There is no better way to start the week of Black Lives Matter programs at Northwestern than demonstrating why we are fighting for equality in the first place.
On Wednesday, A&O Productions showed a screening of Ava DuVernay’s film “13th”. Around 50 people came to view the movie in the McCormick Auditorium, and for the entire duration of the movie the audience sat in a still silence.
The movie began with a synopsis of the reality of Black life immediately after the Civil War. Stating that slavery was the backbone of the South’s economy, the movie “13th” showed the audience the origins of mass incarceration and how prison labor became the loophole that re-instituted slavery under a new name. A recurring excerpt from the 13th amendment, which became the theme and message of the movie, said, “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 Constitution itself has provided a legal way for slavery to exist. This excerpt is still there.
The movie stated it was the only way for the South to rebuild its economy since slavery was its primary source of labor and the foundation of its economy. This prison-industrial complex would then evolve into the beast we know it as today, killing unarmed Black men and women and incarcerating Black fathers and mothers for the profit of corporations across America.
Many connections were made concerning how Black lives never mattered in this country. From President Woodrow Wilson’s appraisal of the film “Birth of a Nation”, which glorified the existence of the Ku Klux Klan and depicted Blacks as rapists and murderers, to Richard Nixon’s war on drugs and Reagan’s unprecedented police spending, the criminal justice system had been bolstered and essentially created to combat Black progress and Black equality. This became especially true after the Civil Rights movement, in which racist, upset southern voters turned republican and voted in a response that would increase the size of our prisons from around 350,000 in 1970 to over 2,000,000 in 2014. Around 800,000 of that number are African Americans.
It is sad and disheartening to witness the reality that Black Americans face in this country, but in the words of Van Jones, co-founder of the organization called the Dream Corps, “there is hope.” Police brutality and protests are the same, he said, but today we have smartphones with cameras and social media platforms in which to broadcast the issues we face on a day-to-day basis. This has allowed the world to see what is happening in America and has engaged the globe in the conversation about American racism.
The movie went into great, wildly impressive detail as to how we have the criminal justice system we have today, too much detail to list in this article. This movie is a must-see, for every and anybody, and it presents itself as a great introduction to our two week BLM programming on campus.
Black lives do matter, here at Northwestern, in Chicago, in America, and in the world. We are a unique, unapologetic, beautiful people despite what has happened to us in America and despite the way the media presents our youth, our women, and our men. “13th”, although bleak, reminds us of our resiliency. Stay resilient.