13th

The documentary “13th” focuses on the ever-increasing prison industrial complex and its biases against non-white races, especially African-Americans. The film begins by discussing the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, and how it was thought to be the end of a multitude of issues among minority races. Instead it left a backdoor open, so that the same ethnic groups can be enslaved through criminal means. It was not long until this loophole was exploited, which was done through the criminalization of the black community. It was exploited so aggressively, that a large portion of people who rebuilt the South after the Civil War was forced labor from imprisoned ex-slaves. A huge majority of African-Americans were rounded up and thrown back in prison soon after they were released from slavery. On many occasions, large mobs of angry, racist white men and women beat or even lynched African-Americans in the street for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

This feverish spread of hatred of the African race can largely be attributed to the film release of “Birth of a Nation.” The movie depicted an African-American (played by a white man), attempting to rape a white woman. Instead of allowing the man to defile her, she decides to jump to her death. The rest of the area discovers this news and races to find the black man. They find him, and the KKK quickly comes in to torture and kill this man, and are portrayed as heroes and saviors. This movie became quite popular and was adored by many famous people of the time period. Woodrow Wilson even had a private screening of it at the White House while he was in office.

Hatred of minority races, while it was always present, was not so easily enacted on a large-scale. There were always targeted attacks and murders of specific individuals, but nothing on a larger scale after the abolishment of slavery; that is, until Nixon came into office. President Nixon knew that he could not make it illegal to be black, or to oppose war (another group he was having difficulties with at the time). So he decided to fabricate wild accusations about drug use in America and was able to call for a War on Drugs. This was because at the time, the anti-war groups had become synonymous with marijuana and the African-American groups had become synonymous with Heroin. Through this he was able to lock people up he didn’t like simply because they may have been near someone else that was in possession of a drug.

The documentary not only discussed the problems of the second half of the 20th century, it touched upon problems of today. The U.S. is home to 5% of the world’s population, yet it contains 25% of all of the world’s incarcerated population. The large majority of this vast population of imprisoned persons is predominantly African-American. How did this divide in skin color occur? It was largely due to a super-organization known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC allowed large multi-billion dollar corporations to propose and even write-up bills, and pitch them to U.S. Senators who were also part of the organization. This way, these corporations could pitch laws that benefit themselves and are tough on minorities. For example, the 3 strikes law, as well as the mandatory minimum sentencing law were both proposed by ALEC.

The United States has a long history of deep-rooted racism, which does not seem like it will diminish any time soon. With the addition of new racially segregating executive orders such as a travel ban on Muslims, as well as a wall to keep out outsiders, it seems like the U.S. is arguably taking a steps backwards to ensure racial equality will never be achieved.

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One Reply to “13th”

  1. You raise a good point here that there are structural methods used to reinforce racism within the prison industrial complex, and that we can see those methods reflected outside of the prison as well. The Muslim ban and the promises to build a wall are both explicit expressions of this, but I believe that implicit methods similar to those taken by Nixon are still being used today. The general rhetoric associating people of color with drug use and violence as well as associating Muslims with terrorism are the sort of manipulative ways a government is able to instill fear and hatred within its people.

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