Syllabus for Incarcerating Blackness

February 26, 2020 John Drabinski

Here is the syllabus for my course Incarcerating Blackness, which treats some of the key texts on racialized mass incarceration (Davis, Gilmore, Alexander, Ritchie, and Forman, Jr.). These key texts are framed by a broader claim: incarceration is a persistent characterization of the African-American experience. Seen in this frame, the social-political phenomenon of racialized mass incarceration is not just an innovation of social control, but also, if not primarily, the externalization of the central metaphor of the Black experience in the United States. Readings from Du Bois, Wright, Patterson, and Mbembe help us establish a vocabulary for this metaphor, it’s lived-experience, and the existential reality of institutions of incarceration – before, during, and after imprisonment.

From the course description:

This course explores the complex relationship between race, racism, and mass incarceration. Readings from the African-American intellectual tradition, contemporary critics of the prison industrial complex, and memoirs from political prisoners will help us understand the depth and structure of the historical and cultural meaning of racialized imprisonment. In particular, we will look at how incarceration has been both a metaphor for the Black experience in the United States and a constant presence in that experience as a form of social, cultural, and political control.  We will also examine how gendered and economic factors intersect with race and racism in the expansion of the prison system in the United States. Lastly, we will examine key cultural objects that reflect on racialized incarceration, reading them in light of contemporary historical and critical race analysis in order to discern the effects and affects of imprisonment on African-American life.

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