13TH | Official Trailer

The title of Ava DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanizing documentary 13TH refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads “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.” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity. With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimony from a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis.

 

The 13th debuts on Netflix and in select theaters on 7 October, DuVernay, best known for directing 2014’s Oscar-nominated Selma, had kept the project a secret from the public during its production.

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The Condemnation of Blackness

Condemnation(Excerpt from the book’s introduction)

At the dawn of the twentieth century, in a rapidly industrializing, urbanizing, and demographically shifting America. blackness was refashioned through crime statistics. It became a more stable social category in opposition to whiteness through racial criminalization. Consequently, white criminality gradually lost its fearsomeness. This book asks, how did European immigrants—the Irish and the Italians and the Polish, for example—gradually shed their criminal identities, while blacks did not? In other words, how did criminality go from plural to singular?

Khalil Muhammad’s answers to these questions—questions that are essential to understanding the dire statistics that confront us everyday about black arrests and incarceration rates—reveal the philosophy, policies, and practices of a society that has focused its attention on policing blackness after making blackness a crime. How does blackness become a crime? How is it black people are killed by the police for driving while black, walking while black, reaching for a wallet while black, or simply breathing while black? How did black communities become police states and breeding grounds to supply an increasingly privatized prison industrial complex?

The answer should not surprise any of us who have been paying attention. The idea of a free black person refutes and undermines the very existence of white supremacy. Consequently, black freedom is an anathema to those who seek to preserve the status quo of white superiority/black inferiority that has formed and informed this nation’s ethos since its colonial era. As a result, since the end of the Civil War all so-called free blacks, regardless of their social status or outward physical appearance, have been perceived as threats to whiteness, and as runaways and fugitives from white authority, control, and domination.

Since the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution—which freed enslaved Africans in name only—the various states, with the complicity of the courts and the police, invented and institutionalized the legal apparatus needed to maintain and enforce the ideology and system of white dominance that began with America’s slaveocracy. American Apartheid, the system of legal segregation and discrimination known as Jim Crow, thus became a means to perpetuate slavery by another name. Concomitantly, crime statistics, as Muhammad points out, supplied a major component of the rhetoric and propaganda used to rationalize and justify the institutionalization of antiblack racism. They continue in that role today.

Racial violence in the form of lynchings and riots organized and conducted by white mobs and terrorist groups in the late 19th and early 20th centuries functioned as primary instruments in the preservation and maintenance of white supremacy. More recently, voter disenfranchisement, voter suppression, and the so-called war on drugs initiated by federal and state legislators have been deployed for the same purposes of intimidation and terror. That violence or the threat thereof operates as the central mechanism of this system cannot be denied. The history of racial violence, both as overt and covert assaults on black people and black humanity, can be seen in Muhammad’s book and in other works by Kidada Williams, Leon Litwak, James Allen, Paul Ortiz, Cameron McWhirter, Douglass Blackmon, and Michelle Alexander, to name a few. Muhammad’s research, however, grounds those studies in the key moments when the systematic condemnation of blackness through the use and manipulation of crime statistics occur. It also adds to our understanding of the deep social consequences for the black community by showing how crime data have been used to dehumanize black people and obscure the structural roots of antiblack racism that perpetuate poverty, injustice, and inequality.

In the first video presented below, Muhammad provides a brief summary of his book. The second video provides a highlight from an interview he gave to journalist Bill Moyers on June 29, 2012 (a link to the full video also is provided below).

 

Bill Moyers and Khalil Muhammad on Facing Our Racial Past

Bill Moyers and Khalil Gibran Muhammad, head of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and author of The Condemnation of Blackness, discuss the importance of confronting the contradictions of America’s past to better understand the present.

Muhammad describes the New York City Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” program as “an old and enduring form of surveillance and racial control”:

“If we think about the moment immediately following the Civil War, there was the invention of something called ‘the Black Codes’ in every Southern state. And those codes were intended to use the criminal justice system to restrict the freedom and mobility of black people. And if you crossed any line that they prescribed, you could be sold back to your former slave owner, not as a slave, but as a prisoner to work off your fine after an auction where you were resold to the highest bidder. It tells you something about the invention of the criminal justice system as a repressive tool to keep black people in their place,” Muhammad tells Moyers. “And it’s still with us. It’s still with us, because ultimately, as a social problem, crime has become like it was in the Jim Crow South, a mechanism to control black people’s movement in cities.”

Click the following link for the full episode of Bill Moyers’ interview with Dr. Muhammad.

Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow”

“Michelle Alexander, highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, Associate Professor of Law at Ohio State University, and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, delivers the 30th Annual George E. Kent Lecture, in honor of the late George E. Kent, who was one of the earliest tenured African American professors at the University of Chicago.

The Annual George E. Kent Lecture is organized and sponsored by the Organization of Black Students, the Black Student Law Association, and the Students for a Free Society.”

 

See also this interview with Michelle Alexander on “Schools and the New Jim Crow.”

Hat tip to Mark Anthony Neal for posting the video on his blog NewBlackMan.

John Legend – The House I Live In (Official Music Video)

I’ve posted below the new title track for the documentary film “The House I Live In,” an uncompromising exposé of the failures of the so-called “war on drugs” produced by John Legend, Brad Pitt, Danny Glover, and Russell Simmons, and directed by Eugene Jarecki.

“Filmed in more than twenty states, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN tells the stories of individuals at all levels of America’s War on Drugs. From the dealer to the narcotics officer, the inmate to the federal judge, the film offers a penetrating look inside America’s criminal justice system, revealing the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy. Winner of the 2012 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN is now available on demand.”

 

For information on viewing the film on PBS or via screening on demand, click the following link for the official site of the documentary film: “The House I Live In.”

Racism USA

“While the US boycotts the UN Durban 3 conference on combating racism, racism and oppression are still deeply entrenched in America. Slavery and segregation maybe a thing of the past, but African Americans are still no where near achieving equality.”

Dubious Milestone for Latinos

Achieving the distinction of being the largest so-called minority in the U.S. came with predictable consequences for Latinos. The U.S. has a clearly defined policy for dealing with “non-whites” within its borders: marginalize them, ghettoize them, and incarcerate them.

Bienvenido al complejo industrial de prisiones de los Estados Unidos de América!

Most 2011 federal prisoners are Hispanic | Iowa Independent.