• Kyia Young

'13th' recalls battles against racism, issues in the U.S. today

November 5, 2016

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to view the Netflix documentary “13th,” which was based off the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The 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.”

There were many layers to the documentary that were centered not only around the African-American community, but also around other minority populations of the nation. The majority of the topics were about being black in the U.S., but it was also taken into account how immigration has never been much of a priority for Americans throughout history.

“13th” explains how blacks were always viewed as being the criminals or the center of all evil in the U.S. The documentary opens up with crime-rate statistics, stating the U.S. comprises 5 percent of the world’s population, but we hold 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

Starting with the early 1950s, the activists critiqued segregation and the way blacks were dehumanized by whites. Blacks were being arrested for minor crimes, like loitering and vagrancy, with no bail. White people would also see black men as a threat to white women — hence the killing of Emmett Till in Mississippi ― who was shot to death and thrown in a river after whistling to a white man’s wife, even though Till’s friend said whistling prevented him from stuttering. His mother insisted on an open casket funeral to bring attention to the violent crimes against blacks during this day in age.

The 1915 movie, “The Birth of a Nation,” stereotyped blacks as being a psychopathic, insane animal species who obliterated everything in their paths. This movie labeled the Klu Klux Klan as heroes who tried to fight crime and wipe out the enemy (black people). Fast forward to Jim Crow and segregation, when it was made legal for blacks to be separated from whites — including that blacks basically couldn’t have a comfortable education, jobs, freedom, etc., which made African-Americans an official second-class race in the U.S.

The Civil Rights Movement was the ultimate force against racism and segregation that gave politicians a reason to assume that growing crime rates were contributed to from black people because the incarceration rates increased. It was seen as noble to be arrested by a white person because it was a black person’s greatest fear.

Former President Richard Nixon also pushed for African-Americans to be incarcerated and officially declared a, “War on Drugs,” which was a political tactic to say that blacks were the reason why drugs were so popular in the U.S. Drugs were made a political issue instead of a health issue. Even Nixon’s adviser said the drugs had nothing to do with the black community; it was just another excuse for us to be put in jail and taken off the streets.

In 1982, then-President Ronald Reagan declared a, “Modern War on Drugs,” when crack-cocaine was first introduced to the nation. Former President Bill Clinton introduced the Three Strikes You’re Out law during his presidency, which said if a person has committed three crimes in their lifetime, they will face minimum mandatory incarceration periods. The law led to mass incarceration of blacks. Later, he stated that his implementation of this law was wrong and had more cons than pros.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have had histories of bashing blacks during their past interviews; Clinton has a past of campaigning on children and poverty. At the end of the documentary, it is concluded how Trump’s campaign is similar to the unfair treatment blacks received in the past. Trump’s comments and microaggressions show how the times really have not changed. The only difference between then and now is that blacks have more opportunities to succeed, but only to a certain extent.

Now for the official incarceration statistics: 1 in 17 white men are likely to be incarcerated. 1 in 4 of the world’s population are locked up in the U.S. aka the “Land of the Free.” According to 2014, there are 2,306,200 people incarcerated in the U.S. Of those millions of people over 800,000 of them are black.  

Viewing this documentary has opened my eyes to the many struggles African-Americans have faced and continue to face today. With two people who have opposed blacks in the past now running for president, it goes to show that blacks still don’t have a voice in the U.S. If being free is declared Constitutional, why am I still being shackled by the law? If you have any interest in the African-American community or the history of it, please consider watching this documentary.


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