Thursday, April 18, 2013

Not just an American phenomenon.

In class today we touched on the debate surrounding of 'missing' African American father figures and Michelle Alexander’s views on Obama’s mentioning of this issue. She discusses Obama’s speech and indicates that it played upon the shallow and damaging stereotype that African American men are incapable or neglectful fathers. She indicates that the president did little to address the historical significance of his statements or to offer a solution. Her assertion that these missing fathers are in prison and that while white America perpetuates the image of the absent black father it is the intrinsically racist penal system that is causing this issue. The point she raises, that more black men are in prison today than were enslaved in 1850, was particularly shocking (though not surprising) to me. As was mentioned in class, the American justice system has manufactures a mode of legalised dehumanisation that is instilling the same form of hopelessness in African American men as slavery.
The debates raised in class encouraged me, once again, to assess whether the situation is comparable in my own country. Is this purely an American phenomenon or has is the hangover from slavery still very much present in the UK? My first search into Google brought up an article from a 2010 copy of The Guardian, a reputable left-wing newspaper.
                The article has since been amended as it originally stated that the UK had a higher proportion of black people in prison than the US. While the paper was quick to correct itself it does provide some useful insights into a contrasting punitive system which experiences an overrepresentation of minorities but on a smaller scale. The article indicates that, like the US, the UK has “not got prison right.” A prominent issue in England in the past few years, particularly in London, has been ‘stop and search.’ Unsurprisingly black people are subjected to a much higher proportion of this interference, as although they make up only 3% of the population they experience 15% of stop and searches.
                One thing I found interesting in this article which is comparable to topics we have discussed in class is the rate at which persecuted young black British men are converting to Islam in prison, particularly in the south east. This is something I found reminiscent of black power.
                There are countless comparable incidents that have occurred in the UK. In class we have discussed the Rodney King, Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin cases which sparked justified outrage in the US. The UK is not without similar events. As some of you may remember, in August 2011 mixed-race father of four Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police in an event surrounded by controversy. The official story is in a state of flux and the immediate aftermath of his death was country-wide riots. The London Riots brought the UK closer to fully discussing the racial biases of the Metropolitan Police, a notoriously discriminatory organisation. Duggan’s young family now adheres to the stereotype of the missing black or mixed-race father yet is clearly the victim of a crime committed by an inherently racist society.


  1. Thanks for this post, Scarlet. I always appreciate your insight into the parallels or disconnects between the problem of racist practices in the US and UK. I think it's crucial to acknowledge local specificity and history while grappling with larger global phenomena, in the West and the world, to illuminate the ways in which incarceration is being used as a tool by the modern neoliberal state. I just read a great book by David Harvey that tracks the growth of neoliberal ideology in the US post-Reagan and the UK post-Thatcher and learned a lot about the convergences of neoliberal violence in the two countries.

  2. Scarlet,

    I'm grateful that you are able to share your experiences with the class. I think it's helpful to step out of one's mindset to get an overall view of the world. I have extended family in England and have heard limited accounts of their experiences. I have considered doing some research on the racial other and how individuals are treated in society as the minority.

    Back to your comment on issues with the lack of fathers in the black community. I definitely agree with Alexander's point that although these situations are discussed, the reasons why they are so pertinent aren't discussed. In order to have conversations about these issues, it's necessary to discuss all angles of these circumstances.


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