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Authors address incarceration

Emma Borne | Thursday, September 19, 2013


Students and faculty joined Margie Pfeil, Laurie Cassidy and Alex Mikulich, authors of “The Scandal of White Complicity in U.S. Hyper-incarceration: A Nonviolent Spirituality of White Resistance,” in a discussion about how to theologically acknowledge the hyper-incarceration of people of color in the United States on Wednesday. 

The Center for Social Concerns (CSC) organized the event as part of a yearlong series focused on incarceration. 

Susan Sharpe, who leads a teaching team for the CSC’s one-credit seminar on hyper-incarceration, said the authors’ book forces readers to think critically about the issue.

“[The authors] challenge us to understand that hyper-incarceration is not a problem to be solved,” she said. “Because it harms so many people, they are asking us to understand that it is an expression of oppression that lives in us and through us as long as we remain oblivious to the meanings and values that are still attached to whiteness in this culture.”

  As the discussion continued, Cassidy, associate professor of Christian ethics at Marywood University in Scranton, Penn., asked the group questions about race.

“I want to ask you honestly,” Cassidy said. “You’re walking down the street at night … and as a woman I’m going to say this for the females here. You’re walking down the street and you see three black men come forward … How do you feel? Would [you] feel more or less afraid if they were white guys?” 

Cassidy said she would feel nervous in this situation.

“We’re socialized every single day to feel nervous of black guys walking down the street,” she said. 

Cassidy said the authors’ hope is that out of that nervousness, the community can enter into discussion and contemplation about the implications of the feeling.  

“As white people [we should be] able to explore that fear and say, ‘Isn’t it interesting that for many of us we have grown up with that inside of us?'” Cassidy said. “So incarceration isn’t just out there. It makes sense because it’s internalized. For all of us, I would ask you, do we have ways in society of meaningfully examining those kinds of representations … that can be inside of us?” 

Mikulich, research fellow on race and poverty at the Jesuit Social Research Institution at Loyola University in New Orleans, asked the audience to think about how that nervousness brings about the hyper-incarceration of people of color and what that does to society. 

“[The justice system is] a system that for over 30 years has been ripping communities apart and particularly ripping apart communities of color – dividing spouses from each other, children from parents and caregivers,” Mikulich said. “It’s been absolutely destructive.” 

Pfeil said the authors hope there would be more safe spaces to discuss this topic in the future. 

“This is a very basic theological challenge,” Pfeil said. “If we say that we believe in the creation of every person in the image and likeness of God, and therefore every person is a subject of human dignity, how do we create space in our society then that really takes that seriously?”