By Grace Yang
Cancer is poisonous, destructive, and lethal. Will there ever be a cure? On Monday, January 16th, in honor of Marin Luther King Day, the independent movie 13th was shown at SCH. This movie is an in-depth look at how our nation still suffers from the cancer of slavery and inequality. The director, Ava DuVernay, argues that slavery still exists; it has just evolved into mass incarceration due to a loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment which was ratified in 1865. This amendment states:
“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 intention of this amendment was to abolish slavery after the Civil War. However, the clause, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” provided a way for slavery to continue. It allowed black people who had been convicted of crimes to be forced to provide labor to rebuild the South. After the passage of the amendment, free blacks began to be arrested in large numbers for minor crimes. They had been freed from plantations but were condemned to prison work gangs.
The mythology of black criminality was born. The media brainwashed society into thinking that all blacks are criminal. One important event in creating this mythology was the first blockbuster film, Birth of a Nation in 1915. It confirmed the ideology of the “evil negro” and portrayed blacks as monstrous animals. For example, the movie contains a famous scene of a man with dark skin trying to rape a white woman. The woman jumps off a cliff and dies rather than be raped by a black man. This was just the start of the media’s perpetuation of the fearful image of the black male. Today, the news broadcasts scene after scene of black males walking across the screen in chains. The media depicts these men as criminals, creating the widely accepted stereotype that follows black men to this day.
Our government supports this mass oppression in other ways. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a private organization whose members are politicians and large corporations. Many state legislatures acquire and pass bills produced by ALEC. The council is run behind closed doors, working with major corporations like AT&T, Koch, and State Farm to attempt to rewrite laws that govern basic human rights. ALEC writes laws and gives them to political leaders. Every ALEC bill benefits one of its corporate funders. For example, Walmart, a former member of ALEC, is the biggest seller of long guns and is one of the largest retailers of bullets in the world. While Walmart was a member of the council, ALEC adopted the Stand Your Ground Law, a law that justified use of unlawful force, such as a gun, in order to protect oneself from threats or perceived threats. It is reasonable to conclude that the law benefited Walmart because of the increase in gun sales after the law was passed. ALEC is a “pay-to-play” organization. In the late 1980’s, the private Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) made contracts with states to build their correctional facilities. In order to protect the investments of the states and the CCA, the prisons had to be filled even if no one was committing a crime. CCA is also a member of ALEC. These large companies influence the bills proposed by ALEC, and one of them contributes to our nation’s two million prisoners. No one who attended the movie screening had heard of this organization before.
One of every three black men is expected to go to jail during his lifetime. We are filling prisons with more black people than there were slaves in the 1850’s. Imagine that. Did the Thirteenth Amendment really end slavery?
After watching the movie, I was in shock. I had many thoughts and opinions running through my mind, but I could not speak. We were asked to get into small groups to discuss the movie and the conversation took off with many opinions, ranging from disbelief to realization and fear. I heard many important points and many questions like, “What do we do next? How can we make a change?”
There needs to be a wider realization of this injustice in our community. No one enjoys stepping outside their comfort zone if they have a preconceived notion about race in America, but this is an important story that needs to be told. Start by listening in on the conversation. No one is forced to participate, but hearing others’ responses and opinions make feeling uncomfortable a shared experience, and the process of thinking about difficult topics becomes more and more comfortable.
The movie 13th has the statistics to prove its argument. This modern version of slavery is like a tumor, spreading throughout our nation’s body. Some may say that the tumor is too big to be removed, but others believe it can be removed through education of the public and legal challenges. We are the generation that can make a change. The first step is getting people interested in learning about this part of our nation’s history. We need to learn about this disease because it is real and relevant in our day-to-day life. One day we will all enter the real world, and not all of us will be treated equally. We want to make a better world for all members of our community. We are so lucky to go to a school that educates us about these issues, because beyond our community, not everyone engages in this type of discussion. That is why we must be educated now so that we can educate others; that is how a change will happen. We have the resources, the technology, and the ability to remove this tumor of slavery. All we need is the motivation.