Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Define Criminal...

Dan's picture

    Colored Amazons really demonstrates that the structure of systematic and institutional oppression pushes certain people into the “criminal” “justice” system. The Alice Clifton trial feels relevant to today’s politics due to reproductive rights and issues surrounding childbirth criminalized her.

    Alice Clifton is a woman with no autonomy whatsoever, a slave who is already degraded, with access to very few resources. When a white man impregnates her, an event which we do not know the circumstances surrounding – but I imagine is a product of dynamics of power – suddenly Alice has a small amount of leverage. If she kills her child and silences the scandal, her lover will buy her from her owners with the promise of a decent life. However, reproduction was not (and still is not) a decision which the law thinks should belong to the woman. Although doctors defend her and insist that the child was stillborn, the court still decides that she was responsible for the death of her unborn child, and the penalty is death.

    So many forces are at work in her conviction – race, class, the institution of slavery, gender, reproductive rights. If the people who decide what is lawful (in a narrowminded, imperialistic way) are the oppressors and the upholders of "justice," justice loses its meaning.

    Let’s imagine scenarios like this today – as many of these forces are still at work in the “criminal” “justice” system, especially class and race. Politicians are trying to criminalize a woman’s right to address her pregnancy in the way her life requires. So depending on that legislation, we may be looking at a new generation of criminals.

   Also, unplanned pregnancy is directly correlated to the amount of education (sex education in particular) people receive. If public schools are not providing students with any sex education then – well, lots of young people in the public school system are going to get pregnant.  Imagine if contraception were criminalized. If one class of people(conservative, white, middle class) are determining what is against the law and what is sanctioned, than demographics of cultural or class difference are going to be targets simply because the law was not created to uphold their safety or best interests... Judith Butler would call them Precarious lives.