Law in Contemporary Society
Coogi Down to My Socks - Second Draft

-- By BeulahAgbabiaka - 07 Jun 2016

“Hey Mr. Knickerbocker, boppity bop. I like-a the way that ya boppity bop”

The television shows I watched as a little girl enormously influenced my world view, shaping it almost as much as my family’s cultural practices did. Barney & Friends, from which I get the delightful little didly above, taught me that “sharing is caring.” Blue’s Clues taught me that I should freely solve my own problems and that I could literally jump into a book, picture, or movie to find answers should I need them my problem solving quest. To quote someone far more eloquent than myself who has written on Scooby Doo, my favorite television show since age seven, “What Scooby Doo REALLY taught us is that once you pull off the mask, the real villain is usually an old white man thing to steal everyone’s land or money.” (“White People” While that is a joke, Scooby Doo did teach me about believing in my own agency to solve a mystery, and the mysteries on Scooby Doo often had a criminal aspect. It is also true that the people engaged in illegal activity on Scooby Doo looked different than the people that I saw being criminally profiled on the news I watched with my mother while I was growing up. Though I was still afraid of authority figures in legal fields, Scooby Doo sparked my interest in examining justice or lack thereof in my surroundings as well spark my interest in my own agency to carry out justice.

I was intrigued by the criminality and carcerality I was exposed to early in life. The sources ranged from Tupac lyrics, to interacting with the students at my mother’s charter school for system-involved youth in Richmond, CA, to visiting family friends in prison. The entertainment media were guaranteed to have a profound effect on my views due to my early exposure. What I was presented with on television shows like Law & Order SVU (that I probably started watching too young) and what I saw on CNN didn’t reflect the nuances of the people I knew that were labeled criminals. Being a criminal seemed unredeemable on television but I couldn’t reconcile that with knowing that my uncle’s best friend wasn’t a bad person although he had committed armed robbery for grocery money. The students at my mother’s school took time to play with and teach my sister and me whenever we were on their campus, despite whatever personal issues they were struggling with. Presently, the implications of a person’s mistakes or poor choices and the extent to which someone is considered criminal range greatly, correlate with ethnicity and class, and are ushered along by the news media. A perception of Black-American criminality fuels mass incarceration and is perpetuated by different media sources in different ways, providing a mechanism to divide Americans consistently used by politicians. (Entman 1994 ) Unfortunately for those who haven’t worked to keep their implicit biases in check, criminality has been coded as an issue that uniquely affects people of color and especially Black-American men. (Hurwitz and Peffley, 2005

It is up to my generation to change this and as lawyers, my classmates and I will have special agency to do so. Those of us who regardless of education level have merged our personal experience with the variety of print and media sources that present multiple perspectives and enable us to dig deeper on carcerality issues will be especially well qualified to force the change we need. While I feel qualified to join the fight, I struggle with my perception of self and my fear that education and privilege make me seem less authentic in my participation in grassroots organizing. It was easier for me to look past this fear while I was an undergraduate since I could pretend I was on equal footing with organizers around me who had no choice but to fight. Now that I have my bachelor’s degree and am working on a J.D. I feel uneasy on the front lines. I feel self-assured in knowing that I’ve gravitated to support roles in organizing in the past and can now use legal skills to assist, but I wonder if I’m being self-righteous and inwardly condemning the people with relative privilege that I see striving for leadership (public figures/figureheads) in a civil rights movement that is decreasingly hierarchical and increasingly open to intersectionality.

Since my stake in the perception of Black criminality is quite personal, I have spent time studying the ways in which Black-Americans are perceived as less deserving of justice and due process, and more deserving of punitive crime policy to deter their inherent and generational tendencies. The media portrayal of criminality as synonymous with Blackness in the United States dates back to slavery propaganda, and Post-Civil War justification for the Black Codes. (Oliver, 2013 At that time, Black-American “shiftlessness” was criminalized with vagrancy laws that made unemployment illegal amidst refusal to hire Black-Americans in most industries. This supported an unfounded belief in inherent Black-American criminality, while attempts at economic or social upward mobility by Black-Americans were strictly suppressed. The stereotypes expressed in The Birth of a Nation helped solidify in the eyes of white southerners that Black-Americans were especially predisposed (if not uniquely predisposed) to criminality that could threaten their lives, livelihood, and especially their women. (Wells-Barnett, 1895 The continued portrayal of Black-American criminality runs rampant today, and our current incarnation which is closely tied with to the War on Drugs dates specifically to the Willie Horton ad aired during the 1988 presidential campaign which capitalized on white fear of Black-American male criminality and sexuality. I am committed to changing this perception in my lifetime.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES: ( Robinson, 2009; Stewart, 1998)

Robinson, B. B. (2009). Black unemployment and infotainment. Economic Inquiry, 47, 98+.

Stewart, G. (1998). Black Codes and Broken Windows: The Legacy of Racial Hegemony in Anti-Gang Civil Injunctions. The Yale Law Journal, 107(7), 2249-2279. doi:10.2307/797421

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r3 - 07 Jun 2016 - 01:40:46 - BeulahAgbabiaka
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