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Whitening Black Men: Narrative Labour and the Scriptural Economics of Risk and Rehabilitation

Warr, Jason



“You know what? You can’t be a ‘Black Man’ in prison.” Negative impositions of Blackness, grounded in the myths of Black Criminality, shape assessments of risk and rehabilitation within the scriptural economy of the contemporary prison. This creates a rehabilitative colour line that results in specific forms of narrative labour, whereby prisoners attempt to control the recording and interpretation of their Black identities. From Social Relations, to Appearance, to Language Use, more of the life of a Black prisoner is interpreted negatively than other prisoners. This paper explores how Black lifers, are forced to adopt narrative labours that ‘whiten’ their ‘Blackness’ in order to mitigate their perceived risk and navigate the prison’s pathways to release. This article is based on quasi-ethnographic field work conducted in two prison sites between 2011 and 2014 in which more than 120 indeterminately sentenced prisoners were consulted.


Warr, J. (2022). Whitening Black Men: Narrative Labour and the Scriptural Economics of Risk and Rehabilitation. British Journal of Criminology, Article azac066.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 1, 2022
Online Publication Date Sep 6, 2022
Publication Date Sep 6, 2022
Deposit Date Sep 12, 2022
Publicly Available Date Sep 7, 2024
Journal The British Journal of Criminology
Print ISSN 0007-0955
Electronic ISSN 1464-3529
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Article Number azac066
Keywords Law, Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous), Social Psychology, Pathology and Forensic Medicine
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