During class this week, we watched the film “13th” which discussed the system of mass incarceration in America and its effects on African-Americans.
Watching this film was not the first time I had cried during that class (if I’m honest, thats sort of become a weekly thing) but it was one of the most significant. Sitting down to write this post is difficult because it’s hard to form full thoughts on the film, I’m filled more with emotion rather than intellectualized ideas.
The film chronicled the treatment of blacks in America from the time the first slave ship arrived. It showed the effects of slavery, durning and after, and the struggles of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. These were all things we learned about extensively in school although this film didn’t sugarcoat it.
It wasn’t until it began discussing current issues that it really took on new life. From Clinton’s first reference to “super-predators” to Reagan’s war on drugs, the documentary showed how America’s prison system is quite frankly out to get African-Americans. According to the film, 1 in 3 black men will spend time in jail.
And this isn’t the most shocking part. This has been the case for decades. The documentary shows how after the civil war and the abolition of slavery, there was a need to for laborers to fill the positions vacated by former slaves. This fell onto unpaid prisoners and guess what color most of them were. Some call this “legal slavery” and I would have to agree.
One woman in the film discussed how the prison system is just a new version of Jim Crow. Since felons lose many rights when convicted, such as their right to vote, own a gun and live in government housing and with so many of these criminals being African-American, it sounds an awful lot like slavery if you ask me.
This film highlighted the issues with our prison system and our American society in general. My main takeaway was that even when we ignore it and tell ourselves we’ve grown and moved on, racism is still an integral part of our society and to continue sweeping it under the rug and claiming it was overcome along with Jim Crow is to fool ourselves into ignoring the damage it is still causing.
Yours Politely, Natalie
Citation: Ava DuVernay, 13th, Kandoo Films, October 7, 2016