Simon Browne posits, “While Foucault argued that the decline of the spectacle of public torture as punishment might have marked “a slackening of the hold on the body,” this chapter contends that when that body is black, the grip hardly loosened during slavery and continued post- Emancipation with, for example, the mob violence of lynching and other acts of racial terrorism” (38). Browne’s assertion is evidenced in our society today with the continuous slaying of unarmed Black men, shot dead by the punishers–the police. America is intent on continuing to act out its punishment on the bodies of Black men—whose crime is their existence in this country. Browne reveals that historically, discipline was crucial when the ruling elite needed to keep those under them (the lower class, peasants) in line. The ruling elite in America today would be upper class whites, and those they would consider under them, minorities, and poor whites.
Browne shows that discipline and punishment for Blacks, has consistently been the same throughout centuries–imprisonment, and or death. Many consider the modern-day prison system to be the ultimate tool of discipline and punishment in America. However, Simone reveals that the prison system is but one way in which America both disciplines and doles out punishment continuously and consistently on Black bodies. She postulates that the surveillance of Black bodies is another way in which America attempts to enact its brand of discipline, and that it is not a new invention. It seems that this type of surveillance has been consistent from the slave ships that brought Africans to North America, to plantations that utilized branding, and runaway slave notices, to today with police practices such as Stop and Frisk, and the monitoring of activist organizations such as Black Lives Matter. Browne writes, “the kinds of surveillance practices employed during chattel slavery in the southern United States name the “information technologies” of the written slave pass, wanted posters and advertisements for runaway slaves and servants, and organized slave patrols as key features of this system. … plantation surveillance [is seen] as the earliest form of surveillance practiced in the Americas” (52).
Simone points to slave narrative to highlight her argument of the ubiquitousness of surveillance on plantations. Many Black men of today could identify with the reporting of Frederick Douglass as he describes what he, and many others like him, experienced as a matter of routine in the life of a slave. He identifies the surveilling practices of the ruling elite of that time in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. He pens, “at every gate through which we were to pass, we saw a watchman—at every ferry a guard—on every bridge a sentinel—and in every wood a patrol. We were hemmed in upon every side” (qtd. in Simone 22). Browne clearly shows the historical trajectory of racialized, weaponized, surveillance of Black bodies that continue to confine and constrict the lives of Black people to this day.