† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Commodified and Caged, Still
by nancy a heitzeg
Authors Note: This piece is an old one, whose time is always now. It was originally published elsewhere, under a different name, for my anti-capitalist comrades. The goal, as you will see, was to illustrate the deep connections between speciesism, commodification and social inequalities. And yes, it was a call to Open the Cages.
So why not for Criminal InJustice? Certainly, “criminals” are routinely “de-humanized” — described as mere “animals”, “monsters”, and “brutes”. And treated as such then — caged, penned, crated, occasionally exhibited, brutalized, slaughtered. Commodified too — a ready source of profit from neo-slave labor, privatized contracts, and sometimes, even for “acres of skin”.
And why not again now? In a time of endless death on video loop, where victims, they say, are “shot down like dogs in the street” by those that some call “pigs”, foundational specieism is revealed in theory and practice. Our conceptions of both victims and villains rest on the assumptions that humans are better, deserve better. This leaves unquestioned and in fact perpetuates the very paradigm of domination – of dogs, of pigs, of the planet – that is the model for our treatment of dehumanized others.
As i have written elsewhere:
It is a hard and unpopular truth to say that all oppressions are connected, to say that our treatment of other species and the Earth herself has served as the template for our oppression of peoples. But it has.
It is a harder and even more unpopular truth to say that all oppressions must be undone and undone together. The lust for the false power derived from relations of domination – directed anywhere – is at the root.
What if the prison industrial complex and the social inequality which under girds it were somehow undone? What would prevent the lingering desire to crate the sow, cage the bird, chain the dog, beat the horse, gore the ox from erupting – again towards us – in some newly imagined and monstrous application?
The Answer is Nothing.
In this time of endless death on video loop, the inclination is to hunker down, narrow the focus, save our own, save who we can. But what if, instead, now is the time to explode the vision, broaden the scope, fight for every and all breathes?
The fate of The Last Rhino is not marginal to or disconnected from the blood in the streets and the slaughterhouses, from the personal violence of our homes and that perpetrated by our social structures.
It is at the Center; it is of the very Essence.
Open the Cages and Open Them All.