This essay explores the changing contours of white supremacy in the United States, and in particular its relationship to systems of control and confinement. Many critics have illuminated the ways that racial control is inherent to and embedded within the penal system. In light of some of the federal- and state-level reforms that claim to incarcerate less and use more “alternative,” community-based sanctions, we interrogate the ways that white racial interests continue to be secured across the carceral landscape, thus granting official politics limited space to entertain negligible decarceration policies. In this preliminary survey of the carceral landscape, we critique several white-dominant social institutions that work together to confine and control communities of color outside of the prison walls, while reproducing varying forms of racial caste. We incorporate historical understandings of racialization and colonization, as well as contemporary concepts and observations from academia and beyond to highlight the extent of this entrenchment. It is our hope that this survey will address the shape of racialized control in the United States that must be considered when addressing just one of its manifestations—the prison state.
Authors’ Note: This article was written in the spring of 2016, months before the election of Donald Trump. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the rest of the Trump Regime, we’ve seen the carceral landscape shift in a dramatically regressive direction. This turn back towards embracing mass incarceration at the federal-level, the drug war, and prison construction presents the same challenges in terms of both economic stability and democratic legitimacy that led to the bipartisan coalition against mass incarceration in the first place. We predict that the 2016 election’s regressive turn will be short lived, and will in the long run, advance the shifts described in our article by allowing them to pose as wonderful alternatives to the Trump/Sessions regime.