As promised, some of this blog will contain light-hearted Netflix recommendations to break up the seriousness, except this one is not so light-hearted. A couple weeks ago I watched the Netflix documentary “13th” and was deeply moved by it. The documentary centers around the 13th amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The director, Ava DuVernay, focuses on the clause “except as punishment for a crime” in examining the ways that modern mass incarceration has been a continuation of slavery and free labor and has crippled the black community.
The documentary traces the history of black oppression post-slavery, from lynchings to the Jim Crow laws, to the war on drugs, to the documented police shootings of unarmed black men. Part of her argument surrounds the depiction of black people in post-slavery America as criminal and a threat to the safety of society. She examines the way that this implicit (or at times explicit) bias has played a part in political policy, laws and the enforcing of those laws.
I won’t outline point by point the brilliance of this documentary in this post. All I will say is, if you have ever doubted even for a second that racial oppression has been systematically and intentionally carried out in the last century in America, please watch this film. If you have ever believed that our justice system is colorblind and free of bias, please watch this film.
As a white person, racial inequality can be very difficult to talk about. I was hesitant to even write this post because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to strike the right tone. But this documentary shook me to my very core. And I think if we want to be people who fight for justice and equality, we have to allow ourselves to be so affected by things. And then we have to be brave enough to talk about them. In the film, they discuss effectiveness of videos of police shootings in bringing to light this oppression. This documentary serves the same purpose. It forces us to see injustice and challenges us not to look away. We can’t fight it if we refuse to see it. In summary, watch “13th” and other documentaries like it. Read articles that challenge your beliefs. Engage in dialogues that promote understanding and educate yourself every chance you get.