Racial Purity and Dangerous Bodies: Moral Pollution, Black Lives, and the Struggle for Justice

Racial Purity and Dangerous Bodies: Moral Pollution, Black Lives, and the Struggle for Justice

by Rima Vesely-Flad


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At the center of contemporary struggles over aggressive policing practices is an assumed association in U.S. culture of blackness with criminality. Rima L. Vesely-Flad examines the religious and philosophical constructs of the black body in U.S. society, examining racialized ideas about purity and pollution as they have developed historically and as they are institutionalized today in racially disproportionate policing and mass incarceration. These systems work, she argues, to keeps threatening elements of society in a constant state of harassment and tension so that they are unable to pollute the morals of mainstream society. Policing establishes racialized boundaries between communities deemed dangerous and communities deemed pure and, along with prisons and reentry policies, sequesters and restrains the pollution of convicted criminals, thus perpetuating the image of the threatening black male criminal. Vesely-Flad shows how the anti-Stop and Frisk and the Black Lives Matter movements have confronted these systems by exposing unquestioned assumptions about blackness and criminality. They hold the potential, she argues, to reverse the construal of pollution and invasion in Americas urban cores if they extend their challenge to mass imprisonment and the\\ barriers to reentry of convicted felons.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781506420493
Publisher: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers
Publication date: 06/15/2017
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,057,219
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Rima Vesely-Flad is professor and director of peace and justice studies at Warren Wilson College. She holds a PhD in social ethics from Union Theological Seminary and founded the Interfaith Coalition of Advocates for Reentry and Employment (ICARE) in New York State.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction xv

Part I Race and Moral Pollution

1 A Socio-Historical Review of Race and Morality 3

2 Constructions of Character and Criminality in Nineteenth-Century US Penal Systems 37

3 Institutionalizing Pollution Boundaries: Policing, Imprisonment, and Reentry 73

Part II Racial Justice Movements

4 Policing Dark Bodies in Polluted Spaces: Stop and Frisk in New York City, 1993-2013 119

5 Confronting Pollution: Protest as the Performance of Purity in the Black Lives Matter Movement 153

6 Seeing Jesus in Michael Brown: New Theological Constructions of Blackness 175

7 Conclusion: Reconstructing the Image of the Polluted Black Body 195

Bibliography 207

Index 221

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