction to a secluded space harboring the parallel social relations and norms that make up the “society of captives.”[123] A brief review of the four constituent elements shared by ghetto and prison—stigma, constraint, spatial confinement and institutional encasement—immediately brings out the fact that they are two species of the same genus, namely, organizations for the forced confinement of dishonored categories: both employ space to materialize symbolic boundaries and enforce social separation (see Table 2).



Table 2. – The structural and functional kinship of ghetto and prison.


                                                Ghetto                                                 Prison  ­­           


Stigma                                     ethnic                                                   judicial

                                                slavery + caste                                      penal sanction

“dishonor of the masses”                       dishonor of offender


Constraint                                social, legal                                           legal, physical

                                                restrictive covenants, redlining                court decision

                                                violence (firebombing, harassment)         police, corrections, parole


Spatial confinement                 bounded district                                     secure facility


Institutional encasement          group-specific organizations                   place-specific organizations

                                                “black city within the white”                   “inmate society”

                                                (church, race press, lodges,                    (carceral roles, convict code,

                                                “hustle,” “policy racket”)                       contraband economy)                                       

Function                                  ostracize and exploit                              ostractize and reform

(after mid-1970s)                     (warehouse and ostracize)                   (neutralize and ostracize)




            The stigma necessitating the ghettoization of a group can be religious (as with Jews in medieval Europe) or ethnic (the Burakumin in Tokugawa Japan) as well as, in the case of African Americans, derived from the generalized dishonor of bondage—which, as Orlando Patterson has shown, typically persists long after abolition, often for several generations.[124] It is pinned onto the bodies of its individual members through the inculcation, diffusion, and deployment of classificatory schemata that support the fiction that the group is founded in nature (via blood) and carry “a negative symbolic coefficient” that silently devalues “everything that [members of the group] are and everything that they do.”[125] The same is true of the taint of imprisonment, which is judicial in origin and enshrouds both the offense committed and the offender (thus the most reviled category of convict among the inmates themselves in every society is the child molester or child murderer).[126] In this case it is the classificatory activity of the state, via the criminal court and its extensions, that depreciates the convict in every social relation he enters into in both public and private spheres and systematically warps his social trajectory.

The resident populations of both ghetto and prison are hemmed in under constraint, through a mix of social and legal duress for the former (restrictive covenants, redlining, street-level violence, generalized ostracism), through juridical restraint exercised by police, correctional officers, and parole agents for the latter. The point here is that, just as no group has ever “ghettoized itself” voluntarily, few if any inmates have served time out of their own free will. This helps explain that, whatever its origin, the collective disgrace of the confined transfers onto the place to which they are assigned: ethnoracial and judicial stain turn into spatial blemish, as revealed by the fact that ghettos and penitentiaries are commonly considered dens of vice and crime while their immediate vicinities are invariably seen as areas of danger and disrepute.[127] It is not by happenstance if the gietto of Venice, one of the first forced Jewish enclave in Renaissance Europe, was created in the early sixteenth century as part of a campaign for moral reform of the city, as a spatial device to stem the spread of unruly sensuality and bodily vice.[128] Both ghetto dwellers and prisoners thus find themselves having to organize their life within a closed and tainted perimeter, that of a clearly demarcated urban district in the one instance, a secure public facility in the other, within which the former grow group-specific institutions of collective protection and voice while the latter evolve place-specific social relations and cultural categories that help them acclimatize themselves to the restrictions of penal internment.

From Donald Clemmer’s (1940) The Prison Community, which introduced the concept of “prisonization” by analogy with the “Americanization” of immigrants, to Gresham Sykes’s (1958) The Society of Captives, which incorporated Clemmer’s culturalist approach into Parsonian structural-functionalism to highlight the rise of an “operating social system” in response to the “pains of imprisonment”; to John Irwin’s The Felon (1970), which deployed symbolic interactionism to show how convicts rework the external lower-class and criminal identities they “import” with them under lock; not to forget Erving Goffman’s classic formulation of the “total institution” and the “underlife” of inmates in Asylums (1961), with its mortification processes, privilege systems, and generic cultural themes, students of the carceral institution have amply documented that inmates develop highly distinctive social ties, exchange systems, and symbolic constellations.[129] Analysts of America’s urban Black Belt have likewise pointed out time and again that its residents deploy specific patterns of socialization and forms of intercourse, including “defiant, aggressive, and in the end self-destructive forms,” even as they cling to the core values of American society, in reaction to the “double trauma” of “rejection on the basis of class and race.”[130] To mention but language: just as prison inmates use “slammer slang” to highlight and convey the unique features of the carceral cosmos, lower-class blacks have developed a flexible dialect, the black English street vernacular, as well as a vibrant tradition of oral lore and verbal jousting, in reaction to racial stigma and confinement.[131] It is revealing that, when discussing what he characterizes as the “chronic and self-perpetuating” social and cultural “pathologies” visited upon inner-city blacks, Kenneth Clark repeatedly refers to them as “prisoners within the ghetto.”[132]

            The close anatomical and functional kinship between ghetto and prison explains why, when the former was rendered inoperative in the sixties by the confluence of economic restructuring, which made African-American labor expendable, and mass protest, which combined with the foreign imperatives of war and ideological propaganda to win blacks the vote, the carceral institution offered itself as a substitute apparatus for enforcing the shifting color line and containing those segments of the African-American community devoid of economic utility and political pull. The coupling of the transformed core of the urban Black Belt, or hyperghetto, and the fast-expanding carceral system that together compose America’s fourth “peculiar institution” was fortified by two concurrent and convergent series of changes that have tended to “prisonize” the ghetto and to “ghettoize” the prison. The next chapter examines each of these trends in turn.


[21,180  words, 10/31/2003]




[1]  A meticulous and comprehensive overview of the question is Robert J. Sampson and Janet L. Lauritsen, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Crime and Criminal Justice in the United States,” in Ethnicity, Crime, and Immigration: Comparative and Cross-National Perspectives, ed. Michael Tonry (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 311-374.

[2]  Gary LaFree, “Race and Crime Trends in the United States, 1946-1990,” in Ethnicity, Race, and Crime: Perspectives across Time and Place, ed. Darnell F. Hawkins (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), pp. 169-193, figures on pp. 181-82.

[3]  Allan Beck, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear in 1999 (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000).

[4]  Steven Donziger, The Real War on Crime: The Report of the National Criminal Justice Commission (New York: HarperPerennial, 1996), pp. 104-105.

[5]  Alfred Blumstein, “Prisons,” in Crime, eds. James Q. Wilson and Joan Petersilia (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1997), pp. 399-400; the intersection of punitive drug interdiction and racial division is explored in Craig Reinerman (ed.), Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997).

[6]  Marc Mauer, “Racial Disparities in Prison Getting Worse in the 1990s,” Overcrowded Times, 8, 1 (1997), pp. 8-13.

[7]  Jerome G. Miller, Search and Destroy: African-American Males in the Criminal Justice System (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

[8]  See Alfred Blumstein, “Racial Disproportionality of U.S. Prison Populations Revisited,” University of Colorado Law Review, 64, (1993), pp.743-760, for a paradigmatic study, and Michael Tonry, Malign Neglect: Race, Class, and Punishment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 56-79, for a vigorous and rigorous review.

[9]  See, from a vast and mostly technical literature, Jeff Yates, “Racial Incarceration Disparity among States,” Social Science Quarterly, 78, 4 (December 1997), pp. 1001-1010; Charles Crawford, Ted Chiricos, and Gary Kleck, “Race, Racial Threat, and Sentencing of Habitual Offenders,” Criminology, 36, 3 (August 1998), pp. 481-511; David Greenberg and Valerie West, “State Prison Populations and Their Growth, 1971-1991,” Criminology, 39, 3 (August 2001), pp. 615-654; Robert J. Sampson and William Julius Wilson, “Toward a Theory of Race, Crime, and Urban Inequality,” in Crime and Inequality, eds. John Hagan and Ruth D. Peterson (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), pp 37-54; and Elliott Currie, “Race, Violence, and Justice since Kerner,” in Locked in the Poorhouse: Cities, Race, and Poverty in the United States, eds. Fred Harrisand Lynn Curtis (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998), pp 95-115.

[10]  Michael Tonry, “Why Are U.S. Incarceration Rates So High?,” Crime and Delinquency, 45, 4 (October 1999), pp. 419-437; John R. Sutton, “Imprisonment and Social Classification in Five Common-Law Democracies, 1955-1985,” American Journal of Sociology, 106, 2 (September 2000), pp. 350-386; Jonathan Simon, “Fear and Loathing in Late Modernity: Reflections on the Cultural Causes of Mass Imprisonment in the United States,” Punishment and Society, 3, 1 (January 2001), pp. 21-33; Franklin E. Zimring, “Imprisonment Rates and the New Politics of Criminal Punishment,” Punishment and Society, 3, 1 (January 2001), pp. 161-166.

[11] Peter Spierenburg, “The Body and the State: Early Modern Europe,” in The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Modern Society, eds. Norval Morris and David J. Rothman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 49-78, citation p. 65. See also Bronislaw Geremek, La Potence ou la pitié. L’Europe et les pauvres du Moyen-Âge à nos jours (Paris: Gallimard, [1978] 1987), pp. 264 and 274: “Before prison became a method of punishment and corrections of criminals on a large scale, modern Europe made it into a tool for the implementation of its social policy towards beggars” and the means for “the conspicuous affirmation of the work ethic in those countries that took the path of capitalist development.”

[12]  Georg Rusche and Otto Kirschheimer, Punishment and Social Structure (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 2003, orig. 1939), p. 5.

[13]  Rusche and Kirschheimer, Punishment and Social Structure, op. cit., p. 5. A contemporary expression of this class reductionism is Michael Parenti, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis (New York: Verso, 1999).

[14]  For a compressed statement of the principles and implications of an analysis of penality in terms of field, capable of escaping the antinomy between formalism and instrumentalism to capture “the force of form” proper to juridical authority, read Pierre Bourdieu, “The Force of the Law: Toward a Sociology of the Juridical Field,” Hastings Journal of Law, 38, 1987 [1986], pp. 209-248, and idem, “Rethinking the State: On the Genesis and Structure of the Bureaucratic Field,” Sociological Theory, 12, 1 (March 1994 [1993]), pp. 1-19.

[15]  Rusche and Kirschheimer, Punishment and Social Structure, op. cit., pp. 40, 58, 67, 84-86, 121 and 127. But they themselves do not follow their own theoretical guidelines and, in the course of their sweeping historical survey, point to the role of fiscal constraints, military technology, collective mentality, demographic factors, and religious and racial ideology in determining or, more vaguely, “setting narrow limits” to, systems of punishment.

[16]  Rusche and Kirschheimer, Punishment and Social Structure, op. cit., p. 42.

[17]  Georg Rusche, “Labor Market and Penal Sanction: Thoughts on the Sociology of Punishment,” in Punishment and Penal Discipline: Essays on the Prison and the Prisoners’ Movement, eds. Timothy Platt and Paul Takagi (Berkeley, CA: Crime and Justice Associates, [1933] 1980), p. 11.

[18]  John Irwin, The Jail: Managing the Underclass in American Society, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984), p. xii, on the United States; for Europe, see the statistical profile of French prisoners in Francine Cassan, Annie Kensey, and Laurent Toulemon, “La prison, un risque fort pour les classes populaires,” Cahiers de démographie pénitentiaires, 9 (Fall 2000), pp. 1-4, and the in-depth study of Anne-Marie Marchetti, Pauvretés en prison (Ramonville Saint-Ange: Cérès, 1997), on the acute poverty and further carceral impoverishment of convicts.

[19]  Rusche and Kirschheimer, Punishment and Social Structure, op. cit., p. 182. Their observations on this topic are remarkably muted, however, and fail to detect the distinctive ethnoracial dynamic infused into penal policy by Nazism. For instance, against evidence to the contrary already mounting as of 1938, they insist that “the reintroduction of extensive property confiscations” into the German criminal code “is tied up less with ‘Aryan legal thought’ than with the transition from the system of competition to monopoly capitalism” (ibid., p. 187), even though no such spread of penal confiscation was observable in other advanced capitalist countries at the time.

[20]  Rusche and Kirschheimer, Punishment and Social Structure, op. cit., p. 121.

[21]  Pierre Bourdieu, “Capital symbolique et classes sociales,” L’Arc, 72 (1978), pp. 13-19.

[22]  Loïc Wacquant, Punir les pauvres. Le nouveau gouvernement de l’insécurité sociale (Marseilles: Editions Agone, 2004), and “The Penalisation of Poverty and the Rise of Neoliberalism,” European Journal of Criminal Policy and Research, 9, 4 (Winter 2001, special issue on Criminal Justice and Social Policy), pp. 401-412.

[23]  For example, Angela Y. Davis, “Globalism and the Prison Industrial Complex: An Interview with Angela Davis,” Race and Class, 40, 2-3 (October 1998), pp. 145-157, and idem, The Prison Industrial Complex (San Francisco: AK Press, 2000, CD-rom recording); and Philip J. Wood, “The Rise of the Prison Industrial Complex in the United States,” in Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization and Human Rights, eds. Andrew Coyle, Allison Campbell, and Rodney Neufeld (London, Zed Books, 2003), pp. 16-29.

[24]  As demonstrated by Gösta Esping-Andersen, Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), and Joel Handler, Down from Bureaucracy : The Ambiguity of Privatization and Empowerment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

[25]  Martin Gilens, Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Anti-Poverty Policy (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

[26]  Robert C. Lieberman, Shifting the Color Line: Race and the American Welfare State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), and Jill Quadagno, The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

[27]  F. James Davis recapitulates the national diffusion of the “one-drop rule” in the twentieth-century United States and highlights its idiosyncratic character through crossnational comparison in Who Is Black? One Nation’s Definition (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1992).

[28]  A.J. Christopher, The Atlas of Apartheid (New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 100-104; for a comparison with Brazilian racial categorization, which is even more flexible, Marvin Harris, Patterns of Race in the Americas (New York: W.W. Norton, 1964), and Melissa Nobles, Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000).

[29]  Joel Williamson recounts the mystifying tale of the social vanishing of mixed-race persons in The New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States (New York: New York University Press, 1980).

[30]  Davis, Who Is Black?, op. cit., pp. 123-139.

[31]  This rough periodization uses as markers the arrival of the first Africans in Jamestown, Virginia, and the end of the Civil War with the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomatox, Virginia, for slavery; the closing down of Reconstruction with the controversial election of President Rutherford B. Hayes and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights under Lyndon Johnson for Jim Crow; the onset of the Great Migration to the North and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as publication of the Kerner Commission report on “civil disorders” for the ghetto; and the murderous suppression of the Attica rebellion in the last year when the carceral population of the United States was declining for the hyperghetto-cum-prison era (1972 is also, conveniently, the year when the federal policy of “benign neglect” of racial inequality advocated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan was adopted by Nixon, as well as the start of the legislative and legal backlash against the advances of the Civil Rights Movement). This periodization differs from accepted chronologies of black-white relations in three ways: it is institutional rather than political; it treats the urban ghetto as a distinct instrument of ethnoracial domination in its own right; and it suggests that the ghetto has gone into demise without being fully superseded.

[32]  Deborah Gray White, “Let my People Go, 1804-1860,” in To Make the World Anew: A History of African Americans, eds. Robin D.G. Kelley and Earl Lewis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 223 (for the Dred Scott case) and p. 226 (for the Lincoln quotation).

[33]  Thus also the central place of violence in the black American collective experience and imagination, from Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Delany to Ralph Ellison, Bayard Rustin, Richard Wright, Malcolm X, and from oral folklore to “Blaxpoitation” film and “gangsta” rap: see Lawrence Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Thought from Slavery to Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), esp. pp. 407-420; Ronald T. Takaki, Violence in the Black Imagination: Essays and Documents (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, expanded and revised edition); and Jerry Bryant, “Born in a Mighty Bad Land”: The Violent Man in African-American Folklore and Fiction (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003).

[34]  The “inherent instability of the slave relation” has been demonstrated by Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), p. 336, and that of unfree labor by Peter Kolchin, Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 359-375. The congenital incompatibility of  caste separation and democracy is the fulcrum of Gunnar Myrdal’s classic analysis of the “American dilemma” of race (An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, New York: Harper Torchbook, 1944, repr. 1962)—which, contrary to what the Swedish economist avers, is not a “value conflict” amenable to moral resolution but a structural disjuncture between principles of social vision and vision, maintained or overturned by relations of power.

[35]  For an effective critique of this central tenet of the national racial doxa, read Philip A. Klinkner with Rogers M. Smith, The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999), esp. pp. 3-9, 315-327.

[36]  Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, [1939] 1994).

[37]  The unspeakable horrors of “Negro Barbecues” and assorted collective killings of blacks who had stepped out of “their place” in the Southern caste order are captured in the chilling collection of James Allen, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (Santa Fe, NM: Twin Palms Publishers, 2000).

[38]  Adam Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000 (New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001).

p. 298-334.

[39]  The remainder of this chapter is an abbreviated and simplified analytical history of slavery, Jim Crow, and the ghetto meant to trace the deep-seated roots and to sketch the perennial structural-functional as well cultural dynamics driving the racialization of the American prison at the close of the twentieth century. To do justice to the complexity, versatility, and contradictions of each of these institutions, let alone the linkages and transitions between them, requires another book (which is in progress).

[40]  Patterson, Slavery and Social Death, op. cit., p. 334 and passim. By “natal alienation,” Patterson designates “the alienation of the slave from all formal, legally enforceable ties of ‘blood’, and from any attachment to groups or localities other than those chosen for him by the master” (ibid., p. 7).

[41]  David W. Galenson, White Servitude in Colonial America: An Economic Analysis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981). The horrors of white servitude are depicted by Sharon Salinger, To Serve Well and Faithfully: Labor and Indentured Servants in Pennsylvania, 1682-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), who recounts how English bond-servants were transported alongside convicts in ghastly conditions, stripped naked, and sold at auctions or ceded to traders who marched them overland, sometimes in coffles, to sell them across the countryside where they were made to work in ways that British observers denounced with indignation as tantamount to chattel slavery.

[42]  Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: W.W. Norton, 1975), pp. 299-314; also Rusche and Kirschheimer, Punishment and Social Structure, op. cit., pp. 60-61. For lucid comparisons of the switch to slave labor in the American colonies with the establishment of serfdom in Tsarist Russia and slavery in South Africa’s Cape Colony in the seventeenth century, see respectively Kolchin, Unfree Labor, op. cit., pp. 10-46, and George M. Fredrickson, White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 54-93.

[43]  Peter Kolchin, American Slavery : 1619-1877 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), pp. 14-17, 22-23, 38-40.

[44]  It is for this reason that, in the annals of bondage, attempts to enslave en masse a native population in its territory have all ended in failure, “the most frightening” of them being “the European attempt to enslave the Indian population of the Americas” (Patterson, Slavery and Social Death, op. cit., p. 112).

[45]  Stephen Cornell, The Return of the Native: American Indian Political Resurgence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 28-31. Indians would later pay a steep price for their early ability to resist enslavement: they were nearly annihilated physically as well as culturally.

[46]  Kolchin, Unfree Labor, op. cit., pp. 14-17.

[47]  Winthrop Jordan, The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. 3-25 and 99-110.

[48]  Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom, op. cit., pp. 325-326.

[49]  Ibid, pp. 319-327; also Rusche and Kirschheimer, Punishment and Social Structure, op. cit., pp. 63-71, and Geremek, La Potence ou la pitié, op. cit. Chapter 4, “Les prisons pour pauvres.”

[50]  It is during this “great age of classification” that natural historians (then the most prestigious scientists) such as Linnaeus, Buffon, and Blumenbach sought to provide principles to order nature and to sort humans into distinct lineages and types independent of political membership, as demonstrated by Londa Schiebinger, Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1993), and Ivan Hannaford, Race: The History of an Idea in the West (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). It is apposite to recall here that the first twenty Africans brought to Jamestown in 1619 were indentured servants and not slaves.

[51]  The relative equality of status and extensive social ties between Africans and Englishmen in the early colonial period is documented in T. H. Breen and Stephen Innes, “Myne Owne Ground”: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), esp. pp. 19-35 and 110-114; Bacon’s Rebellion is narrated by Edmund Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom, op. cit., pp. 250-270.

[52]  Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom, op. cit., p. 328.

[53]  That racialized vision and division is not a sine qua non of enslavement—contrary to the claim of Winthrop Jordan when he writes, “difference, surely, was the indispensable key to the degradation of Africans in English America,” and unthinkingly equates “difference” with racial differentiation (The White Man’s Burden, op. cit., p. 50)—is suggested by the fact that most slave societies have practiced intraracial bondage: of 55 cases for which reliable data is available, Orlando Patterson found that 75%  of them featured masters and slaves of “the same mutually perceived racial group” while in 21% masters and slaves belonged to different ethnoracial categories (Slavery and Social Death, op. cit., pp. 176-178).

[54]  Kolchin, Unfree Labor, op. cit., p. 35; the development of racial consciousness as a legitimating device after the establishment of plantation slavery is surveyed by Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern 1492-1800 (London: Verso, 1997), esp. Chapter 8.

[55]  David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975).

[56]  Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 220-223, cite p. 222; on the impact of the emancipation of 1794 on  the French Caribbean and on subsequent European political culture, see Laurent Dubois, Les Esclaves de la République. L’histoire oubliée de la première émancipation, 1789-1794 (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1998).

[57]  Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981).

[58]  Paul Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2nd ed. 2001), p. 8.

[59]  Klinkner and Smith, The Unsteady March, op. cit., pp. 16-26.

[60]  Joel Williamson, A Rage for Order: Black-White Relations in the American South since Emancipation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 15-27; Eugene Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Vintage, 1974); and James Oakes, Slavery and Freedom : An Interpretation of the Old South (New York: Vintage, 1991).

[61]  Kolchin, American Slavery, op. cit., p. 112; Deborah Gray White, “Let My People Go,” art. cit., pp. 72-173.

[62]  This view of slavery as a paternalistic institution has been criticized for exaggerating the benevolence of masters and minimizing the role of naked interest and physical force, most effectively by Michael Tadman, Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, reprint ed. 1989). Yet there is no gainsaying that in comparative terms U.S. bondage was less brutal and the relations between Southern slaves and their owners more complex and intimate than on the Caribbean, Cuban, or Brazilian plantation.

[63]  August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, From Plantation to Ghetto (New York: Hill and Wang, 3rd ed., 1976), chapter 3; also Kolchin, American Slavery, op. cit., pp. 82-85.

[64]  Cited by Deborah Gray White, “Let my People Go, 1804-1860,” art. cit., p. 201.

[65]  Duncan J. McLeod, Slavery, Race, and the American Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975).

[66]  George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1987, orig. 1971), chapters 2 and 3; and Michael Banton, Racial Theories (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 32-46, on the “American school of ethnology.”

[67]  Davis, Who Is Black?, op. cit., pp. 41-42; Williamson, The New People, op. cit., pp. 65-75.

[68]  The interaction of slavery and race, and how each transformed the other across the three broad generations of slaves during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the “charter generations,” the “plantation generations,” and the “revolutionary generations,” is well depicted by Ira Berlin in Many Thousands Gone, op. cit.. However, no historical work to date has satisfactorily explained how and why slavery was racialized in the peculiar and peculiarly enduring manner that it was in the United States. Stressing the impact of African sociopolitical structures and ethnic cultures on the slave trade, as David Eltis does in The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, esp. chapter 7), does not resolve the conundrum.

[69]  C. Vann Woodward, American Counterpoint: Slavery and Racism in the North-South Dialogue (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1971), pp. 250-251; John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans (New York: Knopf, 1974), pp. 241-242.

[70]  Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (New York: Harper Collins, 1990).

[71]  Leon F. Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow (New York: Knopf, 1998), pp. 206-211.

[72]  William Julius Wilson, The Declining Significance of Race (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2nd edition, 1980), pp. 57-61.

[73]  Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind, op. cit., p. 255.

[74]  C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957, 3rd rev. ed. 1989), pp. 18-21, and Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free State, 1790-1860 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1965).

[75]  Charles A. Lofgren, The Plessy Case: A Legal-Historical Interpretation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 17. It should be noted that the expression “separate and equal” forever linked to this case does not appear as such in the judgement.

[76]  Litwack, Trouble in Mind, op. cit., p. 457.

[77]  See Desmond King, Separate and Unequal: Black Americans and the U.S. Federal Government (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 12, for the Wilson citation. King remarks that, although it is “a fundamental feature of the US government before the 1960s,” the systemic segregation of black Americans inside the state and its consequences “have been disregarded by most historians of American Federal government and by students of US politics” (pp. 16-17).

[78]  In Mississipi in the first half of the twentieth century, three fourths of tenant farms were operated by blacks while three of every four farm owners were white. Black ownership declined steadily over time, as did the value and size of the farms they owned, most of which were marginal concerns installed on infertile land and starved for capital and credit (Neil R. McMillen, Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1989, chapter 4, esp. pp. 112-113, 118-120).

[79]  For an analysis of sharecropping from a class perspective, read Michael Schwartz, Radical Protest and Social Structure: The Southern Farmers Alliance and Cotton Tenancy, 1880-1890 (New York: Academic Press, 1976).

[80]  Powdermaker reports that in Cottonville (Indianola, Mississippi) in the 1930s a mere 18% of sharecroppers turned a profit; she also cites a study by Charles Johnson which found that only 9% did so in Macon County, Alabama (Hortense Powdermaker, After Freedom: A Cultural Study of the Deep South, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, [1939] 1993, pp. 86-87)

[81]  James R. Grossman, “A Chance to Make Good, 1900-1929,” in To Make the World Anew, op. cit., pp. 345-408, citation p. 352, and McMillen, Dark Journey, op. cit., pp. 352.

[82]  W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Vintage/The Library of America, [1903] 1990), pp. 94-95. Here again, the federal government failed to take down this oppressive economic arrangement by neglecting to enforce an 1867 law prohibiting peonage.

[83]  Gerald David Jaynes, Branches Without Roots: Genesis of the Black Working Class in the American South, 1862-1882 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984).

[84]  Allison Davis, Burleigh B. Gardner, and Mary R. Gardner, Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class (Los Angeles, CA: CAAS Publications, [1941] 1992), pp. 350-356, and Litwack, Trouble in Mind, op. cit., pp. 136-137.

[85]  A Mississipi packing plant owner in the 1930s explains his preference for black workers for the efficiency it gave him in dealing with slackers and union agitators: “I take a club and beat the hell out of a couple of Negroes and conditions immediately settle back to normal” (cited by McMillen, Dark Journey, op. cit., p. 158).

[86]  Tera W. Hunter, To “Joy My Freedom”: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors After the Civil War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).

[87]  John Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town (New York: Doubleday Anchor, [1949] reprint 1957), p. 156; McMillen, Dark Journey, op. cit., pp. 168-172, 180-185.

[88]  “The violence inflicted on black people was often selective, aimed at educated and successful blacks, those in positions of leadership, those determined to improve themselves those who owned the best farm in the county and the largest store in town, those suspected of having saved their earnings, those who had just made a crop” (Litwack, Trouble in Mind, op. cit., p. 151).

[89]  For variations on the many derivations of this central tenet of Southern racial rule, Litwack, Trouble in Mind, op. cit., pp. 181-183, and Powdermaker, After Freedom, op. cit., pp. 23-42.

[90]  Litwack, Trouble in Mind, op. cit., p. 236.

[91]  McMillen, Dark Journey, op. cit., pp. 42-44; Litwack, Trouble in Mind, op. cit., pp. 218-299; and C. Vann Woodward, The Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University, 1972), pp. 321-349.

[92]  Powdermaker, After Freedom, op. cit., pp. 47-48.

[93]  In one Mississippi Delta town, the post office took the trouble to erase the mentions “Mr.” and “Mrs.” on letters mailed to black resident (McMillen, Dark Journey, op. cit., pp. 23-24).

[94]  Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town, op. cit., p. 62.

[95]  Williamson, A Rage for Order, op. cit., p. 292.

[96]  Leon Litwack, Trouble in Mind, op. cit., p. 296, and Allen, Without Sanctuary, op. cit., passim.

[97]  Cited by McMillen, Dark Journey, op. cit., p. 240.

[98]  The raw materials for a reasoned comparison can be found in John W. Cell, The Highest Stage of White Supremacy: The Origins of Segregation in South Africa and the American South (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), and Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman, The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

[99]  Leon Litwack, Trouble in Mind, op. cit., p. 49; McMillen, Dark Journey, op. cit., pp. 124-125.

[100]  Neil Fligstein, Going North: Migration of Blacks and Whites from the South, 1900-1950 (New York: Academic Press, 1981).

[101]  Carole Marks, Farewell, We’re Good and Gone: The Great Black Migration (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1989).

[102]  Stewart E. Tolnay and E.M. Beck, “Racial Violence and Black Migration in the American South, 1910 to 1930,” American Sociological Review, 57, 1 (February 1992), pp. 103-116.

[103]  Charles S. Johnson, Growing Up in the Black Belt: Negro Youth in the Rural South (New York: Schocken Books, [1941] 1967), pp. 242-244; James R. Grossman, Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 16-37; and McMillen, Dark Journey, op. cit., pp. 263-265. As an uprooted people, African Americans have always migrated in search of improved economic opportunities and a less oppressive racial climate. Under slavery, they escaped across the Mason-Dixon line to flee bondage. Before World War I, their peregrinations took them throughout the South as well as to the frontier states of the West in a quest for land as fount of material security. The Great Migration redirected these population streams towards the urban North and amplified them by harnessing them to industrial wage employment. As we shall see in the next chapter, with the onset of mass incarceration in the post-Civil Rights era, lower-class blacks are being forcibly “migrated” back to the declining rural areas where most state and federal prisons are located.

[104]  Cited in Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), p. 22; see also Kenneth L. Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1976), chapter 8; and Joe W. Trotter, “African Americans in the City: The Industrial Era, 1900-1950,” Journal of Urban History, 21, 4 (May 1995), pp. 438-457.

[105]  Ira Katznelson, Black Men, White Cities: Race, Politics and Migration in the United States, 1900-1930, and Britain, 1948-68 (Chicago: The University of University Press, 1976), pp. 83-85.

[106]  St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, [1945] 1993), pp. 223-235; also Wilson, The Declining Significance of Race, op. cit., pp. 71-76.

[107]  Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, op. cit., pp. 80-85.

[108]  Size, density, and heterogeneity are the three distinctive features of urban life according to Louis Wirth, “Urbanism as a Way of Life,” American Journal of Sociology, 4, 1(July 1938), pp. 1-24 (reprinted in Louis Wirth, On Cities and Social Life, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1964, pp. 60-83). In this regard, the ghetto can be construed as a device to stanch the built-in tendency of the city towards cultural and social intermixing.

[109]   Thomas Lee Philpott, The Slum and the Ghetto: Neighborhood Deterioration and Middle-Class Reform, Chicago 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 141-142.

[110]  “Identification with the colony, and use of its facilities and institutions, not only indicated a growth away from homeland outlooks, but also formed for many newcomers a vital step in assimilation” (Humbert S. Nelli, Italians in Chicago: A Study in Ethnic Mobility, New York: Oxford University Press, 1970, p. 200). A similar divergence between African-American and European urban newcomers is revealed in John Bodnar, Roger Simon, and Michael P. Weber, Lives of their Own: Blacks, Italians, and Poles in Pittsburgh, 1900-1960 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1982).

[111]  Z.L. Miller, “Pluralism, Chicago School Style: Louis Wirth, the Ghetto, the City, and Integration,” Journal of Urban History 18, 3 (April 1992), pp. 251-279.

[112]  This explains the potency of the exotic trope in policy and scholarly discussions of urban blacks since the birth of the ghetto, of which the mythology of the “underclass” is the semi-scholarly avatar at the close of the twentieth century (Loïc Wacquant, “Three Pernicious Premises in the Study of the American Ghetto,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 21, 2 (June 1997), pp. 341-353).

[113]  The joint production of dark ghetto and European ward through contraposition is organically tied to the linked movement towards the total racialization of all persons of detectible African parentage, on the one side, and the gradual deracialization of white nationality groupings: as mulattoes, quadroons and octoroons, and Negroes were merged into the monogenic black category, various European immigrant streams such as Russian Jews and the Irish lost their label as “races.”

[114]  As cogently demonstrated by Mary C. Waters in Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990).

[115]  Loïc Wacquant, “‘A Black City Within the White’: Revisiting America’s Dark Ghetto,” Black Renaissance - Renaissance Noire, 2, 1(Fall 1998), pp. 141-151.

[116]  Meier and Rudwick, From Plantation to Ghetto, op. cit., pp. 242-249.

[117]  “The dark ghetto is not a viable community. It cannot support people; most have to leave it for their daily jobs. Its business is geared toward the satisfaction of personal needs and are marginal to the economy of the city as a whole. The ghetto feeds upon itself, it does not produce goods or contribute to the prosperity of the city” (Kenneth B. Clark, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, [1965] 1989, p. 28).

[118]  In discussing the “autonomy of the slum ghetto” of St. Louis in the mid-sixties, Lee Rainwater points out that “the larger society provides [its residents] with fewer resources but also with minimal interference in matters which do not seem to affect white interests” (Behind Ghetto Walls: Black Family Life in a Federal Slum, New York: Transaction Books, 1968, p. 5).

[119]  Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, op. cit., p. 387.

[120]  Joe William Trotter Jr., “From a Raw Deal to a New Deal? 1929-1945,” in To Make the World Anew, op. cit., pp.409-444, esp. pp. 413-416, and Lieberman, Shifting the Color Line, op. cit., Chapter 2.

[121]  Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, op. cit., pp. 86-89.

[122]  Kenneth Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 197-98 and 219-226, and Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 50-55. Continued state toleration and vigorous white support from below for rigid racial segregation in housing during the second half of the twentieth century are vividly recounted in David L. Kirp, John P. Dwyer, and Larry A. Rosenthal, Our Town: Race, Housing, and the Soul of Suburbia (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997).

[123]  For more on the homologies between ghetto and prison as institutions of forced confinement of dishonored categories, Loïc Wacquant, “The New ‘Peculiar Institution’: On the Prison as Surrogate Ghetto,” Theoretical Criminology, 4, 3 (2000, Special issue on “New Social Studies of the Prison”), esp. pp. 382-385.

[124]  Patterson, Slavery and Social Death, op. cit., p. 247-261. In all known slave societies, the slave is stripped of dignitas so as to enhance that of the master. Numerous historians have stressed the organic connection between the dishonor of African-American slavery and the vigor of the “honor complex” of Southern white society (e.g., Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South, New York: Oxford University Pres, 1982).

[125]  Pierre Bourdieu, Masculine Domination (Cambridge: Polity Press, [1998] 2000), p. 93, my translation.

[126]  John Braithwaite, Crime, Shame, and Reintegration (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

[127]  On the ghetto as “center of vice and crime,” read Clark, Dark Ghetto, op. cit., p. 26 and passim, and Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, op. cit., chapter 17; on the close geographic and symbolic connection between the black ghetto and the gambling, drugs, and prostitution districts of major U.S. cities, see Ivan Light’s classic article, “The Ethnic Vice Industry, 1880-1944,” American Sociological Review, 42, 3 (June 1977), pp. 464-478; on the negative symbolic radiation of the prison, Philippe Combessie, “The ‘Sensitive Perimeter’ of the Prison: A Key to Understanding the Durability of the Penal Institution,” in The New European Criminology, eds. Vincenzo Ruggiero, Ian Taylor and Nigel South (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 125-35.

[128] Richard Sennett, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization (New York: Norton, 1994), p. 224.

[129]  Donald Clemmer, The Prison Community (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, [1940] 1958); Gresham Sykes, The Society of Captives: A Study in a Maximum Security Prison (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, [1958] 1974); John Irwin, The Felon (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, [1970] 1990); and Erving Goffman, Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1961).

[130]  Clark, Dark Ghetto, op. cit., pp. 13 and 21; also Rainwater, Behind Ghetto Walls, op. cit.; David A. Schultz, Coming Up Black: Patterns of Negro Socialization (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969); and Roger D. Abrahams, Positively Black (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970).

[131]  See, respectively, John Baugh, Black Street Speech: Its History, Structure, and Survival (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1983), and Clemmer, The Prison Community, op .cit., pp. 88-100, as well as Jeffrey Ian Ross and Stephen C. Richards, “Slammer Slang: A Glossary,” in Behind Bars: Surviving Prisons (Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2002), pp. 181-198.

[132]  Clark, Dark Ghetto, op. cit., pp. xxxi, xxxvi, 26, and 55. The expression “prisoners of American color caste” is also used by Gunnar Myrdal in his Foreword (p. xxiv) to this book.