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

  • 2nd Amendment meets the 1st in Fayetteville on campus carry

    They've had a forum in Fayetteville today on Rep. Charlie Collins' fervent desire to force more pistol-packing people onto the campus at the University of Arkansas (and every other college in Arkansas.) He got an earful from opponents.
    • Jan 20, 2017
  • Reality TV: Watching burglary live in LR

    A home surveillance system helped a Pinnacle Valley home owner get photos, but not immediately catch, burglars who stole two firearms Wednesday morning.
    • Jan 20, 2017
  • The Trump open line.

    Here's your open line. I hear there's a new president.
    • Jan 20, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation