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In , the Supreme Court had ruled that a racial-zoning scheme in the city was unconstitutional. The black population of New Orleans was growing. And there was increasing pressure from some government officials to spread New Deal programs to black people. The staggering rise in incarceration rates in interwar Louisiana coincided with a sense among whites that the old order was under siege. In the coming decades, this phenomenon would be replicated on a massive, national scale.
The American response to crime cannot be divorced from a history of equating black struggle—individual and collective—with black villainy. And so it is unsurprising that in the midst of the civil-rights movement, rising crime was repeatedly linked with black advancement. Should Joe Biden run for president, he has to be asked about his time spent cheerleading for more prisons.
As president, Nixon did just that: During his second term, incarceration rates began their historic rise. They must be hunted to the end of the earth. I wish I could claim to have dug these up. I cannot. We knew it. A centuries-long legacy of equating blacks with criminals and moral degenerates did the work for him. In , while campaigning for president, Nixon was taped rehearsing a campaign ad. As incarceration rates rose and prison terms became longer, the idea of rehabilitation was mostly abandoned in favor of incapacitation. Mandatory minimums—sentences that set a minimum length of punishment for the convicted—were a bipartisan achievement of the s backed not just by conservatives such as Strom Thurmond but by liberals such as Ted Kennedy.
Conservatives believed mandatory sentencing would prevent judges from exercising too much leniency; liberals believed it would prevent racism from infecting the bench. Before reform, prisoners typically served 40 to 70 percent of their sentences. After reform, they served 87 to percent of their sentences. Moreover, despite what liberals had hoped for, bias was not eliminated, because discretion now lay with prosecutors, who could determine the length of a sentence by deciding what crimes to charge someone with.
District attorneys with reelection to consider could demonstrate their zeal to protect the public with the number of criminals jailed and the length of their stay. Prosecutors were not alone in their quest to appear tough on crime. There was no real doubt as to who would be the target of this newfound toughness. Senate seat in New York. He was respected as a scholar and renowned for his intellect.
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But his preoccupations had not changed. This might well have been true as a description of drug enforcement policies , but it was not true of actual drug abuse: Surveys have repeatedly shown that blacks and whites use drugs at remarkably comparable rates. Moynihan had by the late Reagan era evidently come to believe the worst distortions of his own report. Gone was any talk of root causes; in its place was something darker.
In seeming to abandon scholarship for rhetoric, Moynihan had plenty of company among social scientists and political pundits. James Q. But the thrust of his rhetoric was martial. Even as The Atlantic published those words, violent crime had begun to plunge. But thought leaders were slow to catch up.
In , William J. Bennett, John P. Walters, and John J. DiIulio Jr. For the next decade, incarceration rates shot up even further. The justification for resorting to incarceration was the same in as it was in Many African Americans concurred that crime was a problem. The argument that high crime is the predictable result of a series of oppressive racist policies does not render the victims of those policies bulletproof. Likewise, noting that fear of crime is well grounded does not make that fear a solid foundation for public policy. In , the ACLU published a report noting a year uptick in marijuana arrests.
And yet by the close of the 20th century, prison was a more common experience for young black men than college graduation or military service. This conclusion was reached not warily, but lustily. As a presidential candidate, Bill Clinton flew home to Arkansas to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally disabled, partially lobotomized black man who had murdered two people in Joe Biden, then the junior senator from Delaware, quickly became the point man for showing that Democrats would not go soft on criminals.
The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for , new state prison cells. In Texas, the Democratic governor, Ann Richards, had come to power in advocating rehabilitation, but she ended up following the national trend, curtailing the latitude of judges and the parole board in favor of fixed sentencing, which gave power to prosecutors.
In New York, another liberal governor, Mario Cuomo, found himself facing an exploding prison population. After voters rejected funding for more prisons, Cuomo pulled the money from the Urban Development Corporation, an agency that was supposed to build public housing for the poor. It did—in prison. Under the avowedly liberal Cuomo, New York added more prison beds than under all his predecessors combined.
This was penal welfarism at its finest. Prison presented a solution: jobs for whites, and warehousing for blacks. Dark predictions of rising crime did not bear out. Like the bestial blacks of the 19th century, super-predators proved to be the stuff of myth. This realization cannot be regarded strictly as a matter of hindsight. In the end, she voted for it. Pepper also voted for it. In , President Clinton signed a new crime bill, which offered grants to states that built prisons and cut back on parole.
Those were, and are, real problems. But even in trying to explain his policies, Clinton neglected to retract the assumption underlying them—that incarcerating large swaths of one population was a purely well-intended, logical, and nonracist response to crime. Even at the time of its passage, Democrats—much like the Republican Nixon a quarter century earlier—knew that the crime bill was actually about something more than that. On the evening of December 19, , Odell Newton, who was then 16 years old, stepped into a cab in Baltimore with a friend, rode half a block, then shot and killed the driver, Edward Mintz.
The State of Maryland charged Odell with crimes including murder in the first degree and sentenced him to life in prison. He has now spent 41 years behind bars, but by all accounts he is a man reformed. He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his crimes. He has not committed an infraction in 36 years. The Maryland Parole Commission has recommended Odell for release three times since In the s, when Odell committed his crime, this was largely a formality. But in our era of penal cruelty, Maryland has effectively abolished parole for lifers—even juvenile offenders such as Odell.
In , the U. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles found guilty of crimes other than homicide were unconstitutional. Two years later, it held the same for mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile homicide offenders.
But the Court has yet to rule on whether that more recent decision was retroactive. The vast majority of them—84 percent—are black. Clara had just driven seven hours round-trip to visit Odell at Eastern Correctional Institution, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and she was full of worry. He was being treated for hepatitis. He had sores around his eyes. I asked Clara how they managed to visit Odell regularly. She explained that family members trade visits. I got so bad one time, I was losing weight … Just thinking, Was it gonna be all right?
Was it gonna kill him? Was he gonna die? Clara was born and raised in Westmoreland, Virginia. She had her first child, Jackie, when she was only They moved to Baltimore so that John could pursue a job at a bakery. They were married for 53 years, until John passed away, in Odell Newton was born in When he was 4 years old, he fell ill and almost died. The family took him to the hospital. Doctors put a hole in his throat to help him breathe.
They transferred Odell to another hospital, where he was diagnosed with lead poisoning. It turned out that he had been putting his mouth on the windowsill. In prison, Odell has repeatedly attempted to gain his G. In June of , the family moved into a nicer house, in Edmondson Village. Sometime around ninth grade, Clara began to suspect that Odell was lagging behind the other kids in his class.
Odell Newton is now If men and women like Odell are cast deep within the barrens of the Gray Wastes, their families are held in a kind of orbit, on the outskirts, by the relentless gravity of the carceral state. For starters, the family must contend with the financial expense of having a loved one incarcerated. And then there is the emotional weight, a mix of anger and sadness. While I was in Detroit last winter, I interviewed Patricia Lowe, whose son Edward Span had been incarcerated at age 16, sentenced to nine and a half to 15 years for carjacking, among other offenses.
When I met with Patricia, Edward was about three years into his sentence, and she was as worried for him as she was angry at him. She was afraid he was being extorted by other prisoners. So you gave me heartache out here. But the heartache was unavoidable. But I know different because he has a female friend he calls. Two years later, he took a job with the State of Maryland as a corrections officer. For 20 years, while one son, Odell, served time under the state, another son, Tim, worked for it. Whereas inmates had once done their time and gone to pre-release facilities, now they were staying longer.
Requirements for release became more onerous. Meanwhile, the prisons were filling to capacity and beyond. The prisons began holding two people in cells meant for one. They cut out the weights being in the yard. The overcrowding, the stripping of programs and resources, were part of the national movement toward punishing inmates more harshly and for longer periods.
Officially, Maryland has two kinds of life sentences—life with the possibility of parole, and life without. Ehrlich Jr. This changed almost nothing. This is not sound policy for fighting crime or protecting citizens. In Maryland, the average lifer who has been recommended for but not granted release is 60 years old. Almost none of those 80 or so men and women, despite meeting a stringent set of requirements, was granted release by the governor. The choice given to judges to levy sentences for life either with or without parole no longer has any meaning.
Newton as an employee, and would rehire Odell at any time. But the program was suspended for lifers in May of , after a convicted murderer fled while visiting his son. The Stokes killing followed just weeks later. After that, parole was effectively taken off the table for all lifers, and Maryland ended work release for them as well. Believing for years that Odell was on his way to coming home, and then seeing the road to freedom snatched away, frustrated the family. It would be wrong to conclude from this that family is irrelevant.
Odell was born in the midst of an era of government-backed housing discrimination. Indeed, Baltimore was a pioneer in this practice—in , the city council had zoned the city by race. After the U. Supreme Court ruled such explicit racial-zoning schemes unconstitutional, in , the city turned to other means—restrictive covenants, civic associations, and redlining—to keep blacks isolated.
You can see that on display here in this conversation with Terry Gross. These efforts curtailed the ability of black people to buy better housing, to move to better neighborhoods, and to build wealth. Also, by confining black people to the same neighborhoods, these efforts ensured that people who were discriminated against, and hence had little, tended to be neighbors only with others who also had little. Thus while an individual in that community might be high-achieving, even high-earning, his or her ability to increase that achievement and wealth and social capital, through friendship, marriage, or neighborhood organizations, would always be limited.
A lot of this section depends on the ever-insightful Robert Sampson, and more broadly the focus on neighborhood dynamics in contemporary sociology. The notion of compounded deprivation, which Rob discusses here, really elucidates the difficulty in making easy comparisons between blacks and whites.
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Specifically, the world of the black middle class is—because of policy—significantly poorer. Thus to wonder about the difference in outcomes between the black and white middle class, is really to wonder about the difference in weight between humans living on the Earth and humans living on the moon. Finally, racial zoning condemned black people to the oldest and worst housing in the city—the kind where one was more likely to be exposed, as Odell Newton was, to lead.
That families are better off the stronger and more stable they are is self-evidently important. But so is the notion that no family can ever be made impregnable, that families are social structures existing within larger social structures. Black people face this tangle of perils at its densest.
In a recent study, Sampson and a co-author looked at two types of deprivation—being individually poor, and living in a poor neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, they found that blacks tend to be individually poor and to live in poor neighborhoods. But even blacks who are not themselves individually poor are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than whites and Latinos who are individually poor. For black people, escaping poverty does not mean escaping a poor neighborhood.
And blacks are much more likely than all other groups to fall into compounded deprivation later in life Taken from a forthcoming paper by Sampson and Kristin L. But what the data show is that you have these multiple assaults on life chances that make transcending those circumstances difficult and at times nearly impossible.
Shakur is a community activist and the author of two books chronicling his road to prison, his experience inside, and his return to society. Shakur, who is 42, recalls a town ravaged by deindustrialization, where unemployment was rampant, social institutions had failed, and gangs had taken their place.
Drugs, gangs, lack of education all came to the forefront. And prison and incarceration. Taylor, who is 66, recalls a more hopeful community where black professionals lived next door to black factory workers and black maids and black gangsters, and the streets were packed with bars, factories, and restaurants. It was smaller factories all up and down.
But the strip was here also. The legendary Chit Chat Lounge was down here, where the Motown and jazz musicians played. We stopped on the desolate corner of Hazelwood and 12th Street. He pointed out at the street, gesturing toward businesses and neighbors long gone. There was a black woman right here that owned a drapery-cleaning business. Negroes used to have draperies! Here was the wig shop and the beauty salon for the street girls.
I lived right here, and this is a very powerful place for me. And within those boundaries an order took root. This world was the product of oppression—but it was a world beloved by the people who lived there. It is a matter of some irony that the time period and the communities Taylor was describing with fond nostalgia are the same ones that so alarmed Daniel Patrick Moynihan in On July 23, , the Detroit police raided an after-hours watering hole on the West Side.
As Thomas J. Automakers began moving to other parts of the country, and eventually to other parts of the world. The loss of jobs meant a loss of buying power, affecting drugstores, grocery stores, restaurants, and department stores. One of my great irritants is how so much of our discussions on race and racism proceed from the notion that American history begins in the s. The discussions around Detroit is the obvious example. There is a popular narrative which holds that Detroit was a glorious city and the riots ruined it. Thomas J. Black residents of Detroit had to cope not just with the same structural problems as white residents but also with pervasive racism.
Within a precarious economy, black people generally worked the lowest-paying jobs. Some were better educated than others. But all were constricted, not by a tangle of pathologies, but by a tangle of structural perils.
The fires of conveniently obscured those perils. Possibly two of their mothers have been killed. I never talked with a lawyer until he was sending me to prison. I never talked with a judge until he convicted me. The blacks incarcerated in this country are not like the majority of Americans.
They do not merely hail from poor communities—they hail from communities that have been imperiled across both the deep and immediate past, and continue to be imperiled today. Peril is generational for black people in America—and incarceration is our current mechanism for ensuring that the peril continues. Incarceration pushes you out of the job market. Incarceration disqualifies you from feeding your family with food stamps. Incarceration allows for housing discrimination based on a criminal-background check.
Incarceration increases your risk of homelessness. Incarceration increases your chances of being incarcerated again. If generational peril is the pit in which all black people are born, incarceration is the trapdoor closing overhead. The compounded deprivation that African Americans experience is a challenge even independent of all the characteristics we think are protective.
Moynihan is in the midst of a renaissance. In their version of history, a courageous and blameless Moynihan made one mistake: He told the truth. For his sins—loving the black family enough to be honest—Moynihan was crucified by an intolerant cabal of obstinate leftists and Black Power demagogues. This seems like the right place to thank Peter-Christian Aigner , who is working on a biography of Moynihan.
Nationalist leaders like Malcolm X drew much of their appeal through their calls for shoring up the black family. Even if we have to displace some females. Crime really did begin to rise during the early s. But by this point, Moynihan had changed. In casting African Americans as beyond the purview of polite and civilized society, in referring to them as a race of criminals, Moynihan joined the long tradition of black criminalization.
One does not build a safety net for a race of predators. One builds a cage. Whatever the slings and arrows Moynihan suffered in the s, his vision dominates liberal political discourse today. For African Americans, unfreedom is the historical norm. Enslavement lasted for nearly years. The years that followed have encompassed debt peonage, convict lease-labor, and mass incarceration—a period that overlapped with Jim Crow.
This provides a telling geographic comparison. Under Jim Crow, blacks in the South lived in a police state. Then, as African Americans migrated north, a police state grew up around them there, too. That earlyth-century rates of black imprisonment were lower in the South than in the North reveals how the carceral state functions as a system of control.
Jim Crow applied the control in the South. Mass incarceration did it in the North. Mass incarceration became the national model of social control. In his inaugural year as the governor of Texas, , George W. Bush presided over a government that opened a new prison nearly every week. Almost a decade later Bush, by then the president of the United States, decided that he, and the rest of the country, had made a mistake.
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But the task is Herculean. The changes needed to achieve an incarceration rate in line with the rest of the developed world are staggering. To return to that level, America would have to cut its prison and jail population by some 80 percent. The popular notion that this can largely be accomplished by releasing nonviolent drug offenders is false—as of , 54 percent of all inmates in state prisons had been sentenced for violent offenses.
Is a marijuana dealer who brandishes a switchblade a violent criminal? How about the getaway driver in an armed robbery? And what if someone now serving time for a minor drug offense has a prior conviction for aggravated assault? Decarceration raises a difficult question: What do we mean by violent crime, and how should it be punished?
And what is the moral logic that allows forever banishing the Odell Newtons of America to the Gray Wastes? At the moment, that moral logic, as evidenced by the frequency with which the United States locks up people for life, remains peculiarly American. Arguing for leniency toward violent criminals is not easy politically. The Gray Wastes are a moral abomination for reasons beyond the sheer number of their tenants. In the national correctional system was much smaller than it is today, but even so, blacks were incarcerated at several times the rate of whites.
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There is no reason to assume that a smaller correctional system inevitably means a more equitable correctional system. Frase, a professor of criminal law at the University of Minnesota, found a state whose relatively sane justice policies give it one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country—and yet whose economic disparities give it one of the worst black-white incarceration ratios in the country. Changing criminal-justice policy did very little to change the fact that blacks committed crimes at a higher rate than whites in Minnesota.
Why did blacks in Minnesota commit crimes at a higher rate than whites? The lesson of Minnesota is that the chasm in incarceration rates is deeply tied to the socioeconomic chasm between black and white America. The two are self-reinforcing—impoverished black people are more likely to end up in prison, and that experience breeds impoverishment. An array of laws, differing across the country but all emanating from our tendency toward punitive criminal justice—limiting or banning food stamps for drug felons; prohibiting ex-offenders from obtaining public housing—ensure this.
So does the rampant discrimination against ex-offenders and black men in general. This, too, is self-reinforcing. The American population most discriminated against is also its most incarcerated—and the incarceration of so many African Americans, the mark of criminality, justifies everything they endure after. Mass incarceration is, ultimately, a problem of troublesome entanglements. To war seriously against the disparity in unfreedom requires a war against a disparity in resources.
And to war against a disparity in resources is to confront a history in which both the plunder and the mass incarceration of blacks are accepted commonplaces. Our current debate over criminal-justice reform pretends that it is possible to disentangle ourselves without significantly disturbing the other aspects of our lives, that one can extract the thread of mass incarceration from the larger tapestry of racist American policy.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan knew better. Willard Wirtz. His point was simple if impolitic: Blacks were suffering from the effects of centuries of ill treatment at the hands of white society. Ending that ill treatment would not be enough; the country would have to make amends for it. As we look ahead to what politicians are now saying will be the end of mass incarceration, we are confronted with the reality of what Moynihan observed in , intensified and compounded by the past 50 years of the carceral state. What of the black men whose wages remained stagnant for decades largely due to our correctional policy?
What of the 20th-century wars on drugs repeatedly pursued on racist grounds, and their devastating effects on black communities? The post-civil-rights consensus aims for the termination of injury. Remedy is beyond our field of vision. A serious reformation of our carceral policy—one seeking a smaller prison population, and a prison population that looks more like America—cannot concern itself merely with sentencing reform, cannot pretend as though the past 50 years of criminal-justice policy did not do real damage.
And so it is not possible to truly reform our justice system without reforming the institutional structures, the communities, and the politics that surround it. One class of people suffers deprivation at levels above and beyond the rest of the country—the same group that so disproportionately fills our jails and prisons. To pull too energetically on one thread is to tug at the entire tapestry. But the question has not disappeared. In fact, it is more urgent than ever. And should crime rates rise again, there is no reason to believe that black people, black communities, black families will not be fed into the great maw again.
The automobile took over because the legal system helped squeeze out the alternatives. In a country where the laws compel the use of cars, Americans are condemned to lose friends and relatives to traffic violence. My childhood neighbor was a varsity student-athlete, the president of the junior class, and the most popular girl in school.
One day in September , a car crash took her life. She had been driving home on the freeway when her car went across the median and collided with one going the opposite direction, killing both drivers. A third vehicle was said to have struck her car moments before, causing her to lose control. The police put out a call for information, apparently without success. But at the time, it felt like a basically unavoidable tragedy. In our small city in Michigan—like almost everywhere in America—driving is the price of first-class citizenship. We never stopped to ask whether a different bargain was possible.
Since her passing, approximately 1 million more Americans have been killed in car crashes. Unlike immigrants, natural-born citizens such as Carlson are neither screened nor forced to pass a citizenship test nor made to swear an oath. A few years ago, Maya Nanda began noticing a strange pattern among her patients. These young patients seemed anxious when they were discussing their symptoms, and they would often say they felt worried too.
When one patient who had asthma complained of shortness of breath, Nanda discovered he was actually having a panic attack. In , Nanda and her colleagues published a study that found that among 7-year-olds, allergies were indeed associated with depression, anxiety, and symptoms such as being withdrawn. She should have added two more words. In a court of law it could be his plea for exoneration. We know he was beaten and psychologically tormented by his father, Joseph. According to persistent rumours he was sexually molested by at least one adult in the music business.
So yes, we can say that, like Robson and Safechuck, he could not free himself from his experience of childhood abuse. Instead, he recreated it. A tragic tale and a horrifying one. The predator-seducer pretending to be the pure-hearted protector of innocent children everywhere. That longing gave his pretence an uncanny power for a long time.
The vulnerable genius was also the calculating paedophile. He was 35 years old. A financial settlement was agreed. Ten years later, in , he was arrested and charged with sexually molesting another boy, Gavin Arvizo.
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The week trial that began on 28 February was an immersive and clamorous multimedia spectacle. Everything Jackson owned, from his penis to his art collection, was examined and photographed by the Santa Barbara police department. Reports on their findings, some official, some leaked, went global. The trial was televised daily with frenetic commentary. Eighteen months and 21 days after his arrest Jackson was found not guilty of all charges. After Jordan Chandler makes allegations during a police interview that Jackson has abused him, an investigation begins. Jackson had met the year-old boy the previous year.
Teenagers Brett Barnes and Wade Robson hold a press conference stating that they had shared a bed with Jackson on multiple occasions, but that nothing sexual had happened. He states: "I am not guilty of these allegations, but if I am guilty of anything it is of giving all that I have to give to help children all over the world. After two grand juries fail to indict, and Jordan Chandler tells authorities he will not testify in court, the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara district attorneys end their investigation. A duet with his sister Janet, the song angrily addresses media coverage of the child sexual abuse allegations against him.
Jackson discusses regularly having sleepovers with children, including a young cancer patient named Gavin Arvizo, in Living with Michael Jackson — a documentary fronted by the British journalist Martin Bashir. I tuck them in. It's very charming. Michael Jackson is formally charged with committing lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of During Jackson's trial, Arvizo and his younger brother testify that the singer showed them pornography and made them drink "Jesus juice" — wine.
Both say Jackson masturbated in front of them and molested Arvizo on multiple occasions. Blanca Francia, one of Jackson's former housekeepers, testifies she saw Jackson showering with Wade Robson. Witnesses for the defence, including Macaulay Culkin and Robson, say that Jackson never molested them. Wade Robson takes legal action against the Jackson estate, alleging that Michael Jackson molested him over a seven-year period between the ages of seven and Safechuck alleges Jackson abused him on more than occasions after the pair met when Safechuck appeared in a Pepsi commercial alongside the singer.
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In it Wade Robson and James Safechuck discuss at length the abuse they claim they suffered at Jackson's hands. It is described as "a public lynching" by Jackson's surviving family. Radio stations around the world, including in New Zealand and Canada, begin to pull Jackson's music from the airwaves.
But being found not guilty by a court is a far cry from public exoneration. He had been disgraced. He was in debt. He made people squeamish. His record sales wavered and dipped. Nothing was beyond the shadow of any sort of doubt. Supporters insisted that the financial settlement was his only way of avoiding further exploitation. The case moved to the court of public opinion. And he moved about like exiled royalty — Bahrain, Las Vegas — plagued by debt, dependent on the hospitality of royals and moguls. He became an iconic figure in celebrity scandal-and-downfall narratives. There was the drugs and body disfigurement narrative, represented by Elvis Presley and by every ageing female star mocked for addiction problems and cosmetic surgeries.
When I wrote my book I was grieving for Michael Jackson the artist. The uncanny little boy; the charismatic, slightly mournful young man, the shape-shifting child-man-woman-cyborg-extraterrestrial. The cultural polyglot who studied — mastered, gloried in — so many styles and traditions; one to whom no form of popular music and dance was alien. I was grieving and I was confounded. We — for I was a fan, too — wanted him to explain himself in a way that could restore our trust.
We were baffled by our collective memory of Jackson the loving, lovable child who was now shutting himself off from us. I was relieved, I was grateful when he died. He can get it all back with his art now, I thought. We can glory in that. And we did. Death restored his reputation as an artist.
In the years that followed his grisly death — the overdose, the frantic attempts at CPR, the corpse in the body bag, the lurid autopsy details — there was a Jackson renaissance. Multiple ways of reading his art sprang up and flourished. Academics began reading him through deconstruction, post-colonial and queer theory; performance, gender and cultural studies.
He became the avatar of a transracial, transgender and trans-species world.