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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

They were, after all, walking property.

American invented its penal system in the early 19th century. From the get-go, filling it with black people was a given:
African American women were more frequently arrested, received longer sentences for their crimes, and were less likely to be pardoned than other women. Many made a living on the streets working marginal economies as hucksters selling used or slightly damaged or nearly spoiled goods. Others operated or worked in tippling, disorderly, or bawdy houses. Some walked the streets night after night, selling sex or companionship. Still others stole household items from employers or masters such as clothing, items made from precious metals, or even food–facing stiff sentences when caught. Irish and English immigrant women also did all of these things but they were more likely to receive the benefit of the doubt when night watchmen who monitored their comings and goings made split-second decisions about who was simply walking from one place to another versus those deemed idle, disorderly, or vagrant and in need of surveillance. There were great ideological forces already in place that marked white women as least likely to break the law and most deserving of protection by patriarchal authorities. Black women received no such treatment. It was black women—not black men—who quickly outnumbered their white counterparts in the nation’s first penitentiary. This happened largely without remark.

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