Saturday, October 29, 2016

AVA DuVERNAY GIVES US "13TH" BLACK AMERICAN HISTORY THROUGH A POLITICAL LENS

The United States is home to 5 percent of the world's population. 

The United States houses 25 percent of the world's prisoners. 

These two statements represent the first statistics you hear in the documentary. And it is President Obama, the first sitting president to visit a prison, that first utters it.


The documentary 13th is ostensibly about the loophole in the 13th amendment that allows slavery to continue in the case of those convicted of a crime. And, I thought this documentary would just be Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" book but on video and set to music. But 13th covers a lot more than that. 

Alexander herself and data from her book are in the documentary, but it also covers some of the details of Black History that don't get talked about too much.

I really liked the part where DuVernay characterized black people as having had to run from the terrorist south. They were like refugees in the Northeast in the and West of the United States. But then the movie Birth Of A Nation" (1915 version) came out and made KKK members of white people all across the country these black people were in danger again. This documentary even discussed, briefly,
 what it's going to take for Black Lives To Matter in the years ahead. And it also spoke of why vigilance is required in the immediate future as prison populations go down and home incarceration and GPS tracking goes up.

One of the few criticisms I have of the documentary is that, once again, black women's imprisonment is too much in the background.
There were a number of black women interviewed. But how black female victims wind up in the prison system weren't ever in the foreground

I understand that 1 in 3 black men will do prison time over the course of their lifetime as opposed to1 in 17 white men. But black women wind up in prison at 3 to 6 times the rate of white women too. Even if you don't want to get into gender issues, even if you want to remain focused on race, the names of Rekia Boyd and Sandra Bland should have had their own 1 to 2 minute segment as examples of black injustice too. I shouldn't have been able to miss their names altogether when they popped up in a still photograph if I had blinked. 
  • Even though I know there's tons more footage of black men being killed by police, I expect black feminists to try to break Black Lives Matter away from the implied Black Male Lives Matter every single chance they get. 


But the documentary was still excellent. The other criticisms I have are regarding the documentary not being longer.

The next criticism 
I probably wouldn't have at all
if 13th hadn't been released a month before 
the next presidential election
AND
I didn't know that
a lot of people are black history deprived. 


In the documentary, DuVernay interviews a couple of people that make it clear that black people supported some of the policies that made incarceration of blacks for drug use/distribution multiply out of control. But she didn't make it clear how the economic situation in black neighborhoods at the time (need for alternative economy) plus crack led to a generation of young men scaring the hell out of their own black neighbors.

One of the interviewees says, with shame, that black people were "afraid of our own selves" as if there wasn't some justification for that.
I know a guy that says he is one of the two or three surviving members of an entire high school class in Los Angeles. IN LOS ANGELES, not some small podunk town in the mid-west with a graduating class of 20. He said the rest of them died in the crack game of the 1980s.
The term "super predators" is racist, of course.  But it's not that some of these kids weren't scary. They weren't "super predators" because they didn't have the power to truly prey on anybody. They didn't have the power to import, distribute across the country like white people did. Those black kids couldn't do anything but do some minor b.s. on the street. ALEC, as described in the documentary, qualifies as a "super predator" (And they wrote some of the worst Clinton legislation too -- when they wrote for republicans 95% of the time) 

But these baby crack dealers? The fact that they were young 13, 14, and 15, trying to prove they were men (toxic masculinity) was the thing that made them dangerous as hell, not their blackness.
A black man of 30 or 40? If you come across him as a criminal doing criminal activity, he might shoot you for some logical reason -- you're witnessing a murder or something. He's not going to shoot you just to prove he's got the stones to do it. 
The reason this was an important thing to leave out is because it's important to show that black people desperate to support Charlie Rangel and other black politicians that supported the Clintons were not stupid. The black people these black politicians represented had something real to be afraid of.


I remember someone, a person of color, having me on the verge of thinking that the 3 strikes law was a good thing. But, once I read the details of the law I understood a person could wind up for life for something stupid.

  1. Kiting checks is a felony, ya know?  So if one felony out of three felonies is shoving somebody during a robbery (violence like Mike Brown's?) a person could wind up in jail for life. Even the most hard core law and order person, that's not a closet racist, should be able to see that our prison system cannot bear such a thing. There aren't enough judges, prisons or prosecutors.   
It is important to know that the blacks supported Clinton legislation that wound up incarcerating a lot of black people for life. Because once you understand just how fear based this republican controlled country was, you also understand that Bill Clinton was interchangeable for any other white politician.


Law and Order was what people white, black, and brown wanted to hear when crack came to town. 

But if this life were a game? Donald Trump would be interchangable with a bunch of Presidents from 1972 and earlier and Ronald Reagan too. There's a reason DuVernay plays snippets Trump's speeches over the worst abuses of black people during various uprisings and riots of the civil rights movements and before. There's a reason you hear Trump talking about the good ole days when white crowds could and would beat and kill black people with a lot more impunity than you can now.

If that section of the documentary had been longer, had covered the crack cocaine era with a bit more detail, you'd know why she ultimately seems to find Donald Trump a frightening prospect


I've said it before. I'll say it again. I don't believe anybody is free from bigotry. I don't believe in anybody's purity. We're all living and breathing white supremacy -- even black and brown people score as prefering white perspective on implicit bias tests. But white people score higher when testing for white bias. So we know that white 
people, on the left or right side of the aisle, are rarely ever free from anti-black racism. 

But all white racism is not created equal.
Hillary's is normal
Trump's is a KKK version

Ronald Reagan's was a KKK version, white supremacy model too, as quiet as it's kept. White mob violence increased dramatically when he was president. All you have to do is read the black history of 1980s New York State* alone to know that. The only other black family on my street had a cross burned on their lawn once Reagan was elected. If you could bring Ronald Reagan back from the dead and he saw the power of the fear of the poor uneducated white people. he'd be a trifle more subtle than Trump. But he wouldn't be using the dog whistle anymore. Believe it.  

*****

If you haven't watched 13th yet, watch it now on Netflix.

When it comes out on DVD, buy it. Put it on the shelf next to Eyes On The Prize. I think you should watch both, once a year, with your own children or somebody else's children --especially if you aren't black.






*Look Up White Mob Violence in 1980s NY. The words Howard Beach, Bensonhurst, Michael Griffiths, Yusef Hawkins, Willie Turks should get you some details. What happened to the Central Park Five is also Reagan affected because Ronald Reagan made overt white racism fashionable again  
By the way, it kind of irked me Newt the-Grinch Gingrich was the white republican sounding all reasonable. He was one of the scariest white @$$hats in the country for a long time.