The second Critical Ethnic Studies Association conference, which will feature presentations from many Signs authors, begins tomorrow. As scholars and activists at the conference grapple with the historical ruptures, epistemic breaks, and everyday violences produced by racism and colonization, Signs is providing open access to two articles from our recent special issue “Women, Gender, and Prison: National and Global Perspectives.” Both articles reveal the deeply raced-gendered roots and present-day structure of the US criminal punishment system, the crucial role of that system in producing gendered and raced subjects, and its role in perpetuating gendered, raced, and sexual violence.
Excavating the gendered logic of racialization that underwrites US prison systems, Sarah Haley’s “‘Like I Was a Man’: Chain Gangs, Gender, and the Domestic Carceral Sphere in Jim Crow Georgia” examines Georgia’s 1908 prison reform law, which forbade “women” from serving on chain gangs. In practice, however, black women were regularly subjected to both chain gang labor and domestic labor in white households, thus demonstrating that “black women’s humanity was illegible,” an understanding that stood in continuity with black women’s positioning during slavery and worked in concert with the economic regime of the Jim Crow South.
Through an in-depth critical reading of the US National Prison Rape Elimination Commission’s June 2009 report, Jessi Lee Jackson’s “Sexual Necropolitics and Prison Rape Elimination” argues that prisons are a site of both bio- and necropolitical sexual regulation and that “racialized constructions of gender and sexuality determine how [prisoners’] bodies slide along the continuum” between bio- and necropolitics. Noting that calls for the elimination of prison rape themselves stem from “fantasies of sexually violent black and brown bodies,” Jackson contends that antirape proposals that suggest heightened state surveillance and control as solutions will only serve, in the end, to heighten the sexual violence that prisoners face.
Signs authors presenting at the conference include Maria E. Cotera, Nicole Fleetwood, Zenzele Isoke, Amira Jarmakani, Ernesto Javier Martínez, Scott Lauria Morgensen, Paula Moya, Kim Park Nelson (book review forthcoming), Mimi Thi Nguyen, Jasbir K. Puar, Barbara Ransby, Dorothy Roberts, Tanya Saunders (book review forthcoming), Ella Shohat, and Dean Spade.