I must apologise for the late Collab posting and for not being around much of late.
I just haven’t had the desire to write and when I have wanted to, it’s been about a topic I have no experience of – and never will. I’ve just felt that nobody needs another middle-aged white woman’s opinion on something she can never understand and everything besides anti-racism seems pointless and frivolous to talk about.
As life on the surface goes back to whatever ‘normal’ is going to be from here, I don’t want to forget these conversations or the things I’ve been learning. I don’t want any of my actions to be performative – we all have to move forward and use our privilege to be good allies. So Jill and I have plans for the future which we’re just now exploring – or rather Jill’s had the ideas and I agree with them.
This week was a real eye opener and I’ve sat with my feelings about it for a few days. Honestly, as I type this I don’t even know how I’m going to review it. There’s so much I didn’t know or had never put together. I’m half tempted just to write “Just watch it” under my thoughts and leave it at that.
An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.
Barack Obama: So let’s look at the statistics. The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population. But 25% of the world’s prisoners.
Just watch it.
No but seriously. My knowledge of the United States Constitution is sparse at best, let alone the 13th amendment to it. I’m going to try and put this together accurately but apologise for anything I may have misconstrued or forget to mention.
In simplistic terms, this documentary covers a loophole in the law that abolished slavery in the USA except in the case of criminals who could be exploited by prisons – and continue to be exploited to this day by the system to keep the economy going – and to service well-known corporations, such as Walmart and Victoria’s Secret.
Calling in the expertise and opinions of activists, academics, political and public figures, including Angela Davis, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Cory Booker, Henry Louis Gates Jr., we explore the economic history of slavery post civil-war all the way up to 2016, during the presidential election when ‘certain politicians’ worked hard to stoke the nation’s fear of crime and certain communities, AKA obviously the Black and Latino ones.
Southern states following the end of the civil war criminalised minor offenses, forcing African-Americans unable to pay fines into chain gangs for petty misdemeanours such as vagrancy and loitering. These men were slapped in jail and further criminalised by future laws, while their right to vote was removed, excluding them from any sort of government say. At the same time white supremacy was all the rage and the lynching of Black people at an all time high.
Watching the news in the year 2020 does not give you the comfort of knowing at least things have changed dramatically since, does it?
This isn’t an easy watch and it shouldn’t be. There’s no way to pussyfoot around the terror and injustice reigned upon minorities and anyway, we should all be forced to stare at those images and take them in. We explore the Jim Crow legislation which legalised segregation, forcing minorities into a second-class status and we branch outwards (I say we but I mean Ava DuVernay) all the way up to just a few years ago.
The documentary goes in on the War on Drugs and how the number of people incarcerated since the 1970’s has steadily increased, resulting in overcrowding and less than ideal living conditions for prisoners. Up until fairly recent, private prison contractors were incentivised to fill prisons while the government continued to scare the public to generate even more fear and imbalance by demonising minorities. And again, I write this in the past tense but what’s changed? Exactly nothing.
Every section of the film is punctuated with a carefully selected song choice – including Public Enemy’s Don’t Believe the Hype and Work Song by Nina Simone – lyrics animated onscreen to give them further power.
Meanwhile, historic footage is spliced with clips of police brutality in present day which only serve to drive the point home that systematic racism is still very much alive and well – and in one horrific clip, openly encouraged by arguably the most powerful man in the world (and the most heinous).
Honestly, I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what this film is saying. I found it incredibly compelling but also feel I need a second watch just to take it all in.
It’s absolutely inspired me to pick up more work by Angela Davis and to learn more about Assata Shakur, who I’ve only just started researching.
I consider myself resolutely anti-racist but the more I watch and read and think I realise my ignorance is a privilege. We need to educate ourselves now more than ever and step away from the notion and awkwardness of discussing these issues. I don’t understand or have experience of being discriminated against so I need to know when to shut the fuck up. I also need to call racist people out and challenge my own biases everyday.
I’ve found this review really hard to write because all I really want to do is repeatedly say how awful it is, how evil and how nobody deserves the inhumane treatment minorities receive. I’ve learnt a lot and have to admit that I foolishly didn’t realise that prisoners don’t get to vote in some states.
Black Lives Matter.