I want to start this by saying as a non-black Latin@ that I have less of a stake in this. While my people today are subject to increased targeting by the prison-industrial complex, my people were not subject to slavery in the North. As a mestiza from Colombia and Puerto Rico, I am unsure of what legacy I have with colonization and slavery. I write this for my non-black sisters and brothers, so that we can talk about the ways that slavery still effect us.
Today is Juneteenth. It is the day that commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas. While the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal in all of the United States in 1863, it didn’t roll out to all of the states until 1865 when the Union army came to Texas to enforce it 2 years later. In fact, Texas down right ignored the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union army had to take over the Texas government to make it happen.
Today is a day of celebration. It is the marking of a great victory. The liberation of a people from bondage. It is a commemoration that change can happen. And that often the change only comes at the point of a gun. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Union army, or even Abraham Lincoln, freed the slaves because the believed in the liberation of the slaves. It was all about winning the war and having Texas conform to the federal law. Lincoln himself said that if he could have won the war without freeing slaves, he would have.
Which brings me to today. Yes, we should celebrate. Because something is better then nothing. However, our work as abolitionist is not done. We are not yet free. You see, when Lincoln wrote the 13th amendment, he outlawed slavery except when it was the punishment of a crime. Slavery is still legal. And the prison-industrial complex is the logical extension of chattel slavery. Black and brown people are still being targeted at an alarming rate for incarceration. The sentences that black and brown people face are much harsher then for their white counterparts. And all too often they are convicted of crimes that were necessary for their survival. The inheritance of slavery is still plain to see in the generational poverty that Black folks have and the generational wealth that white folks have access too.
Whats more, folks who are funneled into the prison system then become virtually free labor for multinational corporations. Companies like Victoria Secret, Microsoft, Forever 21, Boeing etc all use prison labor to make their products. And these prisoners make pennies a day. On top of that, private prisons are booming and the prison industry is now a many billion dollar industry. The government and corporations are still reaping profit from the bodies of black and brown people. And it starts young. Young people of color are being targeted at alarming rates by schools and are being funneled into the prison system. And once in, it is very difficult to escape.
The prison-industrial complex is the result of 400 hundred years of colonial, patriarchal and capitalist violence. It is the tool of the state to continue to commit genocide against black and brown communities. Instead of private ownership, bodies are now owned by the state and given to the profit of corporations.
The other thing that is interesting to me is how the movement against human trafficking has capitalized on the term “modern day slavery” to paint women who are trafficked as helpless victims. Don’t get me wrong, I think that human trafficking is a terrible thing that should be stopped. No one should be forced to do things against their will. However, the response that anti-human trafficking advocates have is to further criminalize sex work and to rely on state power and incarceration. This not only makes things harder for sex workers who aren’t trafficked but also doesn’t address the underlying reasons for human trafficking, namely colonial and state violence. All of the solutions that the mainstream anti-trafficking movements advocates for actually make the lives of trafficked women harder. All the while obscuring the very real ways bodies are being owned here in the US. Because the anti-human trafficking movement frames the problem as something that happens in other countries and not here in the US. And that the way to save all of those poor brown women is through imperial violence and conquest.
But the state will not protect you. You cannot solve a problem with the problem. And we are none of us free, until we are all free.