Resignifying resistance : transnational black feminism and performativity in the U.S. prison industrial complex
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The circumstance of mass incarceration in the U.S. has reached the point of social crisis. When the statistics on imprisonment are demographically disaggregated, they point to the overrepresentation of imprisoned men and women of color. Paying special attention to Black men and women, critical race, prison advocacy, and Black feminist research has been vital in theorizing the structural and ideological implications of this racial inequity. The insight that the U.S. prison system constitutes a prison industrial complex arose from such scholarship. More recently, transnational feminism has offered insight into the specific experience and socio-historical contextualization of raced women within a transnational prison industrial complex. Based on transnational and Black feminist precepts, this thesis will argue the need to reframe the discursive position of imprisoned Black women in liberatory discourse. Using the work of Homi K. Bhabha, I contend that Black women’s discursive positions should be understood as “culturally undecidable.” Dominant paradigms of mainstream feminism have assigned Black women the task of fulfilling the ideal of “true womanhood.” Black feminist scholars have argued that this model erases and marginalizes Black women’s resistance. I suggest the imposition of this ideal rhetorically fixes Black women as victims, pathologizes them, and ultimately pathologizes the Black community. In contrast, renaming Black women’s discursive position as “culturally undecidable” creates the possibility to decenter the transnational networks that underpin the transnational prison industrial complex. To proffer this argument, I will analyze performative resistances and reifications of criminalization within narratives of imprisoned Black women and suggest performance practices to encourage Black women’s sense of agency.