Behind Bars: Inequalities of the oppressed

Published 2 weeks ago -


Maria Riberdy, Staff Writer

Many Americans today feel as though we have made great strides towards equality for all, including people of color and immigrants. However it seems that all the steps we have taken to overcome our past mistakes is coming back to haunt us. “Now it is clear that harm is done in just two years…especially to immigrant communities, people of color communities…not to mention democracy itself.”

Jen Manion an Associate Professor of History at Amherst College, spoke at Assumption College on Wednesday Oct. 24th at 5:30 p.m. in La Maişon Salon. Jen spoke about “Historicizing the Carceral State: Race, Sex, and Power in Early America.”

Unfairness in the penitentiary system was very prevalent in Early America especially against women and people of color. “Criminalizing African American men and women just at the moment slavery was abolished…all of these things were done in the name of democracy.” Despite Pennsylvania passing the gradual abolition act in 1780, the rest of America did not follow that act.

Men and women both owned slaves, but the women were the ones who spent the most time with them. Men would go off to work while the women stayed home to tend the house, like they were expected to. Mary Meredith was one of these women who owned a slave named Dina. “In 1790 Dina was charged… for being idle, disorderly and disobedient toward her mistress. “ Meredith hoped the jail time would “put Dina in her place.” This was a very common occurrence, especially when people felt they were losing authority over their slaves.

“Revised penial system that disguised its violence…replaced slavery as the primary disciplinary authority in African American lives…the property rights of the few over the human rights of the many.”

Being constantly oppressed for years on end and constantly going back and forth between rights being given and taking away, would frustrate anyone. Many people pushed back against authority their one demand rang throughout all: freedom. Women especially would speak out or steal to protest.

Working women were seen as the most threatening to the white elite men because they actively spoke out against them and went against gender norms. The workingwomen would drink and swear which was very “unladylike” back then. “They turned to the streets for food fun drink…this expansive policing of women’s public activities was done in the name of order …even a thirty day prison term could throw a women’s life into chaos.” Which hurt a women’s opportunity to get work after they were released, even then they would not be offered the job.

Irish immigrants used to be just as discriminated against as black women. However in 1803 the anti-black supporters would side with the white Irish women. The Irish were given jobs and more opportunities simply because they were white. If an Irish immigrant was put in the penitentiary system, her sentence would be lesser than a black women’s.

During 1803 there was 45 percent more black women than men in prison. Black women were the ones most likely to be sent to prison even if they did nothing wrong.

One of the audience members Nairovi, an Assumption College student, remarked “it was pretty interesting getting to know the stories of the women and what they would go through.”

Dona Kercher, a Women’s Studies professor at Assumption College said, “it was inspiring to see how, the compilation of her isolated research was stimulating to think of; and is similar to what we are confronting today.”

Karl Zeigler the organizer of the event introduced Jen Manion “doctor Manion has also been awarded…the slavery abolition resistance scholarship from Yale University…and a research grant…she’s been named the American Historical Associations distinguished lecturer program for 2018.”

In current times white women are given sympathy by white men, but black people are still vastly discriminated against and thrown behind bars.

If interested in more events put together by the Women’s Studies Program, there is an event on November 15th by Dr. Erin Barcmen who is presenting a “self of one’s own” lecture.

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