Tight Control and the Regulation of Minority Spaces

By Jason MacLeod on January 20, 2012 — 4 mins read

One of the themes that stood out to me in this week’s readings was the geographical exclusion delineated and legitimized by law.  While that may be a fancy way to describe prison, I do not want to exclude the socio-economic spaces minority/oppressed peoples inhabit.  In Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, Oscar Lopez-Rivera mentioned the deteriorated state of a neighborhood he lived in and how the Puerto Ricans were blamed for its dilapidated state.  All the while the judgers ignored the history of the area and how it’s been “slum blighted” for decades before the Puerto Rican’s arrival.  In some form, the neighborhood became a nuisance.[1]  What i’m interested in is the creation and reproduction of subpar minority neighborhoods through legal processes that reinforce this existence.  We’ve read of spaces with rats, trash on the streets, poor healthcare systems, unemployment, police oppression, and so on.  Situations whereby individuals would fight for change – especially considering the disparate treatment based on race.  This is akin to what Aharon Kellerman called “tight control.”  He coined this term while theorizing Jews and Palestinians, but I think it applies here.  Tight control, involves laws and policies that regulate the movements and activities of ethnic groups in specific places.  In this way, a border is created – a slum – that separates other ethnicities from the “deviant” minorities.  Through tight control the oppressor effectively denies the healthy socio-economic foundation of those within its borders thereby denying basic human rights that ensure each person can realize their potential.  As a consequence these cultures are “neutered, lie dormant, and sometimes die…the remaining groups have little alternative but to be assimilated into mainstream culture and adopt orthodox beliefs and practices.”  In other words, tight control is the regulatory and policy mechanism through which the internal colony is formed.  This institutionalized racism is the worst kind because it acts with the imprimatur of the state.  The social movements we are reading about are the loosely organized groups that stand opposed to the colonizer and stand for decolonization.

Some would agree, if not most, that racism is a hegemonic ideal/principle/form/position.  It survives without the prevalence of overt racism.  It lives on in the “culture of poverty” that Oscar Lewis theorized back in the 60’s.  He stated –

By the time slum children are age six or seven they have usually absorbed the basic values and attitudes of their subculture and are not psychologically geared to take full advantage of changing conditions or increased opportunities which may occur in their lifetime.[2]

Derrick Bell believed –

This theory discounts the impact of systemic discrimination or structural racism, and instead attributes the inferior social, economic, and political status of minority groups to cultural tenets prevailing in minority communities that conflict with the norms of hard work and lawful behavior.  when explicit racist discourse falls out of fashion, a new discourse consistent with conventional understandings of race but articulated in race-neutral terms emerges as a way to rationalize the status quo.[3]

I was watching the Daily Show (Liam Neeson was the guest) and they had Gingrich pieces where he was talking about the culture of poverty and how he will work to teach these people how to pull themselves up by the bootstraps.  Anyways, the Young Lords, BLA, BPP, and others opposed this dominant ideology.  And the government system punished them to the extreme.  In the Churchill Ward reading, the last excerpt stated, “it is abundantly clear that the sentences imposed upon [many left-wing prisoners] are grossly disproportionate to sanctions imposed upon members of right wing and/or racist organizations convicted of similar offenses.”[4]  In effect, through imprisoning and geographically binding “deviant” ethnicities that pose a risk to the hegemony of practices within a state, the oppressor seeks to constrict and/or destroy the contentious actions, beliefs, and movements of the oppressed.

Finally, out of the many things I wanted to write about, I thought I would quickly analogize the government actions we’ve read about to genocide.  The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.  Article II describes two elements of the crime of genocide:

1) the mental element, meaning the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”, and

2) the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A crime must include both elements to be called “genocide.”

Importantly –

Article II(c) – Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

Can a “part” be those freedom fighters and colonizers?  Does genocide even apply to the situations we’ve read and current realities?  Or, is the government more interested in assimilation than destruction (or are the two the same)?  Of course, I realize that this analogy could be considered extreme, especially in America, but this argument was presented in two of the Churchill Ward articles.  What are your thoughts?



[1] War National Committee to Free Puerto Rican Prisoners of, Can’t jail the spirit : political prisoners in the U.S. : a collection of biographies P. 171  (Editorial El CoquÌ. 1988).

[2] Peter Jackson, Race and racism : essays in social geography p. 10  (Allen & Unwin. 1987).

[3] Derrick Bell, Race, Racism, And American Law   (Aspen Publisher 6th ed. 2008).

[4] Ward Churchill & Jim Vander Wall, Cages of steel : the politics of imprisonment in the United States P. 409  (Maisonneuve Press. 1992).