The climate on social media has changed. The bridge that allies had been building over the past couple of years were suddenly torn down as if a hurricane had swept through. It was allies fault that the election went the way it did. We didn’t have the conversations with our families and friends that would have turned the tide. We didn’t campaign hard enough, shout loud enough, entice enough voters to come out and support the marginalized people of the United States. Allies did a lot of talking but were there enough action?
One of the messages that I have seen over and over again is that it is not the job of the downtrodden to teach the privileged. Where does that leave people like myself? How am I going to learn when the source of the pain and suffering is tired of speaking about it? The same way everyone else in the world learns anything. Read a book, go online, or watch a factual documentary that will explain the history of the United States and how it was built on the backs of blacks. So that is what I did. I watched the 13th Amendment on Netflix and live tweeted it because the message is so important.
I must be honest. This is not a movie for the faint of heart. It started with this stat. The United States have 5% of the world’s population and houses 25% of the world’s prisoners. That stat alone should raise your eyebrow. In 1970 there were 340,000 people in prison. In 2015 there are 2.3 million prisoners. That is an extraordinary jump. We have 737 people in jail for every 100,000 residents. One million of the 2.3 million people locked up are black. It doesn’t make sense that a group of people that makes up 17% of the population makes up almost half of the people incarcerated. How is this the land of the free when we have so many people incarcerated? The movie helps explain the history behind this.
The 13th amendment states:
Section 1. 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 important part of this amendment is that slavery/involuntary servitude was illegal unless that person was convicted of a crime. This “loophole” created a climate where people of color were arrested for, “…minor crimes such as unemployment, loitering or gambling, and selling them to private employers through the convict lease system.” Once they were thrown in jail they were free labor for the South to rebuild itself. America was literally built on the backs of jailed People of Color.
I had no idea what the movie Birth of a Nation (the original) was about let alone it being the most racist mainstream movie ever made. This movies creation created reverberations that are still being heard today.
What makes “Birth’’ most offensive is its depiction of its black characters — all of the prominent ones performed by white actors in blackface — during Reconstruction. Griffith depicts defeated Southerners being terrorized (and even disenfranchised from voting) by illiterate, corrupt and uncouth former slaves (seeking interracial marriage) under the influence of white Northern carpetbaggers. Link
I did not know that the movie created the burning cross as a symbol for the KKK.
Thomas Dixon included a pivotal cross-burning scene in his 1905 novel The Clansman; he was attempting to legitimize the Klan’s supposed connections to the Scottish clans. A decade later, D.W. Griffith brought The Clansman to the silver screen, eventually renaming it The Birth of a Nation. Exhilarated by Griffith’s sympathetic portrayal, Klansmen started burning crosses soon after to intimidate minorities, Catholics, and anyone else suspected of betraying the order’s ideals. The first reported burning took place in Georgia on Thanksgiving Eve, 1915. They have been associated with racist violence ever since. Link
The visuals from the movie were disturbing. It showed pictures of People of Color hanging from trees as well as images of slaves who were brutally beaten. It also showed pictures of Emmett Till. I had known the story of Emmett previously; however, seeing the video of his mother at the funeral on video brought it to a whole other level. Emmett’s mom had purposefully had an open casket so everyone could see the carnage that was done to him. This is not the history that is taught in schools.
Fast forward to Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Nixon purposefully brainwashed Americans into correlating Hippies and marijuana as well as People of Color and heroin. This was a way to keep control of a population.
Reagan made possession of 5 grams of crack an immediate 5-year mandatory sentence while cocaine, essentially the same drug in a different form, needed 500 grams to receive the same sentence. Crack was used mostly in cities while cocaine was mostly used in the suburbs. Who do you think was affected by this difference in sentencing?
Bill Clinton created the three strikes and you’re out rule. This combined with mandatory sentencing took all the power out of the judge’s hands and placed it instead into the prosecutor’s hands. You can see how as a country we have used the legal system to keep People of Color behind the eight ball.
The most powerful part of the movie is that it shows the number of people being jailed each decade on a line graph. This is coupled with music of that decade. The LA Times states, “…music plays a key role as well, not only with songs like Nina Simone’s version of “Work Song” heard on the sound track, but with key words from rap lyrics like Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype” appearing as arresting large type on the screen.” Link We forget that music is a political commentary as well as an artistic endeavor.
When we look at the current climate we see People of Color being shot in the back by police, placed in illegal choke-holds and suffocated, and dying on the way to jail in the custody of police. We still have people driving around with confederate flags on their trucks, people freaking out that the Mall of America hired a black Santa and a President who was supported by the KKK.
I am doing this movie a complete injustice. You need to watch it. I will end this blog with the closing thought of the movie. We ask ourselves how could people tolerate slavery and lynching back in the day? We are living and tolerating it now.