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Rev. Dr. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder

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Of Religion, Reproduction and Racist Incarcerations

Posted: 03/28/2012 1:28 pm

I am a teacher. I spent time instructing students on various topics related to the Bible, its historical context and how its verses keep reappearing in our present-day context. Much of what I teach is related to the who, what, where, when and why of the biblical text. Throughout the week I am in front of the class lecturing, engaging in case studies, playing music, showing videos -- all to the end of trying to make the biblical text relevant to the 21st century. I am usually the one teaching.

However, earlier this week I was happy to be the student. I took pleasure in being the learner. The onus of pedagogy was not on me. I was even more proud that my teachers were two African American women. In this political climate when the social rhetoric screams about "welfare queens," "food stamp presidents," and "getting them a job," I was happy to witness firsthand the lies of such language. As an African American woman with doctoral degree, I was on cloud nine as I sat at the feet of two other African American women, one also with a Ph.D., the other with a J.D.

My first "classroom" encounter came with Dr. Nicole Rousseau of Kent State University. In a room filled mainly white students and a few African American students and faculty, she discussed the black woman's burden. The presentation, taken from the title of her book, explained how black women's bodies have historically been tools for capitalism. Dr. Rousseau shared that since 1865 the reproductive capital of black women has been at the forefront much of this nation's political and social activity.

She helped me! There it was. She provided a profound answer to the question of why there has been so much political discourse about contraception, vaginal ultrasounds, identifying abortion doctors and women's reproductive rights in general. It has been and still is about money! Why are men in Congress and state legislatures obsessed with what women do with their bodies? It's all fiduciary. Dare I say that all of this talk is more about women as capital and our ability to "produce" for the sake of national fiscal stability and economic gain. Follow the money trail.

I had to leave Dr. Rousseau's lecture a little early to get across town to my next "class." Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness" was the featured speaker. Although I had read her book, I was excited for the opportunity to hear her speak and put a voice to the written text. What was most intriguing about Prof. Alexander's remarks was the impetus for the book. She recounted her "a-ha" moment in which she saw herself just as much of an oppressor as the police. Confessing her own initial bias and staring her prejudice in the face spurred her to write a book that she believed would give a voice to those "the justice system" had tried to silence.

When I left Prof. Alexander's lecture, I could not help but wonder, "If there is this 'movement' to put African American males behind bars, what is the point? What will such achieve?" Is it just a matter of supposedly keeping our streets safer? No. Perhaps it is an attempt to treat substance abusers? Really? If the statistic that one out of every 14 African-American males is behind bars (versus one out of every 106 white males) is true, perchance all of our men are more violent and need rehabilitation? All -- you have to be kidding me! Is the intent of the mass imprisonment of African American men to dismantle our families? I think it is this and some.

Advocates of mass incarcerations uphold that if the black men is out of the loop, then there is less competition in the work place. Demonize African American men as those who prefer illegal work, lock them away and now the "good" jobs can go to the "good" people. "Prove" that African American men do not want to work by putting them in prison. Follow the money trail!

There is more of a connection between Rousseau and Alexander than their being African American professionals. They are women who speak outside of the ivory towers of the academy. They both forced me to think of the ways money speaks so loud in the midst of this country's capitalistic conundrum. All of the conversation and noise about women's reproductive health and all of the silence about black men in prison is intentional. The intent is for the rich to get richer and the poor to remain poor, regardless of whose bodies are harmed in the process.
I am grateful for the opportunity to learn although this is indeed a painful lesson.