How do we identify a crime? How have U.S. legal documents conceived of race and criminality? How is race included in or erased from rhetoric of crime and criminality? In what ways has that changed, legally and culturally?

We’ve covered 3 units so far this semester: Slave Patrols, Reconstruction/Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Era. We’ve read and analyzed Toni Morrison’s  Beloved, Richard Wright’s  The Man Who Lived Underground, 4 essays by James Baldwin, and Nina Simone’s “Four Women.” Alongside these works of literature, we’ve read excerpts of the U.S. Constitution, watched a documentary on the Thirteenth Amendment and its repercussions, and read some background information on the racial contexts of the law from Vitale, Alexander, and Davis.  

For your midterm assignment, you will write a paper that includes a close reading of one of our literary texts that helps you understand something about our central course questions. As a reminder, those questions are: How do we identify a “crime”?  How have U.S. legal documents conceived of race and criminality? How is race included in or erased from rhetoric of crime and criminality? In what ways has that changed, legally and culturally? How have literature, film, and music responded to these legal and cultural conceptions? 

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