Editor’s Note: Last week in this space, guest blogger Carlo Rotella positioned The Wire in the history of the televisual crime drama, an evolution in narrative form that he argued reflects changing police practices and attitudes towards crime. In this week’s installment of “The Wire at Ten,” Points welcomes Sergio Campos, Associate Professor of law at The University of Miami. His current official research focuses on civil procedure and federal courts topics, mostly surrounding the class action. But his first article was on subordination, and we were able to persuade him to blog for us by promising him he could return to that subject here.
My prior article, while far from perfect, was my attempt to distinguish subordination from discrimination. In my view, which I still hold, subordination can be understood as the prevalence of a de facto caste system. I argued that a commitment to ending subordination (an antisubordination principle, for short) should focus not on groups, but on eradicating social positions in which persons are permanently disadvantaged. That is, if someone is born into a social position which entails an inherent ceiling on their opportunities to live a decent life, then some form of affirmative action is needed to get rid of that position. Accordingly, I argued that while discrimination may cause subordination, subordination may also be caused by other seemingly innocent activity (and vice versa). Moreover, eradicating subordinated social positions may entail both benefiting and burdening individuals who had nothing to do with creating the subordinated social position.
This sounds incredibly abstract, but I think a good example can be found in fourth season of The Wire, which focused on the Baltimore public school system. The season opens with four junior high friends, Michael, Namond, Duquan (“Dukie”), and Randy, playing together before starting eighth grade. We learn that Namond is the son of Wee-Bey Brice, a former enforcer for the Barksdale gang who is incarcerated for multiple drug-related murders in Season 1. The others have very dicey family situations, with Michael effectively raising himself and his little brother, Randy in a foster home, and Dukie taking care of his drug addict mother. Dukie has it the hardest, and during the season is teased constantly for his lack of clean clothes, while kindhearted adults try to make sure that he has food and school supplies. The show, in my view intentionally, depicts Namond as the least likable of the four. Due to his father’s reputation and his drug-related wealth, he is a spoiled brat who talks a big game but can’t back it up. In contrast, each of the other three children try to cope with impossible situations.