How the Legacy of Slavery Is Very Much Still with U.S.

Reply Sun 9 Oct, 2016 07:18 pm

How the Legacy of Slavery Is Very Much Still with U.S.

Ava DuVernay's new film "13th" takes audiences on a trajectory from the 13th Amendment to mass incarceration.
By Amy Goodman / Democracy Now!
October 3, 2016

As Ava DuVernay’s new documentary "13th" opens at the New York Film Festival, we speak to two people featured in the film: Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice and Kevin Gannon of Grand View University.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, just before I sat down with Ava DuVernay, I sat down with two of the people featured in the film. Among those who are in the film, Michelle Alexander, Angela Davis—Common writes the music—but Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice and Kevin Gannon of Grand View University in Iowa. I started by asking Malkia what she wanted the film to convey.

MALKIA CYRIL: My biggest hope is that people understand two things. One, that slavery has already been amended once; let’s not do it again. As we get all this technology pouring into the hands of police officers—electronic monitoring, aerial surveillance over Baltimore—it’s critical that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past and turn our communities into open-air prisons, even as we decarcerate the facilities themselves. So that’s the biggest thing that I hope people walk away with. And, two, I want people to walk away with the knowledge that, you know, this country was built on the bones, the work, the labor, the lives of black bodies. It continues to profit from that exploited labor. And we continue to profit from this system, that we call white supremacy, that we don’t want to accept or acknowledge. And that system is going to come to—excuse me, that system is going to come to an end.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gannon, this trajectory from the 13th Amendment to mass incarceration, take us on that journey.

KEVIN GANNON: Well, as the film talks about, the—you know, we like to look at the 13 Amendment as something that ended slavery. You know, the Civil War ended slavery. That’s our mythology. But, of course, it doesn’t. You know, slavery persists. And slavery is a state of profound unfreedom, of not being an autonomous individual, of being owned and subjugated under another. So, the clause in the 13th Amendment that says, you know, except in the cases of criminal, you know, incarceration, that’s the lever.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that.

KEVIN GANNON: Well, it’s—the 13th Amendment says neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall be permitted, so it becomes unconstitutional, but there is that dependent clause in there: except in the cases of having committed a crime. And so, here is this lever now to basically carry forward slavery under a different guise. You know, slaves have prison uniforms now. And so the convict labor gangs of the late 19th century and the early 20th century, that’s not a coincidental, that’s not a novel invention. If you look at immediately after the Civil War, the ex-Confederate states passed laws called Black Codes that basically criminalize an entire range of behavior. You could be in prison for a year if you were arrested for vagrancy, and "vagrancy" was defined so broadly—I mean, things like walking down the street and looking impudently at somebody, not being able to produce your labor contract for the plantation that you were working for. You know, so this was mass criminalization of blackness. It was an attempt to retain as much of slavery as possible without the name of slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: And then take it forward to now.

KEVIN GANNON: Well, it’s—I mean, that’s the structure that’s built. You know, it continues upon the structures of inequality built before the Civil War. It maintains the racial caste system that the United States was built on, as Malkia said, and continues to profit from. And as long as African Americans and people of color are seen as the other, as dehumanized, as outside of civil society, that’s where we get to today. And it’s just different iterations built upon that same structural outlook.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times best-seller.
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bobsal u1553115
Reply Tue 11 Oct, 2016 05:46 pm

Next Time Someone Asks You To Prove Racism Exists, Give Them This

10/11/2016 09:48 am ET | Updated 1 hour ago

Jesse Benn Engaged citizen, opinionated writer, critical media studies scholar, amateur photographer/videographer, engages in random acts of journalism.

It’s a widely known fact that if you bring up racism enough in public a white person will materialize to tell you that race simply isn’t a major factor in our lives in 2016.

Sure, racism was real way back when, but not now, they’ll say. Nobody alive today owned slaves, they’ll say. I never see racism, they’ll say. We have a Black president, they’ll say. Back up your claim and prove racism exists, they’ll say.

Image: Slave auction block, Green Hill Plantation, Virginia
By Unknown - Public Domain

You’ll present a rational argument. You’ll give them studies, persuasively written articles, and suggest books for them to read. You’ll share your personal experiences and the experiences of those you know navigating our white supremacist landscape.

They’ll argue the data aren’t sound. The writers of the articles too biased. They’ll never read the books. And they’ll dismiss the experiences as anecdotal and not representative of broader society—and don’t you dare call it a white supremacist society. That really makes white people flip their ****.

I’ve had this conversation with my white counterparts way too many times, but somehow I only recently realized how backwards it is. There’s no need to prove a foundational component of our national composition continues to shape its present state. The burden of proof is on those who claim this historical reality has been interrupted. The fact that racism exists in the United States is uncontroversial from a historical viewpoint. Ours is a nation founded on genocide, land-theft, and chattel slavery. There’s no debate over this. There’s also no debate over the existence of institutional racism throughout Old Jim Crow in the century that followed emancipation. (Nor is there any honest debate regarding the existence of institutional racism now, e.g. New Jim Crow, but let’s put that aside for now.)

Image: An African-American man drinking at a “colored” drinking fountain in a streetcar terminal in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1939
By Russell Lee - Public Domain

In that context the position that racism still exists in the United States requires no evidence—it’s been the status quo since before the United States was a thing. And while we’ve progressed over time, we’ve never neared equity. Hell, Old Jim Crow represented progress at one point, but it certainly didn’t mark an end to racism; though I’m sure plenty of whites at the time argued it did. Like their modern counterparts, I’m sure they too demanded proof racism still existed after emancipation. And surely they too denied the copious amounts of evidence supplied in futile efforts to alleviate them of their ignorance.

As laws change and particular manifestations of racism fade from societal acceptance racism doesn’t end, it evolves. And in light of the United States’ uninterrupted history of racism, anyone observing that it continues today needn’t prove it so. That’s on the people claiming this centuries-old facet of US culture and society somehow disappeared.

So here’s the challenge, racism deniers. Prove when racism ended and its effects were allayed. Show, with data and peer-reviewed studies supporting your argument, when the effects of the hundreds of years of anti-Black racism from chattel slavery through Old Jim Crow leveled off. Show when the wealth expropriated during that oppression was repaid to those it was expropriated from and through. And remember, after you’ve addressed the end of anti-Black racism you’ll still have to explain when anti-Latinx, anti-Asian, anti-Arab, and anti-Native racism came to an end as well.

Good luck.
Follow Jesse Benn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JesseBenn
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