The banality of racism : the spirit of capitalism and mass incarceration
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] I question how does a country that claims to be post-racial, post-colonial, and modern incarcerate such a disproportional amount of African Americans? Though the United States contains about 5 percent of the world's population, it contains nearly a quarter of the worlds prisoners. A number equaling nearly 2 million. This statistic ought to be jarring in itself, yet more disturbingly, despite those identifying as African Americacomprise only 10 percent of the United States population, half of all African Americans, since the 1930's, have been incarcerated. The simple answer I propose is, like Hannah Arendt's hypothesis on the banality of evil, there is a banal attitude towards racism in the United States that allows for the targeting and incarceration of African Americans. I argue that a continued banality towards racism in the United States stems from a haunting afterglow of what Max Weber coined as, "the spirit of capitalism." This spirit has instilled, at a structural level, an attitude of banality towards racism, and thus has underpinned racist institutions which have defined the United States as a Herrenvolk democracy: Chattel Slavery, The Jim Crow Laws, and now Mass Incarceration. Double predetermination theology, in part, birthed capitalism and with it, a dichotomous worldview, wherein, what scholars refer to as, the property of whiteness, was instilled with the election for salvation, purity, and prosperity; while the property of blackness was instilled with election for damnation, danger, and criminality. Furthermore, I explore Mary Douglas' theory of "purity and danger" and "matter out of place" by arguing that blackness functions for white society as "matter out of place," thus signifying it as a pollutant and a danger to dominant white(ness) society. This in turn acts as an instrument of dominate (whiteness) society, which maintains distinctions between what is pure and dangerous through an essentialized, yet also protean-amalgamation of threatening and enchanting characteristics. I support this theoretical framework by juxtaposing W.E.B. Du Bois' notion of "double consciousness" with Paul Gilroy's notions of the "slave sublime" and his "politics of transfiguration." According to this notion of double consciousness, African Americans are never fully African nor fully American thus placing African Americans, in the eyes of whiteness, as matter out of place and dangerous. There are then two faces of blackness that I examine: blackness viewed from a standpoint of blackness, and blackness viewed from a standpoint of whiteness. However, I claim that, because of this liminal state of blackness in America, blackness is not simply a pollutant, but rather has the potential to subvert hegemonically imposed notions of blackness and whiteness by breaking the doubleness through what Gilroy refers to as a politic of transfiguration. Furthermore, this breaking occurs by articulating the falsity of dichotomous relationship and replacing such relationships with the vast multiplicity of an individuals identity. However, it is and has been this dangerous and modern dichotomous ideology that has afflicted African Americans with extreme underdevelopment, and fostered the deeply embedded structural racism within the United States.
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