Unfree Space

From Chapter Two of Kelly Brown Douglas’ Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God: “As mentioned earlier in the chapter, the black body as chattel is the specter from slavery that perhaps has the greatest impact on black people’s current social-cultural realities. In fact it does. This construct has not disappeared. It was firmly established within America’s collective consciousness during slavery, and it remains a pervasive part of that consciousness today. This construct is a valuable part of America’s exceptionalist identity, thus one not easily disposed of. Just because chattel slavery no longer exists in America, and both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed resolutions apologizing for it, does not mean that the racist constructs slavery produced do not continue to exist. As Michelle Alexander has aptly pointed out, “racism is highly adaptable.” So too are the constructs that have fostered it. They just take different forms, those that are appropriate to the social-historical context. It is what one legal scholar has called “preservation through transformation.” Oftentimes the transformations effectively mask the racialized character of the new construct. Such is the case with the transformation of the black body as chattel. The twenty-first-century version of this construct is the criminal black body. The black body that was once marked as chattel is now marked as criminal. This construct serves the same purpose as the construct of chattel. It relegates the black body to an “unfree” space. It preserves the free space as a white space. This transformation began shortly after emancipation.”

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