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: , , , , ,

From the ArkTimes store

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…

  • Federal judge wants John Goodson to explain class action maneuvering

    A show-cause order filed Monday by federal Judge P.K. Holmes of Fort Smith indicates class action attorney John Goodson has some explaining to do about the move of a class action complaint against an insurance company from federal to state court with an instant pre-packaged settlement that has been criticized as a windfall for Goodson.
    • Dec 22, 2015
  • Arkansas Supreme Court refuses to rehear invalidation of marijuana act

    The Arkansas Supreme Court today denied a request to rehear its decision invalidating Issue 7, the medical marijuana initiated act.
    • Nov 3, 2016
  • Judge Griffen: Why black lives matter

    Another few words from Judge Wendell Griffen growing from the controversy over the sale of Black Lives Matter T-shirts at the state black history museum — removed by the administration and restored after protests from Griffen and others stirred by a story in the Arkansas Times:
    • Mar 13, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • The health of a hospital

    The Medicaid expansion helped Baxter County Regional Medical Center survive and thrive, but a federal repeal bill threatens to imperil it and its patients.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • That modern mercantile: The bARn

    The bARn Mercantile — "the general store for the not so general," its slogan says — will open in the space formerly occupied by Ten Thousand Villages at 301A President Clinton Ave.

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

Slideshows

 

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