Two New Articles Move Prisons to Public Sphere

joy-james-book2.jpgIt is interesting in this election year, while the Democrats are out to get out the vote to pull off success in 2008, and Senators Clinton and Edwards trying to out-Black Obama, the issue of massive imprisonment has only come up once (that I know of) in this whole course of courting the Black vote.

The issue is still dangerous territory for the Democrats. First, they have anxieties of appearing soft-on-terrorism, which has, at least momentarily, supplanted a conversation about being soft-on-crime. But that doesn’t mean the implication isn’t there. After all, a President willing to “use military force” against some unknown others over “there,” can be assumed to be willing to do as much against criminals “over here.” In short, the war on terror has allowed the national politicians to skirt talking about criminals here. But the spook, if you will, is never far in the distance (Note to academics: Because this is a blog doesn’t mean you get to not cite my ideas. Thanks.).

But whether prisons and prisoners are a part of the national dialogue, they are still very much a part of the nation. And two recent articles are seeming to try to bring them, and the issue into view.

Professor Glenn C. Loury, Economics Professor and Chair of the Institute on Race and Social Division at Boston University, tries to explain both the political and social forces for the growth of the prison population in the United States. He writes for the Boston Review:

One cannot reckon the world-historic American prison build-up over the past 35 years without calculating the enormous costs imposed upon the persons imprisoned, their families, and their communities. (Of course, this has not stopped many social scientists from pronouncing on the net benefits of incarceration without doing so.) Deciding on the weight to give to a “thug’s” well-being—or to that of his wife or daughter or son—is a question of social morality, not social science. Nor can social science tell us how much additional cost borne by the offending class is justified in order to obtain a given increment of security or property or peace of mind for the rest of us. These are questions about the nature of the American state and its relationship to its people that transcend the categories of benefits and costs.

Also, Daniel Lazare writes for The Nation on the same subject (and also a longerruthie-gilmore-book.jpg piece on Alternet), although he is reviewing several recent books about prisons (noticeably absent are new books written/edited by Drs. Joy James and Ruthie Wilson Gilmore). Lazare writes for Alternet:

Where will it end? As Martinson’s story shows, American mass incarceration is not what social scientists call “evidence based.” It is not a policy designed to achieve certain practical, utilitarian ends that can then be weighed and evaluated from time to time to determine if it is performing as intended. Rather, it is a moral policy whose purpose is to satisfy certain passions that have grown more and more brutal over the years. The important thing about moralism of this sort is that it is its own justification. For true believers, it is something that everyone should endorse regardless of the consequences. As right-wing political scientist James Q. Wilson once remarked, “Drug use is wrong because it is immoral,” a comment that not only sums up the tautological nature of US drug policies but also shows how they are structured to render irrelevant questions about wasted dollars and blighted lives.

Non-Shock of the Week: White Youth Happier than Black and Latinos

MTV and the Associated Press (does this seem like a weird combination to anyone but me?) just completed a survey of young people ages 13-24 about their happiness. I guess so they can keep making them feel unhappy in order to sell them crap they think will provide utter bliss. I don’t think I am far off in this assertion. The following is at the bottom of the press release: MTV has an esteemed research pedigree and this study is part of the network’s ongoing commitment to maintaining an unparalleled understanding of the youth audience.

But I digress.

One of the most interesting findings was that when polled about their overall happiness, young whites are happier than blacks and Hispanics by a wide margin: 72 percent of whites say they are happy with life in general, compared with just 56 percent of blacks and 51 percent of Hispanics.

Are you shocked?

Other findings were:

1. General Happiness – The study found that overall, most American young people (aged 13-24) report being happy with their lives and are optimistic about the future. 65 percent of respondents say they are happy with the way things are going in their lives in general and 62 percent think they will be happier in the future than they are now. Only one out of five say they are unhappy. Young people who are non-Hispanic whites are happier than blacks and Hispanics by a wide margin: 72 percent of whites say they are happy with life in general, compared with just 56 percent of blacks and 51 percent of Hispanics.

2. Parents, Family and Relationships – Parents are seen as an overwhelmingly positive influence in the lives of most young people. Remarkably, nearly half of respondents mention at least one of their parents as a hero. When asked “What one thing in life makes you most happy?” 46 percent of respondents say spending time with friends, family and loved ones. 30 percent of blacks and Hispanics identified family as the one thing in life that brings them the most happiness, compared with 15 percent of whites.

3. Religion and Spirituality – Religion and spirituality are an integral part of happiness for most American young people. 44 percent say that religion and spirituality are either a very important or the single most important thing in their lives, with more than one in ten reporting the latter. And those for whom religion and spirituality play a bigger role in life tend to be happier. 80 percent of those who say spirituality is the most important thing in life say they are happy with life in general, compared with 60 percent of those who say that spirituality is not an important part of life at all.

4. Fortune and Fame – Money and its relationship to the happiness of young people is a complicated issue. Almost no respondents mentioned anything financial or material as a source of happiness when asked an unaided question about what makes them happy. But many young people report financial woes as a source of unhappiness. In looking to the future, 70 percent say they want to be rich – and nearly half think it’s at least somewhat likely they will be someday – but just 29 percent want to be famous. Only 17 percent think they will be famous.

5. Technology – Cell phones, the Internet and other technologies are integrally woven into the lives of today’s young people and nearly two thirds say they make people happier. Half of those young people polled say the Internet alone helps them feel happier. And contrary to popular views of technology as a source of stress, many young people would be more stressed out without technology, with nearly half saying they never turn off their cell phones – even when they’re trying to chill out.

Read The Full Report (a pdf file).

Davina’s ‘Return to Soul’ with New CD

davina-cd-pic.jpgThis weekend I was cleaning my iTunes music folders when I accidentally clicked on a song from Davina’s 1998 debut album The Best of Both Worlds. This album, a clean and simple, straightforward (neo) soul record is one of the best of that period. Davina had one hit single from the record, “So Good,” made popular by its appearance on the soundtrack for the movie Hoodlum (1997).

But when my finger slipped and landed on a song from The Best of Both Worlds—the iTunes feature that shows you other work by the artist—pulled up two albums, one by an artist of the same name (and hardly the original’s caliber), and a NEW Davina album entitled Return to Soul, Volume 1.

I gagged! I clicked n the link, and clicked again on the fist song on the disc, called What’s Goin On (not a re-do of the Marvin Gaye classic), and it was her! I immediately bought the album, and let me tell you, she is none worse for wear!

The CD will be very familiar for those of you who have “Both Worlds.” The singer/songwriter/producer/engineer brings you the same brand of soul on this second album. With Davina, you get great beats and extremely tight production and arrangement, smooth honey-coated vocals and great songwriting. She’s easily labeled a “neo-soul” artist—but there’s nothing pretentious about her music or delivery. Similar to her debut album, there is not one bad song on the entire disc. NOT ONE!

After I found the disc, I googled around for her, and found her myspace page, and an interview she recently did for my favorite online music radio show, Honey Soul.

What did she tell Honey Soul she’s been up to the last 10 years? Farming. I kid you not. Apparently she grew up farming, and returned to work on her farm. She also released this disc on her own label, Soul Line Associates, and plans to release some vault material as well as new stuff in the future. I am looking for a tour, Ms Davina, if you happen to read this—and don’t be gone no ‘nother decade!

The best uses for Return to Soul, Vol 1.? Snuggle up to somebody, dim the lights, and get close. Pick it up on iTunes or CD Baby.

Don’t remember “So Good?” Here’s the video:

Things to See & Hear: Don Cheadle in ‘Talk To Me’; Prince’s ‘Planet Earth’

I have been extremely busy this week, catching up on work and getting some new things together for the upcoming year. I have definitely one new anthology I am co-editing which will be out next year, and working on a second that also will most likely hit the streets in 2008…so be on the lookout!

But if you need something to do this weekend, go see Talk to Me. It’s director Kasi Lemmon’s third film (also directed Caveman’s Valentine and my favorite of all time, Eve’s Bayou.). It brilliant, the performances are brilliant (Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji Henson, Cedric The Entertainer, Mike Epps) and I am afraid people will miss this one before it leaves the theaters. It is the story of real life D.C. DJ Petey Greene. I think the film asks a very important question of the audience–do people only ever see Black people as caricature (The answer made Dave Chappelle walk away from a $50 million television deal? It asks this question in a very subtle way, and it demands you, the viewer to ask yourself, exactly what is it that I find funny? It does this without being overly-didactic, but being thoroughly engaging.

Also, don’t sleep on Prince’s Planet Earth. The reviews have been mixed, and it’s not a perfect album. But get past it kids, he’s never going to make another Parade, Sign O The Times, or Lovesexy. He’s older, less angsty, and his music may never reflect that kind of bite he once had. So to that end, the standouts to me are Somewhere Here on Earth, The One U Wanna C, Chelsea Rodgers, & Mr. Goodnight (which should have been the first single). Most of the tracks give you a pop/rock feeling, and you can definitely tell he’s working with Lisa & Wendy again, who play on this record, and there influence is felt. Don’t sleep. Check it out.

Other than that, I’ll be back with you next week!

50 Cent Threatens Retirement: I Support That!

50 Cent has announced that he will retire if Kanye West outsells him when both of their CD’s are released on 9-11-07. Sohh.com reports

Despite holding a more successful track record, skeptics are questioning whether 50 Cent’s Curtis will outsell Kanye West’s Graduation come September 11. Ask 50 and he’ll tell you there’s no way he’ll come in second. In fact, he’s ready to wager his career on it.

“They would like to see Kanye West give me a problem because I’ve worked myself into a space where I’ve become the favorite,” Fif told SOHH exclusively. “Everybody roots for the underdog when he goes against the favorite.

“Put it like this,” 50 told SOHH. “Let’s raise the stakes. If Kanye West sells more records than 50 Cent on September 11, I’ll no longer write music. I’ll write music and work with my other artists, but I won’t put out any more solo albums.

“And I bet this, when Kanye West’s sales come in, he’s gonna have a 70% decrease [the second week] ’cause Def Jam is gonna buy records to keep him closer to 50 Cent,” the Queens rapper added. “So watch the first week and then watch the second week. Watch his @#* drop off the planet. We keep our angles covered before we make a decent bet.”

This weekend I was hanging out with my special friend and one of his friends said “50 Cent sells Black death.”

Damn. It was so powerful a statement, we had to ask her a second time. And she said it again. 50 Cent sells Black death. His whole reason for success is about how many times he been shot, how much he’ll shoot you, and big his guns are. 50 Cent sells Black death.

I agree. Now Kanye doesn’t sell Black death but he sometimes irks me with his “look at me, I’m so ironic” bullshit. It is one thing to recognize one’s own contradictions—saying hip-hop is homophobic and needs to stop with the “f****t” word, but then you’re using it in your next single. Then talking about how women get treated in hip-hop, but then referring to multi-racial women (who are mostly part Black, mind you) as “mutts.” Wearing bling but making a song about Sierra Leone conflict diamonds.

But if I gotta take the lesser of two evils, I guess I choose Kanye. 50—you gotta go. If 50 Cent wants to retire, well, I say let’s help him get out of the game!

BUY KANYE’S GRADUATION ON 9-11!!!

(Don’t want to support either of these jokers? Here are some other folks with music comin out on the same day—in THIS particular order.)

Me’shell Ndegeocello, Pete Rock, Bernie Worrell, Ani DiFranco, Elvis Costello, will.i.am, Sounds of Backness, Zap Mama, David Bowie, Eve, Siouxsie, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, Crowded House, McCoy Tyner Quartet.

Also this fall! Angie Stone, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and CHAKA KHAN!!!

White Privilege at Work: Bob Allen, Lindsey Lohan & Amy Winehouse

It’s now become a cliche that when white people get into trouble, they just say somebody Black did it. Susan Smith did when she drowned her kids. So did Charles Stuart, when he murdered his wife in Boston. Well, kiddos, it seems that the trend has come back with a vengeance–most recently with Senator Bob Allen and Lindsey Lohan. Amy Winhouse didn’t blame anybody Black for her recent woes, but I am adding her this week too! Here’s another installment in the White Privilege at Work Series.

Meet Bob Allen. Bob is a state senator in the Florida legislature. Bob is a Republican. He was arrested in a sting operation on July 11 for trying to pay an undercover officer for head in a public bathroom in a park. On August 3, the Orlando Sun Sentinel reported that Bob said he was “intimidated” by the undercover detective because he was Black and was “playing along” in order to avoid “becoming a statistic.” Right.

“This was a pretty stocky black guy, and there was nothing but other black guys around in the park,” Allen, who is white, told police in a taped statement after his arrest. Allen said he feared he “was about to be a statistic” and would have said anything just to get away.

He would have done anything to get away or get off? Anyhow, I digress. It gets worse.

Then Kavanaugh [the Black undercover] said he told Allen, “I wanna know what I gotta do for 20 bucks before we leave.’ ” He said Allen replied: “I don’t know what you’re into.”

According to Kavanaugh’s statement, the officer said, “do you want just [oral sex]?” and Allen replied, “I was thinking you would want one.”

The officer said he then asked Allen, “but you’ll still give me the 20 bucks for that . . . and that the legislator said, “yeah, I wouldn’t argue with that.”

As Allen turned and motioned for the officer to follow him to his car, Kavanaugh identified himself as a police officer by raising his shirt and exposing his badge.

When Allen was being placed in a marked patrol car, he asked whether “it would help” if he was a state legislator, according to a police report. The officer replied, “No.”

Does that sound like a man who was afriad of becoming a statistic? I think not. But that’s White Privilege at Work.

Meet Lindsey Lohan. Actress? Some say. Singer? I guess. Paparazzi fave! Absolutely. After her recent DUI scenario, she blamed one of her boyfriend’s friends who was a passenger in the car. TMZ.com reported

Dante says the mother panicked at Lindsay’s crazy driving, and backed out of the driveway in fear — not knowing who was behind the wheel. The guys say Lindsay then began to chase her at speeds of up to 80 mph through Santa Monica, blowing multiple red lights.

Dante realized the mother was driving to the police station and warned Lindsay if she didn’t stop she’d get in hot water. He says Lindsay responded, “I’m a celebrity. I’m not going to get in trouble.”

The two cars stopped in a parking lot near the cop shop. When police arrived, Dante says it seemed as if Lindsay told officers, “I wasn’t driving. The black kid was driving.”

A HOT mess. But that’s White Privilege at Work!

Lastly, British singer Amy Winehouse recently fell out during a show and was rushed to the hospital for what was initially reported as “extreme exhasution.” This weekend, Amy “they tried to make me go to rehab” Winehouse admitted that the reason for her collapse was an overdose–and still refuses to go get some rehab. Now, some of you may know through seeing awful films like Lady Sings The Blues, or reading the fabulous book by Farah Jasmine Griffin‘s If You Can’t Be Free Be A Mystery that Billie Holiday suffered from an addiction to heroin for a majority of her adult life. But she was harassed and jailed at every turn, and was even handcuffed to her death bed for heroin posession, a charge which she denied. In fact, Holiday often said that she was only ever arrested when she wasn’t using.

But Amy Winehouse gets to be a hot mess all over the telly, admitting and singing about her substance abuse, and laughing all the way to the bank. But that’s White Privilege at Work!

New Study: Making Black Girls “Ladylike” Discourages Achievement?

Over the past year, the Washington Post ran a series on Being Black and Male in America, that Ive heard they are going to turn into a book. Which is fine. I happen to be both, and a gay one, and know that it’s hard and all of that. However these conversations often seem to be presupposed on the notion that Black women have it so easy–that by virtue of their gender (or sex, I should say) they are somehow viewed as less threatening to whites–and alot of straight black people thinks this is true about white attitudes towards Black gay men as well.

Anyhoo, a new study shows that teachers tend to view the behavior of black girls as not “ladylike” and therefore focus disciplinary action on encouraging behaviors like passivity, deference, and bodily control at the expense of curiosity, outspokenness, and assertiveness.

(The following is from press release about it published by a DC-based organization called Gender Public Advocacy Coalition on the study.)

Based on two years’ observation at a Texas middle school, the Ohio University study found that teachers’ class- and race-based assumptions of black femininity made them more likely to discourage behaviors and characteristics that lead to class involvement and educational success. The teachers’ actions appeared to be less the result of conscious racism or sexism than an unwitting tendency to view the behavior of black girls through a different lens than that of their peers.

Among the findings of the study: black girls who actively sought out the positive attention of their teachers in class by asking questions were reprimanded by teachers, while boys and girls of other racial and ethnic groups behaving similarly were rarely disciplined in the same manner for their actions.

“A lot of the females, especially Black females here, try to have some authority over me in class. I say to them ‘Uh-uh—I’m the only adult in here.’ But they think they are adults too…” said Ms. Duncan, a teacher at the observed school.

The study, written by Ohio University Sociology Assistant Professor Edward W. Morris, is called : “Ladies” or “Loudies”? Perceptions and Experiences of Black Girls in Classrooms. And it is published in an academic peer review journal called Youth & Society. The abstract is below:

Although much scholarship has focused on the schooling experiences of African American boys, this article demonstrates that African American girls encounter unique educational perceptions and obstacles. Black girls in a predominately minority school performed well academically, but educators often questioned their manners and behavior. Some tried to mold many of these girls into “ladies,” which entailed curbing behavior perceived as “loud” and assertive. This article advances theories of intersectionality by showing how race and class shape perceptions of femininity for Black girls, and how the encouragement of more traditionally feminine behavior could ultimately limit their academic potential.