The 13th is a documentary on Netflix about the practices of legal discrimination that is
taking place towards African Americans and other people of color in the United States through
the use of the thirteenth amendment. This documentary evoked so many emotions within me,
some I didn’t even know were there. After watching it, I felt angry, frustrated and sad, by what I
saw and learned.
The first thing the documentary made clear is what the 13th amendment is.
The thirteenth amendment of the U.S. constitution states that “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.” Yes, this abolishes slavery in terms of what it used to symbolize, the brutal torture and forced labor of African Americans for over 200 years. However, this does NOT abolish slavery in the United States for people that are criminals. I was only ten minutes into this documentary and I was shocked!
Now, this may not seem like a big deal to everyone. Some may even believe that
criminals should be subject to slavery and punishment, and deserve it as a consequence for their
actions. However, this is a dangerously written amendment because it gives power to those in
charge legal jurisdiction to utilize this however they would like. Because of this amendment, the
United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Who are these prisons filled with
you asked? Black men.This is why this amendment is dangerous and oppressive to millions in
our society. The same people in power in our government system are using this amendment as a
tool to keep black people oppressed.
I wholeheartedly believe this was a strategy taken by the government to keep the dreams of our Founding Fathers alive. That is, to keep black people, and all people of color oppressed.
After realizing this, I came to the realization that we as a country have barely moved forward
in overcoming racial disparities. We’ve only gotten better at hiding it.
It broke my heart to see the ways in which government is strategically keeping African
Americans in a second class citizenship position in the United States. These facilities are filled
up with a majority of colored people. Three out of every four black men are likely to get arrested
and serve time in prison in the United States. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of
black men in jails than South Africa did during the height of apartheid. No other country in the
world imprisons majority of its’ racial and ethnic minorities than the U.S.
Another thing I learned while watching this documentary was that the height of incarceration went up when the government put legal orders such as the “three-strike” law into practice and declared the “war on drugs”. During president Nixon’s time in office, he declared a
war on drugs before there was an actual war on drugs. President Nixon declared this as a tactic to
keep racial oppression alive and put black people in jail. By declaring a war on drugs, president
Nixon was successfully able to paint a picture of black people seeming like they were crack
addicts and criminals who used and sold drugs. Consequently, police and law enforcement was
granted permission to go into these black communities and arrest masses of black men. This is how the criminal population in the U.S. skyrocket in the 1980s and 1990s. Hearing this made my
heart sink even lower. I wish I did not believe it, but given this country’s history in the mistreatment of black and colored people, I undoubtedly believed it all.
Lastly, the documentary spoke of a lobbying group that supports the passing of
Republican legislation called ALEC. Although this may not sound like a big deal in retrospect, it
is a MAJOR deal. This is a huge deal because corporations are supporting and funding ALEC
and passing laws that advocate and give leeway to social injustice practices such as police
brutality of minorities. Also, since when does corporations like Walmart, Comcast and Wendy’s
have a say in what the government is doing? This was literally mind blowing.
So many questions and emotions came to me at once, that I actually had to watch the film
in two sittings. How can so many companies support an organization that so easily passes laws
giving state’s rights that give them a platform to practice racial injustice? I thought to myself, how did I not hear this information sooner? Why is ALEC doing this? How can companies willingly support this? How can I be shopping at these places? Do I stop giving my money to all
these places, even though I regularly go to so many?
Although this film left me upset, it also gave me clarity and left me empowered. It left me
empowered to get up and do SOMETHING. After watching this, and learning all of this, there’s
no way I can just sit back anymore. It brought me to tears to hear what’s being done to my own
people, and even other groups of minorities who America seems to hate with a passion –Muslims, the LGBT community, women. I thought to myself, why is my country
Now, I am currently reading “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, to dig deeper
into this era of mass incarceration and learn more. I decided I want to be an active member of
change in this society and I know that starts with learning. I am hopeful because I am African
American woman at a predominantly white school and I know years ago that wasn’t even
possible. So I am grateful for the opportunities I have chosen to pursue and looking forward to
using my platforms of education, teach others and make a change. I’m ready.