Racism in 'Front Porch'
I'm a native Arkansan with a longstanding interest in our prison system.
When I 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 Jim Crow are obvious.
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. 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 our 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?
Associate Professor of English and American Studies
New Haven, Conn.
Bored by WM3 coverage
The August 24th West Memphsi 3 edition was the most boring redundant piece of crap I've ever read. Where, oh where art thou Bob Lancaster, to at least administer comic relief? Hell, get back to politics.
Heading east on I-40 just before the Hazen exit there is a billboard that proclaims in screamingly large lettering: "Use the rod on your children ... And save their life". Or in plain, unadulterated non-sanctimonious language: "Hit your child with a stick and do it regularly." My question, naïve though it may be, is how can such a message be displayed along the public highways? That it is immoral is self-evident. It advocates violence against children. Hence, it is hate speech. And as such both the folks who've paid to have it displayed and those who took the money to display it should be held accountable. Surely there is some civil remedy. Or perhaps it is against the law to display this message. One would hope so. If not, why not put up a billboard that said, "Take a two by four and whomp an ignorant, misguided fundamentalist Christian upside his or her head...and do it regularly...it just might knock some sense into them." Do you think the billboard companies would run that one?
Healthy lunches for kids
With the start of a new school year, parents' attention is turning to school clothes, supplies, and lunches. Yes, school lunches.
Traditionally, USDA had used the National School Lunch Program as a dumping ground for surplus meat and dairy commodities. Not surprisingly, 90% of American children consume excessive amounts of fat, only 15% eat recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, and one-third have become overweight or obese. Their early dietary flaws become lifelong addictions, raising their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
But the tide is turning. In recent years, Hawaii, California, New York, and Florida legislatures asked their schools to offer daily vegetarian options, and most U.S. school districts now do. The Baltimore public school system offers its 80,000 students a complete weekly break from meat.
Last December, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to replace junk food in school lunches and vending machines with more healthful options. In January, the USDA announced the first new school lunch guidelines in 15 years.
Parents should continue to insist on healthful plant-based school meals, snacks, and vending machine items. They can consult www.vrg.org/family, www.healthyschoollunches.org, and www.fns.usda.gov/cnd.
Thanks for the Cash bus
My husband and I flew from Virginia to attend the Johnny Cash Musical Benefit in Jonesboro which was sponsored by the "Arkansas Times". I just want to thank the editor and lady tour guide on our bus #2. She was wonderful, gracious and entertaining. I appreciate the extra effort they afforded me as I am slightly handicapped. We had a wonderful time and stayed an extra four days in Little Rock visiting. My daughter and granddaughter attended with us and agree: it was well planned, dinner was great, and concert seats very good. Thanks, for helping us make some great memories.
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