Echos of White Slavery

‘Crack Baby’ Hysteria Returns

by Miriam Zoila Pérez link to article.

"Found", Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1854–55, 1859–81, oil on canvas, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware – USAThe penitentiary and workhouse system arose, among other things, if we follow Marxian Feminism out of a concern for the “moral body” of society as a mean to control the reproductive and sex lives of the poor. (A brief description of this as described in Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume I is given by Chris Chitty in his lecture “Reassessing Foucault: Modern Sexuality and the Transition to Capitalism” at the 2013 Historical Materialism conference in New York on 26 April 2013. Here an audio file of the lecture on See in particular minutes 39:04 – 41:20.)

The criminalization of women with substance abuse problems’ reproductive lives, would seem to me a continuation of this phenomenon. If this is the case i differ somewhat with Miriam Zoila Pérez’ summary, in which she cites Deborah Small: “Deborah Small, author of ‘Breaking the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs,’ pointed out in an Alternet article in May that Tennessee is home to the headquarters of the Correctional Corporation of America. ‘One can’t help but wonder,’ she wrote, ‘whether there is any connection between Tennessee becoming the first state to enact legislation that would make women subject to criminal punishment because they became pregnant and failed to meet societal expectations and its distinction as the corporate headquarters of the nation’s largest private prison company—Correctional Corporation of America (CCA)—which already operates 3 of the state’s 14 prisons.'” *

Though i follow Peréz’ argumentation, the for–profit prison system encourages criminalization of pregnant women with substance abuse problems, it would seem the motivation for laws of this nature is of an older and more ideological nature, not a direct reaction to the economic interest of the prison system. Proponents, and other concerned citizens voice what i am certain is a genuine concern for the so-called wellbeing of children, that outweighs the individual rights of the mother. This to me indicates that it is a social control issue, that gives rise to the prison system and the concern for womens’ “sexual hygiene” as well as many other symptoms of a broader power dynamic, but that a causal relationship between the prison system and laws against pregnant women with addictions is more indirect. They would seem to be two symptoms of the same problem.

* Miriam Zoila Pérez: “‘Crack Baby’ Hysteria Returns”. In: ColorLines, News for Action (Featured). Published: 18 Jul 2014. (last viewed 21 Aug 2014).