Does Heaven Have a Ghetto?
Growing Up in Prisons
While the dynamics of gendered antiblackness emerge in specific modalities in Austin, they resonate with analogous processes that mark Black social life in Brazil, as explored in the chapters of Part II. Patterns of residential segregation, school punishment, and youth imprisonment in Texas and Rio de Janeiro are linked by fundamentally similar logics. This debatable claim requires that we evaluate each of these social realities’ manifestations and structuring principles. What are some of the main features of Black exclusion? How is Black social death produced and reproduced by the quotidian operation of institutions such as schools, the police, and prisons? What structuring logics account for these social dynamics?
An exploration of the mechanics of youth institutionalization in Texas, this chapter engages these questions by focusing on the various stages leading to a child’s passage into the juvenile criminal justice system: from offense to referral, to adjudication, to prosecution, and to imprisonment. It analyzes racial disparities at each of those stages and shows how youth institutionalization is part of a recurring cycle, one that continually expands its reach over individuals, communities, and urban spaces defined by precise social characteristics. To contextualize the expanding criminalization of Black and Latin@ youth, this chapter provides an analysis of the relationship between residential segregation and the public school and juvenile justice systems. It shows the ways in which patterns of blocked social mobility, which intensely affect Black and Latin@ areas, are strongly correlated to Austin’s mechanics of economic and racial segregation. Due to the powerful interplay between race, affluence, urban space, and education, Black and Latin@ children remain excluded from quality school campuses. These are the children who, due to their greater chance of finding themselves in the worst-performing schools and receiving harsher punitive measures, are the ones more likely to be referred to out-of-campus educational alternatives and thus to enter the juvenile criminal justice system.
While these patterns of punishment affect Black and Latin@ kids, antiblackness—the overarching logic organizing punishment and related processes—makes it so that Blacks are quantitatively more intensely and qualitatively distinctly penalized. Black students, in a process that mirrors patterns in the juvenile justice system, are appreciably overrepresented in school discretionary disciplinary referrals; Latin@ students are also overrepresented in disciplinary referrals, but to a lesser extent than Blacks. Importantly, Black overrepresentation in disciplinary referrals reveals patterns of punishment that are unique in their nature, duration, and long-term effects.
Despite the city’s progressive reputation, the Austin Independent School District refers Black children to disciplinary programs at rates that are consistently more than double their representation in the student body. Travis County, where Austin is located, has one of the highest referral rates to juvenile probation in Texas. Combined, these two patterns, which are in turn deeply related to urban space and affluence, produce and intensify social dispossession among Blacks. Antiblackness is the all-encompassing principle that links residential segregation, school discipline, and incarceration. That nonblacks are also affected only reinforces the thesis that antiblackness may have reached a saturation point and is expansive. Nonblacks, however, are not impacted in the same way as Blacks. Antiblackness, as a structuring fact, differentiates social positionalities and thus produces varied collective results for distinctly positioned subjects. Antiblackness, itself a structuring logic, produces (and interacts with) different logics as they apply to distinguishable racialized social groups. Rather than adopting the canonical people-of-color framework that tends to lump nonblacks at the receiving end of the negative impact of White-supremacist oppression—and thus crowds out the specific and foundational Black experience from the resulting analysis—this chapter zeroes in on the differentiated results of antiblackness on Blacks and Latin@s. It is precisely in these fine distinctions that emerge the nature of antiblackness and its constitutive social death. The Denial of Antiblackness enters a dialogue with a people-of-color-oriented literature and political perspective that argue for the applicability of the social death thesis to nonblacks. This argument, however, tends to address Black experiences as paradigmatic examples of social death while almost always assuming that such experiences are analogous to those of nonblacks.
A cyclical and expansive carceral logic of dispossession is at play: one that operates on segregated social environments and, over time, affects multiple generations as they transit from schools, to juvenile and adult prisons, and back to the segregated areas. This chapter suggests that Latin@s’ collective experiences, vis-à-vis those of Blacks, describe similar yet distinct insertions in the cyclical logic of dispossession. While often inhabiting the same residential areas, going to the same schools, and finding themselves in the same punitive institutions, Latin@s are collectively less vulnerable to the harsher forms of punishment and isolation that mark such environments and affect Blacks disproportionately. The chapter concludes with a consideration of how these common yet importantly distinct experiences impact Black and Brown mutual recognition.
Mechanics of Institutionalization
In the Texas Juvenile Justice System, a juvenile is a child between the ages of ten and seventeen at the time of committing an act defined as “delinquent conduct” or “conduct in need of supervision.” “Delinquent conduct” is one that, if committed by an adult, could lead to incarceration; “conduct in need of supervision” (CINS), on the other hand, is more frequently associated with conduct specific to juveniles, and would therefore not be a violation if committed by an adult.
A juvenile cited or apprehended engaging in delinquent conduct or CINS can be referred to juvenile court, or her case can be disposed by probation departments or prosecutors. In 2010, probation departments dealt with 40 percent of all juvenile cases, prosecutors resolved 18 percent of them, and juvenile courts disposed with the remaining 42 percent. That calendar year, police agencies accounted for nearly 77 percent of the 86,548 formal referrals to juvenile probation departments. Schools, juvenile probation departments, the Texas Youth Commission (abolished in 2011, together with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, TJPC), and other agencies accounted for the remainder of the referrals. It must be stressed that, as much as police presence is qualitatively and quantitatively more intense in Black and Latin@ areas, plays a critical role in the maintenance of ubiquitous surveillance (as the recent legal controversies over the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices reveal), and indeed constitutes an entry into the vast institutional network of targeted mass incarceration in the United States, it is just as effective in dragging children into the maze of criminal justice.
When a juvenile is referred to court, various outcomes are possible. The juvenile can be dealt with informally and returned home. However, if the county decides to charge the youth with delinquent conduct, two other possibilities open up. One possibility is that the juvenile is certified as an adult, in which case the youth is considered an adult for criminal purposes and is transferred to the adult criminal justice system. The other possibility is that the juvenile is adjudicated for delinquent conduct, in which case three outcomes can occur: (1) the juvenile is placed on probation; (2) if a felony offense is found, the juvenile is sent to the TJJD with an indeterminate sentence; (3) the juvenile is sent to TJJD with a determinate sentence.
If the court places the juvenile on probation instead of sending her to TJJD, the juvenile must be discharged by the time she turns eighteen. If the juvenile is sent to TJJD with an indeterminate sentence, she must be discharged at nineteen. However, if the juvenile is sent to TJJD with a determinate sentence, depending on her “behavior and progress” in TJJD programs, she can be transferred to an adult prison. TJJD facilities are therefore reserved for youth who have committed the most serious offenses: “About 95 percent of youths committed to TJJD have already failed at a county-level intervention. The remainder of TJJD’s youth committed serious offenses such as capital murder, armed robbery, or aggravated sexual assault and were sent directly to the agency’s care.”
Managed by the county, the “intensive supervision unit” where we conducted our writing workshops housed youths who had been tried in court, found guilty, and placed on probation. Many of them returnees, they were aware that each probation incarceration stint put them a step closer to TJJD and therefore the adult criminal system. Even though TJJD’s procedural structure is organized by increasing levels of legal penalties—the “progressive sanctions and interventions model” (Figure 1)—allegedly meant to keep children away from the juvenile and adult justice systems, ethnographic and demographic analyses show that its actual operation, coupled with social processes such as residential segregation, policing, and school disciplinary measures, among others, produces transgenerational patterns of institutionalization.
Referral is the first step in a child and her family’s passage into the juvenile criminal justice system. In 2010, approximately 80 percent of the 86,548 children formally referred to juvenile probation in Texas attended regular school or were homeschooled. The other 20 percent “attended alternative educational programs, had been suspended or expelled, or had dropped out of school.” While the average age of the children referred in 2010 was fifteen, sixteen-year-olds were the most frequently referred. Of those referred, 73 percent were males.
The racial breakdown of youths referred to juvenile probation is of particular significance for, as it happens in the adult criminal justice system, it reveals marked patterns disproportionately affecting Black individuals negatively. In 2010, Whites made up 39 percent the youth population in the state, yet they accounted for 25 percent of the referrals to juvenile probation. The largest racial youth group in the state, categorized by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission as Hispanics, accounted for 45 percent of the youth population, and 49 percent of probation referrals. Black youth were 13 percent of the total state youth population but 25 percent of those referred to juvenile probation. (Other racial groups, including American Indians and Asians, constituted 1 percent of referrals.)
Racial disparities suggest a gamut of institutional practices that, while reproducing and intensifying social structures of privilege and dispossession, create unique dynamics before, during, and after confinement. The majority in both the state youth population and the youth institutionalized population, Latin@ kids are slightly overrepresented, by 8.8 percent, among those referred to probation. White youths, on the other hand, are underrepresented by 35.8 percent in the juvenile probation system. Most telling, however, Black youth were overrepresented in juvenile probation by 92.3 percent of their proportion in the total state youth population. Like the facility in Austin where we conducted our writing workshops, a Latin@ numeric majority, an overrepresentation of Blacks, and an underrepresentation of Whites mark spaces of youth detention in Texas. Even though overrepresentation of Latin@ and Black youth suggests the racialized aspect of carceral institutional practices, the unique overrepresentation of Black youth invites us to engage in more detailed punishment mechanisms and grapple with antiblackness and its overarching yet differentiating logic.
Youth institutionalization is a node in a dynamic and recurring process—one that builds on its own energy to continually expand its reach over individuals, communities, and urban spaces defined by precise social characteristics. Youth institutionalization also expands through time. Successive generations are caught in it: as we will see through their written words, children detained mention parents, relatives, and friends who were, who are, or who will likely be imprisoned. There is a shared consciousness of incarceration as a ubiquitous and expanding total social fact. The expansion happens on urban space, social networks, and genealogical time. For each additional individual institutionalized, the process of incarceration gains momentum. Children who are referred once are likely to be institutionalized again. In a given year, over half of the youths who enter the juvenile justice system had a previous referral. In 2010, 52 percent of juveniles referred to probation had at least one prior referral; among those, 66 percent had two or more prior referrals, 33 percent had four or more prior referrals. Among those with a prior referral, 45 percent had a felony as the most severe prior offense, 46 percent had a misdemeanor offense, including probation violation, and 9 percent had a CINS as the most serious prior offense.
The mechanics of overrepresentation of Blacks and underrepresentation of Whites become more graspable when we consider the following related facts. On the one hand, in 2010, compared to Black and Latin@ kids, in the breakdown of the offenses for which they were referred, White youths had the highest proportion of the more serious felony offenses (20.4 percent) vis-à-vis misdemeanors (55.9 percent), violation of probation (VOP) (11.6 percent), and CINS (12.1 percent). For Blacks, these numbers stood at 19.1 percent, 52.2 percent, 14.5 percent, and 14.2 percent; for Latin@ youths, they were 18.9 percent, 53.8 percent, 13.0 percent, and 14.3 percent.
On the other hand, however, Black juveniles were disposed to probation and to TJJD—the outcomes, within the “progressive sanctions and interventions model,” deemed appropriate for children who committed the most serious offenses—at greater proportions than Latin@ and White youths. The conundrum of Black kids’ unique experience in the juvenile justice system, which combines lower frequency of serious offenses and higher commitment to probation and TJJD vis-à-vis White and Latin@ children, is further illustrated in the following data. In 2010, 29.4 percent of Black juveniles adjudicated were sent to probation; for Whites that proportion stood at 23.2, and for Latin@s, 26.8 percent. In that year, following a trend that has remained constant since at least 2008, Black kids were also sent to TJJD more often than were Whites and Latin@s: 1.8 percent versus 1.1 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. That is, Black kids were committed to TJJD at a rate 70 percent higher than Whites, while Latin@ youth cases were committed to TJJD at a proportion 9 percent higher than Whites.
On the other hand, Black youths were less likely to be disposed to supervisory caution and have their adjudication deferred than were their White and Latin@ counterparts. For example, in 2010, while Black kids had 22.7 percent of their cases categorized as deferred adjudication, Whites had 30.6 percent, and Hispanics 25.4 percent.
The percentages of dismissed charges may be interpreted to show the one area in which Black and Latin@ kids seem to fare better than White kids. In 2010, 23.8 percent of Black kids’ cases were dismissed; White kids had a rate of 19 percent, and Latin@s 23.4 percent of dismissals. However, given the role that aggressive policing in Black and Latin@ neighborhoods plays in referring kids to the justice system, higher rates of dismissals are symptomatic, less of the court’s lenient tendencies toward nonwhites, but rather of the greater frequency with which spurious detentions and charges are made against Black and Latin@ youths when compared to White youths. Dropped cases reveal a national and historic pattern by which police departments produce an excess of unjustified arrests. They suggest stop-and-frisk type tactics that are not based on deviant behavior but rather on aggressive policing in negatively racialized geographic areas. Based on the mandate of affirming ubiquitous police presence and the assumption of wrongdoing by those under greater scrutiny, this form of occupation policing depends, financially and politically, on ever-increasing data that prove the very necessity and efficiency of police departments. Immersed in highly competitive funding environments at the local, state, and federal levels, police departments (and criminal justice divisions more generally) are compelled to produce constantly renewed, expanded, and extraordinary activity data.
The imperative of data collection only adds to the long-term patterns of intense social vigilance over negatively racialized groups and territories. Similar proportions of dismissed cases for Black and Latin@ youths indicate comparable experiences of urban space defined by hypersurveillance and disproportionate police stops. Black and Latin@ areas are occupied zones of dispossession where repressive police presence is routine.
Black and Brown kids share the experience of being the object of discriminatory panoptical policing practices. However, that’s not the only experience they share. Texas Juvenile Probation Commission data indicate salient tendencies in the juvenile justice system negatively affecting Black and Latin@ kids in ways not commensurate to the experiences of White kids. Despite Black and Latin@ kids’ lower proportions of felony dispositions than Whites, Blacks and Latin@s were committed to TJJD at greater percentages than were Whites; they received harsher legal treatment (probation rather than deferred adjudication, for example); and they were less likely to be given supervisory caution.
Yet, in the spectrum of experienced juridical outcomes, Latin@ youths’ trajectories are not always comparable to those of Blacks. A more accurate description of this phenomenon is that whereas Latin@ kids’ cumulative experiences in the juvenile system put them in an intermediate position between that of Whites and Blacks, the Black positionality consistently correlates with more intense levels of containment and punishment.
Consider adjudication to supervisory caution, a disposition normally reserved for less serious offenses according to which the probation department provides counseling for the child and may refer the child and her family to social services. It is a legal outcome whose frequency reveals Brown kids’ intermediate position between Black and White youths. In 2010, while Black kids received supervisory caution in 21.8 percent of their cases, the rates for Latin@ youth were 23 percent and White youths 25.9 percent. These numbers suggest moments in which Latin@ youths are not as harshly treated as Black kids, but are nevertheless not treated as sympathetically as White kids. Probation dispositions, which are of considerable consequence since they mark a child’s institutionalization, show similar patterns: in 2010, 29.4 percent of Black kids’ referrals were disposed to probation; that number was 23.2 percent for White kids, and 26.8 percent for Latin@ kids.
Other times, however, legal outcomes for Latin@ youths are closer to those of Whites than Blacks. Indeed, the harsher the dispositions are, the more distant become the institutional experiences of Blacks on the one hand and Whites and Latin@s on the other. Commitment to TJJD, far greater for Blacks, as analyzed above, is a case in point. And so is a child’s certification as an adult, which automatically transfers the child’s case to the adult criminal justice system. In 2010, 0.4 percent of all Black kids were certified as adults (0.3 percent in 2009); for White kids, that proportion was 0.2 percent, and the same 0.2 for Latin@ kids. For White and Latin@ youths, between 2009 and 2010 there was no increase in the percentage of juveniles committed to the adult system. It bears emphasizing that the proportion of Black kids certified as adults is 100 percent greater than the proportion of White and Latin@ kids certified as adults. Over time, such disproportionality has the effect of constantly increasing Black children’s disproportional representation in the adult punitive system.
In sum, Black kids are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. Even though felonies are smaller proportions of their offenses than they are for Whites, and only slightly higher than they are for Latin@s, Black children are committed to TJJD at a rate 70 percent higher than Whites, and 58 percent higher than Latin@s. Black children are less likely to be referred to counseling, and they are more likely to be sent to the adult criminal system. When committing less serious offenses, Latin@ kids’ experiences in the juvenile system more closely resemble those of Black kids. However, for Black children, in a process that is not so linear for Latin@ children, and certainly not the case for White children, the movement through the juvenile criminal system is accompanied by accumulated disadvantages. This process of accumulated disadvantages, which partly translates into an increasing overrepresentation in the institutionalized population most harshly treated, is similar to what happens in the adult criminal system. Consider that while only 13 percent of the general population, Black juveniles constituted 26.8 percent referred to probation, 32.8 percent disposed to TJJD, and 40.7 percent of those certified as adults (see Table 1). For Black kids, the deeper they move into the punitive system, the greater their levels of overrepresentation. For White kids, the inverse process is at play: the deeper they move into the juvenile system, the lesser their proportions become. Throughout the various stages of the juvenile system, the proportion of Latin@ kids remains close to that of their overall population, with a slight increase in the initial referral stage, followed by a slight decrease as the children are placed deeper into the punitive bureaucracy.
Table 1 suggests that the positionality of the Black youth is not commensurate to that of Latin@ and Anglo youths. The juvenile justice system apparatus works according to an unmistakable antiblack dynamic that targets, punishes, and confines Black youth in unique degrees of reach and intensity. That Black kids are increasingly overrepresented the deeper they move into the machine of juvenile punishment only reveals the fundamental overlap between technologies of punishment and the institutional logic that derives from and reaffirms the abjection of the Black body.
Anglo, African American, and Latin@ youth in the juvenile justice system
|Anglo (%)||African American (%)||Latin@ (%)|
|Texas juvenile population|
|Referred to TJPC|
|Certified as adult|
From Where Do Locked Up Kids Come, and to Where Do They Return? Residential Segregation and Disparities in Income and Education
In a recent study appearing in the Austin American Statesman, its authors stated what many of the youths under the supervision of the juvenile criminal justice system already know: “Austin is one of the most economically segregated metro areas in the country, with rich and poor residents increasingly separating into low- and high-income neighborhoods, and a smaller and smaller share of residents living in mixed-income communities.”
CC, a youth who participated in the SOY workshop in 2008, recorded his impressions of residential segregation in this way:
. . . how is it you ask that
Those with it all
Look as happy as
On the other side of the
Clean houses Clean Cars
But in our ’hoods the garbage
Is in LOADS.
Austin’s map of income segregation, as analyzed by Zehr and Villalpando, shows I-35 dividing the city along a south–north axis. To the west are wealthier areas where real estate values are higher, schools are better, recorded crime is lower, and police presence is not as pronounced. To the east are impoverished areas where home values are lower (although increasing in the last two decades, due to gentrification), schools consistently produce worse academic results (including test scores and graduation rates), crime is recorded in higher numbers, and police presence, as discussed above, is aggressive.
Austin’s economic trends have intensified segregation rather than attenuated it. Even areas that in the early 2000s presented a relative mixture of income are becoming either more homogeneously impoverished or more homogeneously privileged. This process increases segregation as it diminishes the possibility of contact between families of dissimilar social backgrounds. Austin’s patterns are not in any way unique. The long-term significance of such levels of segregation is readily graspable when we consider that “lower-income children tend to climb higher up in the economic ladder if they were born in areas of greater income integration.” Children born in Austin in the lowest fifth quintile of national income had a 6.9 percent chance of making their way to the top quintile by age thirty—a chance “notably lower than other tech-savvy cities and lower than all but four Texas cities.” These patterns of blocked social mobility are strongly correlated with Austin’s dynamic of economic segregation. The city’s separation between affluent and disadvantaged neighborhoods is a product of two interrelated processes. On the one hand, although the share of families living in rich areas has fluctuated since the 1970s, it has steadily increased since 2000, reaching about 19 percent of all families. On the other hand, despite a slight decrease in the 1990s, there has been a marked increase in the proportion of the city’s families living in impoverished areas. Indeed, based on the 2010 United States Census, “the share of Austin families living in poor neighborhoods has grown from 16.3 percent in 1990 to 19.2 percent in 2009.” Economic segregation in the Texan capital, thus, stems from a combination of intense, opposite, and related processes. Recrudescent levels of poverty and affluence shape the ways in which urban space is occupied, providing resources and opportunities for the better-off, and limiting life chances for the already disadvantaged.
Yet, it is not just income and educational levels that attain expression in urban space. Urban space is itself a medium of and metaphor for racial dynamics: a stage where representations and practices of race gain temporary expression; a stage that is itself the expression of gendered and racialized conflicts. Because income and educational attainment are influenced by and express spatial configurations, and since spatial configurations forcefully shape and are influenced by narratives and performances of race and its gendered inflections, income and educational attainment are necessarily expressions of gendered racial dynamics. The gendered aspects of racial dynamics become readily apparent when we engage variations of employment rates, salary, frequency of encounters with criminal justice systems, and victimization by domestic and sexual violence within and across race-specific groups.
The dot map of Austin’s racial landscape shows Interstate 35 separating neighborhoods that have substantial Black and Latin@ families from areas that are predominantly White. Juxtaposing this dot map to the previous map we discussed, which represents levels of segregation by income and educational levels, we immediately notice that the areas where there is greater concentration of low income and lower educational levels are also the areas where Whites live in smaller numbers. Relatedly, the location just east of Interstate 35 and north of the Colorado River comprises zip code areas where Blacks are concentrated in greater numbers than in other Austin coordinates. Characterized by the relative absence of Whites, these geographies of dispossession are predominantly Black and Brown.
Having established the transgenerational and spatial dimensions of affluence and poverty, it is not surprising to find that most schools rated “exemplary” are located west of I-35, in precisely the areas marked by an absence of economically disadvantaged students. In a context where the number of unacceptable schools in Central Texas increased from three in 2007 to twenty-seven in 2011, the greater presence of better schools in already economically privileged areas suggests a troubling cyclical dynamic whereby social privileges are concentrated and expanded, both in space (in Austin’s case, more people who are getting richer are living closer to one another, crowding out the less affluent) and in time (one’s family material and social resources, and access to quality neighborhood schools, improves future life chances). Indeed, “of all the factors that predict financial success, none are more tightly linked than education.”
By the same logic, social dispossession is concentrated and expanded. Due to the powerful interplay between affluence, education, space, and race—one that produces social facts grounded in social geography that are carried through time—Black and Latin@ students thus “remain significantly less likely to attend an Exemplary campus.” These kids are shut off from the best public schools, and they remain trapped in campuses where low graduation and high dropout rates affect them disproportionately. In Central Texas, Black and Latin@ kids graduate at lower rates compared to the rest of the campus, and indeed, in a trend that has intensified since 2005, “drop out at almost double the rate of the campus as a whole.”
The spatial dimensions of racialized intergenerational privilege and dispossession produce and reflect a host of other social phenomena. Likelihood of entering in contact with the criminal justice system is one of them. When heeding patterns of what has been called “the school-to-prison pipeline,” it is apparent that the children most likely to be disciplined and referred to out-of-school Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs) and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEPs) come from, precisely, the already economically challenged areas—areas whose schools are disproportionately Black and Latin@, and whose graduation rates and standardized test results are consistently worse than campuses located in whiter neighborhoods west of I-35. This phenomenon’s nuances are worth focusing on; they tell us an important part of the collective and intergenerational story that leads youths into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.
The School-to-Prison Cyclical Pipeline: Accumulated Dispossession and Early Social Death
At the time of the nonprofit justice center Texas Appleseed’s 2007 publication of Texas’ School-to-Prison Pipeline, “one in three juveniles sent to a locked-down facility operated by the Texas Youth Commission [replaced by TJJD in 2011] has already dropped out of school—and more than 80 percent of Texas adult prison inmates are school dropouts.”
Following the 1994 passage of the federal Gun-Free School Act, and Texas governor George W. Bush’s 1995 State of the State remarks focusing on the need to adopt policy targeting “those who terrorize teachers or disrupt classrooms—zero tolerance,” there was substantial change in Texas school discipline legislation. Specifically, the 1995 75th Texas Legislature rewrote the Texas Education Code and crafted Chapter 37, which created DAEPs and JJAEPs. Mandatory referrals to these programs were linked to a specific list of serious offenses. School districts, however, were given ample discretion to refer students for other code of conduct violations including talking back to a teacher, using profanity, and disrupting class. Starting in the mid-1990s, a dramatic increase in student disciplinary referrals resulted from these policy changes. According to the 1995 State Board of Education’s Long-Range Plan for Public Education, the objective was to “promote zero-tolerance guidelines for behaviors and actions that threaten school safety.”
Focusing on disciplinary referrals for the period 2001–6, Texas Appleseed examined in-school suspension (ISS), out-of-school suspension (OSS), and DAEPs for all Texas school districts. Because Appleseed’s analysis disaggregated data by seriousness of offense (and thus differentiated mandatory and discretionary referrals), race, ethnicity, participation in special education, and grade level, we can relate it to (a) our previous examination of disparities in the juvenile justice system, (b) economic and educational levels, and the ways in which (a) and (b) connect with and gain expression in urban space. Appleseed identified school districts disproportionately referring Black and Latin@ young people for misconduct, and paid special attention to the role that discretion had in producing the data. It found that discretionary referrals constitute, by far, the largest share of the total referrals produced in a given year. In 2005–6, for example, Texas public schools produced 62,981 discretionary referrals to DAEPs, whereas mandatory referrals for serious offenses numbered 27,093. Moreover, contrary to expectations, discretionary DAEP referrals were given for violations less serious than fighting by a proportion of six to one. By engaging school discipline, we are able to gain insight into the microphysics of youth institutionalization in racialized spaces marked by accumulated dispossession.
Even though most Texas schools have not formally adopted zero-tolerance guidelines, they nevertheless utilize the broad latitude given to them in the Texas Education Code, a product of the zero-tolerance Bush-era political climate, to enforce severe disciplinary measures that are often not commensurate to the offense. Once in the realm of discretion, the subjectivity of schoolteachers, staff, and administrators gain added importance in how children of different backgrounds are treated. Collectively-shared representations, many of which operate at a subliminal frequency unlikely to be detected as explicit bias, lead to subjective disciplinary decisions that, over time, have the accumulated effect of reinforcing preexisting negative stereotypes about Latin@ and, more intensely, Black young people.
African American students, in a process that mirrors patterns in the juvenile justice system, are appreciably overrepresented in the discretionary disciplinary referrals (see Figure 2). Latin@ students are also overrepresented in disciplinary referrals, but to a lesser extent. Indeed, not surprisingly, the greater predictor of the likelihood that a child receives a disciplinary referral is the school district she attends. By shutting down already economically impoverished kids from formal educational tools that would in theory give them a competitive labor market profile, excessive discretionary disciplinary measures increasingly render indistinguishable the difference between educational and criminal bureaucracies. Over time, discretion in school discipline adds to the arsenal of social mechanisms reproducing exclusion.
Specifically, between 2001 and 2006, for one or more years, 211 Texas school districts referred Black students to DAEPs at rates exceeding their proportional representation in the school: “In 2006–2007 alone, 15 school districts referred African American students at more than twice their representation in the student population, with discretionary referral rates ranging from 21 to 65 percent” (see Table 2). Considering that there are 1,037 public school districts in the state, it is astounding that 503 of them overrepresented Black kids in discretionary out-of-school suspensions, while 347 districts overrepresented them in discretionary referrals to in-school suspensions.
Latin@ kids are also overrepresented in disciplinary referrals, but not in rates as glaring as Black kids. Forty school districts overrepresented Latin@ kids in discretionary DAEP referrals; 224 disproportionally referred them to OSS; and 92 overrepresented them in ISS. Comparing these numbers to those of the paragraph above, one is confronted with troubling patterns of antiblack discrimination which, compared to the patterns of discrimination against Latin@ and White students, suggests a unique scale of range and intensity—an intensity that is without analog in other social groups.
Overrepresentation of Black students in disciplinary referrals becomes even more aberrant when we consider their specific predicament regarding dropout rates. Black male kids are more likely to drop out of high school due to disciplinary referrals than any other gendered and racial group. This is partially because DAEPs have five times the dropout rates of other disciplinary programs. Still, DAEP dropout rates are not the end of the story. Upon reentering a regular campus from a DAEP, students who find themselves lagging tend to drop out simply because they are unable to make up for the lost ground. Most schools, unsurprisingly, lack transitional programs. Texas has one of the country’s highest dropout rates—only 74 percent of students graduate on time. Yet for Black and Brown kids, high school graduation rates are even worse, standing at 68 and 65 percent, respectively.
Overrepresentation of African American students, at more than twice their proportion in the student population, in DAEPs, 2006–7
As argued by the American Psychological Association’s Zero Tolerance Task Force report, the heightened use of discretionary disciplinary measures does not enhance discipline, student performance, or campus climate:
The evidence strongly suggests, however, that zero tolerance has not increased the consistency of school discipline. Rather, rates of suspension and expulsion vary widely across schools and school districts. Moreover, this variation appears to be due as much to characteristics of schools and school personnel as to behavior or attitudes of students. . . . A key assumption of zero tolerance policy is that the removal of disruptive students will result in a safer climate for others. Although the assumption is strongly intuitive, data on a number of indicators of school climate have shown the opposite effect, that is, that schools with higher rates of school suspension and expulsion appear to have less satisfactory ratings of school climate, to have less satisfactory school governance structure, and to spend a disproportionate amount of time on disciplinary matters. Perhaps more importantly, recent research indicates a negative relationship between use of school suspension and expulsion and school-wide academic achievement, even when controlling for demographics such as socioeconomic status.
Disciplinary referrals, as punitive measures that do little to enhance school climate and safety, seem to increase the probability of future disruptive behavior. In an atmosphere that is increasingly dominated by surveillance and punishment, school campuses where disciplinary discretion is utilized frequently and widely offer little in the way of overall safety, intellectual nourishment, and support. Students who are suspended are more likely to be suspended again: “In the long term, school suspension and expulsion are moderately associated with a higher likelihood of school dropout and failure to graduate on time.”
Black and Latin@ kids who find themselves in punitive campuses and have a history of disciplinary referrals are not only at a greater risk of dropping out; they are also one step closer to being absorbed by the juvenile justice system. One could argue that Black kids are consistently overrepresented in suspension and expulsion due to their relatively lower economic status, which would intuitively correlate with higher challenges at home, which would, in turn, produce a higher likelihood of disruptive behavior and lower academic achievement. Yet, according to careful research, such disciplinary overrepresentation of Black students is reducible neither to economic disadvantage nor to alleged higher rates of disruption or violence committed by Black kids. “Rather,” this research finds, “African American students may be disciplined more severely for less serious or more subjective reasons.”
Subjective reasons, then, may be an overdetermining factor explaining disproportionate discretionary disciplinary referrals for Black youths. Subjective reasons, which in turn inform and reflect an antiblack structure of positionalities as suggested in the Introduction, are likely to be that which connects the school and the juvenile justice systems. When we recognize that the single most important predictor for referral to the juvenile justice system is a history of disciplinary referrals at school, we are able to grasp the cyclical dynamic linking schools and the justice system. This cyclical dynamic is energized, in great part, by the subjective underpinnings of discretionary disciplinary actions. A 2005 study on “minority over-representation in the Texas Juvenile Justice System,” conducted by the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University, showed that involvement in one or more disciplinary incidents increased by 23.4 percent a child’s likelihood of being referred to the juvenile justice system compared to children with no school disciplinary referrals.
• • •
The cyclical dynamic linking schools and prisons is not restricted to schools and prisons. It is a cyclical dynamic because the logic that sustains it—the gendered antiblack logic of surveillance and dispossession—is effective far beyond the confines of institutional protocols. When a child is referred to a DAEP, she is already placed in coordinates of time and space that engender her social inviability. She lives in an urban area where racial hypersegregation intensifies the effects of concentrated poverty, the failing and overtly disciplinary school, and the panoptical presence of the criminal justice system. It should come as no surprise that, (a) just as where a student attends school overdetermines the likelihood that she will be referred to a discipline program, so too (b) the student’s geographical location affects her chances of entering the criminal justice system. The overlap between (a) and (b) is an example of the cyclical dynamic of surveillance and dispossession. But it is also an instance when and where institutions synchronize—they trade captive bodies, as well as data, technologies, and common understandings about those who enter their realms, and thus apply their mandated discretion accordingly. Institutions are able to synchronize—and indeed need to synchronize—because they are part of the same, constantly retrofitted complex of surveillance and dispossession. They communicate because of their common grammar that enforces and depends on repressive patterns of space occupation and management. Bureaucracies of education, punishment, and incarceration draw their shared clientele from predictable and easily identifiable social geographies. Even though it may appear that the school-to-prison pipeline operates only in one direction—from schools to prisons—over time it becomes evident that those who are sent to schools are the biological/social products of previous and ongoing transgenerational dispossession. Because of their gendered racialization, the current generation’s predecessors were already dispossessed, and whether they entered, currently reside, or left a prison institution is a mere detail in the long duration patterns. Paradigmatically in Black spaces, the racial dynamics of segregation are such that vulnerable communities experience heightened confinement, vigilance, and material destitution as indistinguishable from, and indeed defining, the very residential coordinates they inhabit. A carceral logic is at play here, one that “conceptually encompasses the stratecraft and expansive institutionality of state-proctored human captivity, which inscribes a multiply scaled political geography of social and bodily immobilization.” It is this “multiply scaled political geography” that propagates transgenerational surveillance and dispossession while restricting movement beyond its domain.
We are in fact observing a constellation of institutional protocols, socially shared expectations, and cognitive patterns that, as they interlock, produce a continuous feed of new bodies to be confined, disciplined (educated, as it were), and disposed, not necessarily in this order. It is thus not surprising to find structural similarities between Austin Independent School District’s use of discretionary referrals against Black children and Travis County’s rate of referrals of Black kids to juvenile probation, which is of course a result of the county’s exercise of its discretionary powers. In Texas, AISD and Travis County have the distinction of ranking among the highest in their use of discretionary referrals. AISD sends Black children to DAEP and OSS under discretionary referrals at a rate of 37 and 32 percent, respectively—more than double the 14 percent of Blacks in the student body (see Table 2). Travis County, which contains Austin, has one of the highest referral rates to juvenile probation in the state, at fifty-four per thousand children (Table 3). While the available numbers of referrals are not broken down by race, we saw previously in this chapter that not only will Black children be overrepresented among those referred, but their overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system will increase the deeper the child moves into its bureaucracy of punishment (Table 1).
By juxtaposing Tables 2 and 3, my intent is to suggest not a perfect correspondence between the workings of admittedly distinct institutions, but rather the simultaneous and amplification effect that each has on the other, and how both, in turn, are immersed in and reflect antiblack gendered racial dynamics of social representation, dispossession, and immobilization that far exceed their provinces of intervention. As specific as these institutions are, they combine powerfully to produce and reproduce a Black body whose individual and collective inviability suggests an incommunicable positionality in contrast to which the nonblack understand and perform themselves. The nonblack is able to experience viability precisely because the Black is inviable. At times and in certain spaces, nonblacks actually go through similar experiences of profound dispossession and immobilization. Yet those moments are not commensurate to the ones Blacks experience as normative. The unsaid but essential fulcrum is the Black body: the ideological, organic, sentient, yet invisible entity that is made to circulate through the maze of (in)human geographies and articulated institutions that constantly replenish the meanings of citizenship, social worth, and personhood—social life—by producing and reproducing Black social death.
Social death can be thought of as precondition to, embodiment, and consequence of imprisonment: once released back to the “free,” the formerly incarcerated carries with her an invisible yet formidable scarlet letter that obstructs or impedes access to subsidized housing, health care, work, and the ballot box. The scarlet letter that the Black carries is an instruction manual for the constant assembly and reassembly of social death. Here, then, social death attains more accurate descriptive power when we think of the processes it describes as part of a cyclical and intergenerational trajectory rather than a linear, one-time sequence of events. So instead of conceptualizing incarceration as the beginning of one’s social death, we can think of it as a station in a constellation of synchronized institutions, experiences, and beliefs that effectively produce collective Black social death while guaranteeing gradations of attainable life, property, and the pursuit of happiness for nonblacks. More to the point: prior to being incarcerated, the now-released person was probably referred to a disciplinary program at school; she was born and raised in a hypersegregated and impoverished area where schools were frequently worse than those offered in zones where there was a lower concentration of Black people; her parents had troubled encounters with school administrators, juvenile probation personnel, and police officers; and aggressive police presence marked her coming into consciousness as a member of a particular community demarcated by clear spatial and racial boundaries. All of which doesn’t even begin to address the secondary forms of marginalization, those engendered within and by the very communities most affected by forces of social death: the just-as-deadly discrimination and employment of violence, symbolic and actual, based on the isolated and variously combined modalities of gender, sexuality, color, religion, age, and nationality, just to name a few.
Juvenile probation referral activity by county, January 1, 2010, through December 31, 2010
|Alleged delinquent and VOP||Alleged CINS|
|County||2010 juvenile population||Violent felony||Other felony||Other delinquent/VOP||Status||Other||Total referrals||Referral rate per 1,000||Children referred|
One choosing to dismiss these manifestations of social death as specifically and fundamentally antiblack phenomena should consider the spatial dimensions of potentially deadly diseases. In 2008, the Austin American Statesman published an article about maps divided by zip codes showing where people were more likely to die of illnesses. “When we look at the enormous impact on our health system of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and childhood obesity,” affirmed Dr. Melissa Smith, a family practice physician, director of the Seton Community Health Centers, “you see that poor and minority communities are heavily affected.” The same areas in the map of economic disparities that concentrate lower incomes, lower educational levels, most punitive schools, and greater juvenile probation referrals are also the areas where people die more frequently of disease. Deaths caused by diabetes and cancer, for example, “are more heavily clustered in the ZIP codes in the inner city and east of Interstate 35. Overall mortality from all diseases tends to be higher in those ZIP codes.” Black and vulnerable nonblack persons in those areas are thus more likely to die of such ailments. Yet, when we add to this reflection the finding that residential segregation affects Blacks paradigmatically—that Latin@s, for example, never experience the concentration, intensity, multifaceted nature, and duration of hypersegregation that defines the Black experience—then we are forced to come to terms with the fact that Blacks are more likely to be affected by such chronic and deadly diseases.
Does Heaven Have a Ghetto?
. . . God Forgive me for my sins.
I wonder if Heaven has a Ghetto
And will they let me in?
Tomorrow is not promised 2 us.
Today is hard enough.
JS’s question intimates social awareness of the synchronized, ever present, ubiquitous, and expansive racialized forces of dispossession and surveillance. The ghetto, as the spatial formation that produces gendered/racialized experiences of containment and dispossession, offers few alternatives within and beyond its borders—or palliatives that would make it bearable. Such is the evaluation that emerges out of BG’s poem:
I’m [here] for aggravated robbery.
So instead of hitting the lottery
I committed an aggravated robbery.
I needed the cash
So now I’m locked up.
I’ve done about 7 to 8 months—
I got 1 more month to get back
To the North-east, my streets
Ridgemont Drive 78723.
Short of becoming economically viable in an instant through a winning lottery ticket, there are reduced chances of participation in the legal monetized markets of commodities, jobs, health, relationships, and happiness, as constantly bombarded by a variety of mass propaganda media. The prospects of leaving the ghetto—in the words of Clyde Woods, a “social-spatial enclosure”—are quite dim.
Fluid, expanding, yet ever present and forceful enclosures, ghettos replenish rituals of dispossession—ghettos are institutionalized, transgenerational rituals of dispossession. One leaves a ghetto for another ghetto—and may even encounter a ghetto in the afterlife. Ghettos are evocative descriptions of hypersegregated racialized neighborhoods. Yet, because of the antiblack logic structuring underprivileged and hypersurveilled neighborhoods, schools, juvenile prisons, and adult prisons can also be categorized as ghettos—spaces organized by a common logic of gendered/racialized surveillance and dispossession.
In Ruth Gilmore’s formulation, prisons are “partial geographic solutions to political economic crises.” Such crises are the permanent political, economic, and cultural experiences of already dehumanized Black lifeworlds. Zones populated by devalued bodies, ghettos (like prisons) are socio-spatial enclosures: geographic solutions to the social management questions posed by fundamental social inequality. What to do with the not-yet-dead but already excluded, socially dead? How to contain imagined, feared, and actual forms of resistance, rebellion, and other “antisocial,” including “criminal,” behavior? Prisons are partial solutions; ghettos, understood as networks of surveillance and dispossession, are expanded solutions, operating in tandem with, containing, and extrapolating prisons. Prisons and ghettos are articulating dimensions of the same carceral system of gendered and racialized dispossession.
Given the ghetto’s ubiquity and capacity for constant reconfiguration, it does not escape the imprisoned youth that the difference between the “free” and the “unfree” is one of degree, not quality. The “free” and the “unfree” are in a continuum of oppression; there is no clear line separating one condition from the other. When speaking from spaces of institutional confinement such as the juvenile facility where we conducted our writing workshops, the “free,” the space of the Black and Latin@ ghettos, is itself a primordial locus from which is drawn, intergenerationally, raw material for the cyclical pipeline of surveillance, punishment, and dispossession. The raw material is the negatively gendered and racialized body. The “free,” therefore, is itself experienced, partially at least, as a condition and process of social death. There would be no need to ask about a ghetto in heaven, the quintessential timeless and placeless realm of unqualified freedom, if the ghetto were not all encompassing, ever present, the stage and embodiment of unfreedom.
The ghetto also configures, or serves as index for, a singular type of being in the world, an ontology. To be dispossessed, to be suspended (from school, from home, from sociality), to be criminalized, to be a nonbeing: these states of being actualize themselves, and gain time and spatial dimensions in, with, through, and by the social spaces of the ghetto. When JS, a young Latino man, asks if there is a ghetto in heaven, he states his familiarity with spaces of social death, which are paradigmatically Black. His familiarity is an ontological trait, one that suggests that his condition is commensurate to that of other people familiar with, determined by, and resisting the ghetto, which makes his condition commensurate to that of other Latin@s. JS’s narratives also suggest that his experiences are commensurate to that of Blacks.
JS’s narrative puts into question the thesis of the incommensurability of the Black condition, which was advanced in this book’s introduction. JS’s irredeemable attachment to, and his very existential fusion with, the ghetto seems to bridge Black and Brown ontological markers. If not even death redeems those born in and defined by the ghetto—or, if even heaven has a ghetto, where, therefore, presumably some form of disadvantage will persist—what will redeem them? JS’s sense of inevitable degradation renders his perspective one that seems to be converging with that of Blacks, the paradigmatic subjects of social death.
Yet, because JS’s profound question is, after all, a question, it suggests a pregnant silence, an interruption, hope. It suggests a desire that what seems like an ontological condition and a structural positioning, confirmed in but ultimately independent of a variety of degrading social forces (as proponents of social death theses would have it), is in fact not an ontology at all, but rather temporary conditions that can be changed. In this vein, JS’s familiarity with the ghetto, rather than perpetually constitutive of his experience, would be momentary, not foundational, and therefore neither ontological nor structural. JS’s question becomes a supplication for an alternative, for a confirmation that what he experiences is not evidence of a permanent condition but a process that offers a way out, offers redemption.
As we have seen, Latin@s’ collective experiences in death-prone segregated areas, schools, and prisons waver between being at times closer to those of Blacks and at other times closer to Whites. The question about heaven’s ghetto, therefore, may be a consequence of this pendular motion: while the proximity to Black patterns of dispossession is quite evident as Latin@s move through the bowels of punitive schools, juvenile institutions, and the adult criminal justice system, it is also a measurable social fact that Latin@s tend not to be as seriously punished as Blacks. To make JS’s question all the more evocative, it is important to grasp the relevance of the sheer numeric majority of Latin@s in the juvenile system. Even though Blacks are, by far, the most overrepresented racial group, Latin@s numerically dominate the scenes formed by interlocking systems of confinement.
So, while this shared experience, as shown, is not indicative of a shared structural position, it nevertheless opens up the otherwise improbable recognition between Blacks and Latin@s. Such recognition has been documented in the enclosures of large U.S. cities such as Houston and Chicago. In Austin, common carceral experiences may be establishing shared grounds from which to forge common vocabularies of affect, analysis, and imagined futures. These shared grounds do not automatically mean shared ontologies, but they do point to forms of identification between Browns and Blacks, even if oblique. In this case, the obliqueness of the identification means that Blacks, antiblackness, and Black experiences are seldom directly mentioned in narratives such as JS’s. To appreciate the singularity and potential of such forms of oblique recognition, it is important to suspend the default urge to consider and preemptively celebrate (even potential) recognition. Recognition in what sense? For what? For whom? What does recognition assume and require? Against the grain of the people-of-color canon, let us consider that oblique recognition, while potentially generating cognitive means by which nonblacks can gain some grasp of paradigmatically Black experiences, also circumvents, and thus contributes to the maintenance of, antiblackness.
I find these Black–Latin@ forms of recognition to be urgently needed, positive, affirming alternatives to the shared experiences of social and bodily death. They may be the beginning of Latin@ acceptance of the dance of death to which Blacks have been inviting nonblacks for centuries. Still, given the nature and process of the persisting and overriding patterns of containment and dispossession that mark spaces of social death—spaces into which Latin@s get forced often, but not with the same intensity—these forms of recognition remain tenuous. They remain, mostly, possibilities that, if at times actualized in forms of practical collaboration, nevertheless face a fundamental challenge: that of the unmistakable antiblack logic organizing social cognition and the various technologies of containment. For the nonblack—not to mention Blacks themselves—given the force of normative analytical and affective frameworks, the difficulties in grasping antiblackness are enormous. Moreover, what are the incentives for undertaking such a task? Even in the improbable scenario when one comes to terms with antiblackness, why would anyone willingly associate with the permanently nonliving, or embrace the dance of death into which Blacks have invited nonblacks time and again? For all its potential transformative political outcomes, the earnest but not always precise analogizing that almost inevitably occurs when documenting and reflecting on Black and nonblack experiences runs into another common shortcoming: that of diluting, and thus negating, the foundational antiblack nature of social management’s structuring logic. To avoid this shortcoming, and to establish more solid conditions for the possibility of Black/nonblack (re)cognition, the very antiblack foundations of the ghetto have to be fully grasped and rendered central. Spaces of the fundamentally Black ghetto do indeed forcefully bring differently racialized people to the same geographies and institutions of containment and dispossession. But as we have seen, technologies of repression, degradation, and surveillance don’t work the same way for everyone in the ghetto.
Reflecting the multifaceted and ultimately effective nature of antiblack technologies of containment and dispossession, in Austin the Black population has shown a steady decline despite the city’s overall population increase. While this population decline may qualify the city as an outlier, in the U.S. and Black diasporic context it illustrates the social impact of intersecting antiblack forces—transhistorical and ubiquitous antiblack forces—some of which we analyzed in this chapter. In this regard, Austin is not in any way unique.
• • •
The next two chapters take us to the inside of a juvenile prison in Austin. They examine the everyday routines to which young people are subjected, and which they often try to resist. By analyzing the writings the kids produced during the workshop of which i was a part for five years, what follows is an analysis of structural antiblackness as it is manifested in institutional protocols and social interactions among the kids themselves, and among the kids and the prison’s staff. It must be stressed that, while the microphysics of everyday life in confinement is a critical site where structural and transgenerational modalities of social degradation take place, social degradation, as this chapter shows, far exceeds the juvenile facility’s walls and procedures. Part II argues that antiblack structuring patterns of dehumanization also characterize the management of the Black presence in Brazil. Dynamics of hypersurveillance and transgenerational dispossession are therefore the principal mark of the Black diaspora. The ordinary features of social death in Austin, undoubtedly specific in their manifestations, are windows into the structural, transnational, and transhistorical fact of antiblackness.