The previous post, about the ethnic purity of gangs, brings to mind a parallel phenomenon: how a stint in prison affects peoples' attitudes towards race.
Prison life, like gang life, tends to be more as it was in the caveman days: raw and elemental. Danger lurks around every corner.
(There's a funny line in the Elmore Leonard book, Road Dogs, in which somebody describes the hero, Jack Foley, as being smart, but not like the other guys who are supposed to have high IQ's in prison. Someone asks, what happens to those guys? "Oh, they're the ones who have to give the other guys blow jobs.")
In prison, if some hulking, tattooed lifer calls you a sissy and demands a blow job, and you tell him no, he's not going to reply, "Yeah, okay, if you're not in the mood, that's fine. And I apologize for calling you a sissy."
In prison, it's all about who is the biggest and baddest, and who has the strongest allies. Fairness has nothing to do with it. So inmates turn wherever they can for protection.
Inmates seem to know that there's one group they can rely on for protection, and that is their kin. (Races are nothing but extended kinship groups.)
And this is true of every ethnic group there is.
After a stint in a medium security jail or worse, virtually everybody seems to come out feeling more closely attuned to their own ethnicity. Blacks come out as Black Muslims. Whites come out as members of the Aryan Brotherhood. Hispanics often join either the Mexican Mafia or Nuestra Familia.
And these feelings seem to stick. People get tattoos -- permanent markers -- signifying their ethnic/gang affiliation.
There is also the phenomenon of people reconnecting with their childhood religions in jail. Charles Colson becoming a born again Christian while in jail for his Watergate crimes. Ivan Boesky became a Talmudic scholar while in prison for insider trading. Taking up one's childhood religion is not quite the same as joining an ethnic gang, it's probably more of a there-are-no-atheists-in-foxholes type of phenomenon.
But reconnecting with one's roots -- whether ethnic, or religious, or both -- does seem to happen quite frequently in prison. Nobody ever comes out saying, we have to be nicer to that other ethnic group. They come out hardened and less naive.
Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned about human nature. When you're in a dangerous situation, where do you turn?