Race Behind Bars
Editors' note. Race Traitor 8 (Winter 1998) carried an article by Staughton Lynd entitled "Black and White and Dead All Over" about the so-called riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio in April 1993. The article emphasized the extent to which black and white prisoners overcame racial antagonism to present a united front to the prison authorities. A reader replied. The editors asked Staughton to write a response. What follows is the letter from the reader, Staughton's response, and a comment by the editors. First the letter from the reader:
I just read about George Skatzes and the prison riot. I think this should in itself make self-evident the importance of pride in one's own race, be it white, black or other, as well as the importance of unification of all races against our oppressive system. The reason why George Skatzes, a white, and a member of a white pride organization, was so severely punished is because he didn't fall into the trap of divide and conquer, he kept his white pride, and joined hands with his black brothers in their own pride as well, and together they made a brave stand against the system that seeks to have them hate and kill each other in the name of racial hatred.
I find it contradictory that you [this refers to Race Traitor] would preach hatred of the white race, and take the same stand as the oppressors who wish to divide and conquer all races by this kind of attitude. You have a perfect example here in your own published article of the "Black and White and Dead All Over," yet you yourselves miss the entire point of that article in your preaching of hatred against whites. If those heroes in that prison uprising, both black and white, were to listen to this website's ideology, they would most certainly have been killing each other off just as the system whose ultimate goal is total slavery and control of all humans would want it, rather than see all humans, proud of their race or not, unite and fight them together. You people better get with the program, and realize that every race has the right to be proud, every race has shameful deeds in their past, and every race's only hope is to be both proud and proud enough to accept each other, faults included.
It has taken me a long time to feel able to respond to this letter. Recently I have read two documents that seemed helpful. The first was the unsworn statement of a defendant in one of the Lucasville trials. The other is a letter from a young man at the Ohio State Penitentiary (O.S.P.). In the hope of stimulating responses from prisoners themselves, I offer below a summary of the unsworn statement and an excerpt from the letter.
In the unsworn statement, a white man now in his early thirties described his arrival at Lucasville while still in his teens. Before incarceration he had little contact with blacks. At Lucasville, when he came back from commissary with a net bag of purchases, black prisoners would sometimes come up behind him, cut the bag, and take his things. He stopped going to the day room after witnessing a knife fight there. Then one day some big white men came up to him in the chow hall, and said, in effect, "Kid, we like your spirit. But you need protection." He joined the Aryan Brotherhood.
The AB advocated racial superiority. The new member had a work assignment at the prison that brought him into contact with a black nationalist. It seems the two men decided that what they believed was similar: not racial superiority, but racial separation. As the member of the AB put it, when you have two men in a cell and one is into country and the other is into rap, it doesn't work.
The letter writer also came to prison as a young white man.
The honest reporting of these two men suggests the following to me:
1. Many young whites who are imprisoned have had relatively little experience with blacks on the street.
2. In prison, the young white man finds himself in a situation where whites do not outnumber blacks eight to one (as in the United States as a whole) but (as in the Ohio prison system) blacks and whites are approximately equal in number. Moreover, in the prison system blacks may occupy more important administrative posts, relative to whites, than they would be likely to hold outside the walls. At the time of the Lucasville uprising the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the Lucasville warden, and the Lucasville deputy warden, were all black.
3. This combination of circumstances may cause such young white men, when they experience harassment from black prisoners, to become more racist than they were before incarceration and to join a whites-only group for protection.
4. From the point of view of the black prisoner, in contrast, the white oppression that existed before he went to prison continues behind the walls. Most of the guards are white. The prisoners killed by guards at Lucasville in the years leading up to the disturbance were all black.
5. In the long run, the common oppression experienced by black and white prisoners may cause them to join together in resisting the authorities.
6. It can be a step toward such a common front for white and black "gangs" to enter into agreements to settle disputes without violence, to make joint demands on the prison system, and the like. At this point, the ideology of both groups will likely be: you respect our autonomy, we will respect yours. Thus at Lucasville both whites and blacks opposed forced interracial celling.
7. Ultimately, prisoners stand together against dehumanizing treatment not as blacks or whites, but as human beings. The qualities all prisoners respect are: courage; the ability to "maintain," to "stay strong"; respect for oneself and for others; refusal to snitch. Not all prisoners display these qualities, and those who do are not all of one skin color.
As the process unfolds, black and white prisoners -- like the young white man in his letter -- will begin to feel solidarity not only with each other, but with people outside prison who are struggling against the same oppressive system: for example, rank-and-file workers; farmers displaced from their land in the Third World; Puerto Ricans struggling for self-determination; young people protesting the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization.
What do you think?
Editors' comment. We think Staughton's response is a good one as far as it goes. Where black and white share a common condition, both can reject ideas of racial supremacy as tools of the oppressor and join together in a struggle for common ends. As the writer quoted by Staughton points out, white pride cannot be separated from white conquest and genocide, and its rejection is therefore part of creating a common front.
But bad ideas are not the source of the race problem. In America even down-and-out whites have an edge over blacks as a result of the advantages accumulated in the past. Even if old-fashioned racial discrimination were to disappear entirely, someone whose grandfather had formal education or a trade would still be in a better position in the rat-race than someone whose grandfather walked behind a mule. Hence a common front against common oppression is not enough. It is necessary to go further, to look for struggles that directly address the gap between black and white. Whites will never be able to take part fully in a proletarian revolution until they demonstrate their willingness to go through what the black workers have gone through. Does this mean that whites should volunteer for the worst jobs and neighborhoods, to be beaten by cops, sent to prison at the same rate as black people, etc.? Of course not. It means that they must act on the old admonition, An injury to one is an injury to all, and fight as hard against the oppression of black people as if it were directed at them (which in a sense it is). Acting that way will mark them as race traitors, jeopardize their ability to draw upon the advantages of the white skin, and call into question their membership in the white race. But it will also open the door to their own emancipation.
RACE TRAITOR - Fall 2001