I recently joined the Marshall Project's regular email link list about prison and jail justice issues. It's too in depth to read all the articles but the headlines help and I try to click and read key reports when I can.
Today's was a devastating indictment of the especially egregious failure to comply with PREA standards for preventing and treating prison rape in Texas. (Content warning for sexual assault, obviously).
It brought me back to a huge insight from the October blog series on Black Lives are Sacred.
It was a busy day so I posted a quick and upbeat entry: Committed's stunning a capella version of "Lift Every Voice and Sing." I composed a brief intro mentioning the beauty and confidence of the five young Black men serenely defying "the white cishet patriarchy that so furiously desires to see them in jail and dead in the street." And noticed the chance for a more effective parallel construction closing the sentence. So I asked myself "what in jail?" And the lightning bolt from heaven struck with the belatedly obvious answer: "raped in jail."
Sexual abuse and assault are a huge part of my theological, ministerial, and activist work. So I was aware of the huge evil of prison rape--the one time adult men are in serious and systemic danger. But I had never connected it--nor seen it connected elsewhere-- to the racism in our demonic new Jim Crow system of mass incarceration. (A google search on racism and prison rape to double check if I had missed things was truly upsetting because it revealed numerous claims that the major or indeed sole problem is black inmates constantly raping white ones).
Black men and boys unjustly imprisoned in huge and disproportionate numbers equals black men and boys in grave and systemic terror and danger of rape even on the outside. Which means they share the underlying PTSD-fueling grave and systemic terror and danger of rape that my daughter and I and all women share--even if toxic masculinity and physical sex differences mean that a greater proportion of the cis and straight ones, as with white men, will pass on the trauma by perpetrating themselves. Which increases danger to black women and children all the more upon release given the general prevalence of intra-, rather than inter-, racial violence of all sorts in all communities.
My heart was broken as I realized that my Black brothers share one of the greatest sufferings I and my sisters do as women but I had seen them only as men and hence primarily the problem on this issue while in danger from more obvious forms of racism. And that the cis white male lords of kyriarchy had successfully driven us apart by seductively offering them selected benefits of sexism and male privilege while offering me and other white women selected benefits of racism and white privilege. Because there are way the heck more of us than there are of them so the only way for them to stay in control is to divide and conquer we who are in the tricky middle by fear and resentment of each other along with utterly devastating Black women who are oppressed on both counts.
And my heart was opened in a whole new way to the amazing Black men I am coming to know through my participation in the Black Baptist church downtown via Sunday worship and especially Wednesday night bible study. They achieve so much personally and professionally in the face of horrible injustice. And honor a wise matriarch as their senior pastor and me as a theologian and, even more amazingly, a sister in Christ.