Dear Occupy Nashville,
Let me get right to the point. The important thing about an analogy is that it should serve to clarify. Equating what CCA does and the whole fucked up prison system in this country with slavery, as you do when you hold a “human auction” at CCA headquarters clarifies neither the horrors of slavery nor the horrors of the prison system.
I’m a good lefty, so believe me, I think there are direct connections to be made. But are they analogous? No.
Take, for instance, the central horror of our justice system–that you think the law protects you from the kinds of human rights violations that take place in prisons and that the legal system will come to your aid if you are being mistreated, especially if you are wrongly jailed, but you are very, very wrong. It seems, on paper, like we have a system that should work well, but the ways the system can be and is corrupted makes the system a living nightmare.
This is terrible. But it’s very different from U. S. slavery, in which the law not only didn’t protect slaves from being mistreated or from being wrongly enslaved, short of killing your slave, there was not legal concept of slave mistreatment and, while I’ve heard of many free blacks being kidnapped into slavery, I’ve never heard of someone making a successful claim of being wrongly enslaved. If it did happen, it wasn’t very common. In the case of slavery, the system was designed, on paper and in practice, to keep black people enslaved and it did that very well.
But when you equate slavery with the penal system, it makes it seem like either the whole legal system is set up to view some members of our society as not being legal people, so whatever happens to them is covered not by laws pertaining to legal people, but by laws pertaining to property, or it seems like the problem with U.S. slavery was that the legal system wasn’t working how it should. Neither of these things are correct.
Just at that level, you’re making a poor analogy.
But, oh my god, at the level of human decency, you’re making a poor analogy. Slavery was not that long ago. People my age can hear stories from their grandparents about the stories their grandparents told them about being slaves. That’s all the more removed we are–someone’s grandma’s grandma. When you stand on the War Memorial Plaza and look at the city around you, you’re looking at a town built by slave labor. When you drive down Hillsboro Pike to protest CCA, the road you’re driving on is where it is because of slaves. When you admire the old low stone walls along the side of the road, you’re admiring stones placed by the hands of enslaved people. When you stand out on Charlotte and look towards the Catholic church, you’re looking past the place where actual Nashvillians sold other Nashvillians, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren know it. Still live with it. Still live steeped in it.
As do you, whether you know it or not.
To make your point with what is not just a national tragedy, not just a historical fact, but what is the deep family trauma of our friends and neighbors is not a good way to convince people that you’re on the side of good. The simple fact is that you can make your point differently and you should.
But because you don’t, even after people tried to explain it to you? I have to be done with you.
And I don’t think I’ll be alone.