Racial differentiation and prison systems are two aspects of American society that are so integrated into the culture that they have been naturalized. It is often assumed that race is an essential way of organizing the world, and that American criminal justice is fair and impartial in its discipline. A sociological analysis reveals these narratives to be falsehoods; race and racism in the United States have a shared history with mass incarceration that directly links to the American legacy of slavery, at the root of which lies racial capitalism.
An overwhelming amount of both qualitative and quantitative data, a portion of which I will include in this paper, points to a United States criminal justice system that imprisons a majority Black and Brown population. Given that Black and Brown people are in the minority of the general United States population, this data points to a pattern that exists relating incarceration rates to race, which this paper seeks to analyze. Racist narratives perpetuated widley from the government to the citizen level of American society attempt to explain patterns in the data by arguing that there is something inherently “criminal” about Blackness–in this paper I object to these harmful untruths, instead placing contemporary mass incarceration in a long history of racialized control that begins with the very establishment of race as a justification for colonial violence.
Art is often a powerful venue through which oppressed voices can portray their experiences in a nuanced and liberating manner. Indeed, creators of all kinds can find the ability to hold space for themselves and their histories through art. Literature in particular allows authors the individual benefit of catharsis through creation, and the societal benefit of letting the general public experience perspectives other than their own. Sociology, in its ability to name and reveal truths about society, has liberatory power in its own right. Through the integration of sociological theory and robust data with the literature of Black authors James Baldwin and Yaa Gyasi, I will make clear that the United States carceral system is a contemporary tool of racial capitalism used to create racial hierarchy in the interest of profit and accumulation.