Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tote that barge, lift that bale

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2011 at 6:15 PM

frontporch.JPG

It turns out we were not alone in being struck weirdly by the image adorning a recent cover of Front Porch, the publication that goes out to members of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. (Wednesday update: A reader objected to my original crop of cover image, which was available on link I supplied, so I've substituted full image.)

Another was Caleb Smith, a Fayetteville native who teaches English and American studies at Yale. It so happens he's author of a prize-winning and widely lauded book, "The Prison and the American Imagination." In it, he wrote of a "poetics of penitentiary" in which some seem to find something enobling in the redemption promised for servitude and degradation visited on American inmates.

But never mind me. Let's just let Smith comment on the photo. (Parker Westbrook can comment on the illegal punctuation on the possessive of Arkansas — it's Arkansas's not Arkansas', since a pedantic reader demands more info.) He sent us the letter below. "A bad joke," he says, underlying a darker theme about prisons' resegregation of America. "Cool watermelon recipes" indeed. His letter:

I’m a native Arkansan with a longstanding interest in our prison system.

When I first saw the cover of the latest issue of “Front Porch,” the official magazine of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, I thought it was a bad joke. The racist picture shows an African American inmate standing in the fields of one of the state’s prison farms. He holds a rusty, beat-up hoe, and his head is wrapped in a rag. Behind him, a guard on horseback oversees the scene. The visual connections to the history of slavery and segregation are obvious.

The “Front Porch” is on-line.

Historians like David Oshinsky, the author of “Worse than Slavery,” have worked hard to show how prison farms emerged as replacements for the plantations of the Old South. In the post-Reconstruction era, the criminal justice system was reinvented to serve the interests of wealthy planters and white supremacists. And legal scholars like Michelle Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow,” have shown how today’s prison system is working to resegregate America, pushing back against the advances of the Civil Rights era. I discussed some of these problems in my own book, “The Prison and the American Imagination.”

If anyone doubts these facts, I would encourage them to take a look at the numbers. According to The Sentencing Project, Arkansas imprisons African Americans at a rate four times higher than whites, and 9% of the state’s black population has been disenfranchised by our criminal justice system. These statistics only begin to tell the story of the many lives that have been disrupted and destroyed by the system of mass incarceration.

What makes the issue of “Front Porch” such a strange, startling document, though is the way it presents this racist system as a normal, inoffensive reality. The headline cheerfully announces, “Ag[riculture] a big part of inmates’ lives.” Just below these words, the magazine promises “Cool watermelon recipes.” Is this 2011, I wonder, or 1861?

Caleb Smith
Associate Professor of English and American Studies
Yale University
New Haven, CT

Tags: , , , ,

Favorite

Speaking of...

Comments (53)

Showing 1-50 of 53

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-50 of 53

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Arkansas lawyers file class action against Walmart, others, over herbal products: UPDATE

    Lawyers in Little Rock and Fayetteville have filed federal suit in the Western District against Walmart, Target and Walgreens stores for selling herbal products that an investigation in New York discovered contained little or n one of the ingredients advertised on the bottle.
    • Feb 5, 2015
  • The shame of Robert E. Lee/MLK Day in Arkansas

    This morning, I was a student ambassador for Philander Smith College and the Social Justice Institute at a House Committee that discussed Rep. Nate Bell’s proposal to divide a Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
    • Feb 11, 2015
  • A template for the Hutchinson administration; fond farewells to Beebe appointees

    It came as no surprise when Talk Business mentioned this morning that Grant Tennille, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, had said Asa Hutchinson had informed him he'd be replaced at AEDC. Continue a Beebe loyalist (and, incidentally, an outspoken defender of same-sex marriage) in the agency on which Hutchinson focused so much of his campaign? Wasn't going to happen.
    • Nov 14, 2014

Most Shared

  • Lawsuit filed over settlement in forum-shopping class action case

    The lawyers facing disciplinary action by federal Judge P.K. Holmes in Fort Smith over their settlement of a class action lawsuit against the USAA insurance company have a new legal headache.
  • A modest proposal for charter schools

    It was just a little over a year ago when Baker Kurrus was hired as the superintendent of the Little Rock School District. With new Education Commissioner Johnny Key there was a strong concern that the Little Rock school system would be converted to all charter schools and the entire public education system would disappear.
  • Highway Department: Key parts of new Clarendon bridge installed upside down.

    The future of the old Highway 79 bridge at Clarendon is uncertain, but it's a good thing the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department didn't jump the gun on demolishing it.That's because the new bridge at Clarendon — or at least the western approach, which is elevated over U.S. Fish and Wildlife wetlands — is snakebit.
  • Cherokee tribe backs the casino amendment

    NOW, I get it. The group circulating petitions for a constitutional amendment to establish casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties reveals that the deal anticipates operation of the casino in Washington County by the Cherokee tribe that now has casino operations in Oklahoma.
  • Coalition building

    In 1993 a group of Arkansas grassroots, religious and labor leaders got together to strategize how they could more effectively move positive reforms through our often resistant legislature. The leaders were frustrated that big business interests worked together to win favors and block reforms, while community and worker interests were isolated and often defeated.

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation