Have You Seen 13th?

13th-netflix-ava-duvernay-1

Feeling a bit under the weather this week, I finally watched 13th, an original Netflix documentary on the history of race relations and the criminal justice system in America.

To put it simply: my mind is blown, and my heart is broken.

I’ve always sympathized with the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent outcries against police violence. I tend to believe that people with personal experience get more say on the issue than outsiders weighing in. How am I supposed to know what black communities actually face? I lived in middle class white suburbia my whole life. The only black people I knew were adopted by a white homeschooling family in Texas, way back when I was ten.

Even though I give a lot of sympathy to the movement’s concerns, I didn’t realize until watching this documentary how very little I understood those concerns. I had no idea mass incarceration was out of hand (or a thing, to be honest). I had no idea it was explicitly but covertly tied to keeping blacks down. I hadn’t given a good, hard think to how our country handles the war on drugs, or criminalizes people requesting a trial. I didn’t even grasp the extent of my own ignorance, how I, that compassionate, liberal-minded white person, still unwittingly bought intro black stereotypes. .

The credits of the documentary are photos of real black families, doing the same things photographed in my family — a big sibling holding a little sibling, kids laughing in the backyard on a summer day, a toddler running on the beach in her baggy swimsuit, and lots of photos of daddies with their kids.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any photos of young black daddies with their children. I just see them dead on the news, the catalysts of a movement that, frankly, I as a white person will never fully understand.

I think everyone, liberal, conservative, and moderate, needs to watch this documentary before they open their mouth or their Facebook page on this issue again. If you’re worried about your particular political beliefs getting smashed, well, take heart that both Democrats and Republicans share an equal amount of guilt in this issue. This is a moral, social issue, not partisan politics.

Have you seen it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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34 thoughts on “Have You Seen 13th?

  1. heather

    The United States is one of the most segregated countries, especially if you are in rural areas. People of different races don’t have the same experiences at all which makes it so frustrating to me when my white friends are so dismissive of complaints from other races. If it isn’t happening to white people it must not be true. I need to watch 13th a few more times to take it all in.

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    • Bailey Steger

      So true. Trevor Noah had Tomi Lahren on the Daily Show the other day, and her attitude exemplifies that white ignorance that makes this conversation so hard and frustrating. He asked her *how* a black person should protest oppression in a way she found acceptable, and she kept asking, essentially, “What oppression?” :|

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  2. Courtney

    I actually haven’t seen it or heard about it until now – but I’m definitely curious to check it out after reading this. I also support Black Lives Matter and have tried over the last few months to better understand their perspective and history. As a Christian, I believe adequately understanding justice issues is part of living as Christ’s representatives on earth.

    I also agree that this is a moral rather than a partisan issue and as a registered independent who probably falls somewhere in the middle ground between liberal and conservative, I’m not too worried about what the political parties say about this issue. I kind of feel that both parties have hijacked this issue for their own benefit, in all honesty.

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  3. Elizabeth Erazo

    Ok, its going in the queue! If you find yourself with some spare time, I’d also recommend watching “Spotlight”. Its a movie about the investigative team at the Boston Globe that helped bring to light the Catholic Church’s complicity in the child abuse cases. Heartbreaking, but a great watch. I think its interesting to watch as well if you’re interested in journalism. Maybe you could start a movie review segment for We Are Ezer? I think a lot of (evangelical) people assume religious movies have to stink because we’ve been exposed to so much low-budget, poorly written propaganda pieces, but there are many well-made thoroughly artistic movies that address religious themes both indirectly (such as Spotlight) and directly (see for example Doubt). In addition, there are many documentaries that can help us be better equipped to reach into the world around us and help heal the hurting (like maybe 13th or “Half the Sky”).

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    • Bailey Steger

      I just added “Spotlight” to my queue too! Interestingly, now that I’m more outside the evangelical bubble, I’ve found more movies that deal with Christian themes more deftly and meaningfully than “Christian movies.” I’ll bring them up here as I come across them, to be sure!

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  4. Bethany

    I have Netflix and too much time! I’ll definitely check this out, and I’m sure Aidan would be interested as well. :)
    P.s. If you ever wanna Netflix and chill with Ella and I, we’re stuck somewhere in Crown. ;)

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  5. Rebekah

    That sounds like a very interesting documentary! I remember a disillusioning moment at the age of 13 or 14 when I began to realize that the legal system as formulated in the United States Constitution—the right to a speedy trial, etc.—often didn’t exist in practice today. It also seems clear to me that mass incarceration isn’t the answer. I’m reading a book about Clementine and Winston Churchill now, and Churchill was an advocate in the early twentieth century for trying to rehabilitate, rather than simply detain, criminals, a radical idea at the time. It’s sad to think about how little progress has been made in that area one hundred years later. Finally, I am sure that some bias does exist against people of color in the criminal justice system.

    But I have a potential concern about the specific premise of the documentary, rooted in its title. I read an article about it with the headline “‘13th’ Review: Ava DuVernay’s Searing Documentary Exposes Glaring Loophole In The Constitution.” While certainly some white people after the 13th amendment was ratified used incarceration, harassment, and other unjust practices that were regrettably enshrined in law (such as segregation, voting restrictions, etc.) as an outlet for their racism now that slavery was no longer an option, the 13th amendment does not enshrine jail time as a way to preserve slavery. The people writing the amendment HAD to say that “involuntary servitude” as “a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” would still exist. Otherwise, the amendment could be construed to say that putting people in prison is illegal in the United States. Prison time is “involuntary servitude,” but the idea of prison is not itself unjust, and is in fact necessary for the safety and security of society. Legal documents need precision and clarity. The 13th amendment did not create a loophole, even though black people were treated unfairly under the law.

    Is the review that I read, in your opinion, fairly or unfairly characterizing the way that the documentary talks about the 13th amendment? That would be helpful to know before I watch!

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    • Bailey Steger

      You were far more astute about prisons than I was as a teenager!

      To address your concerns, I don’t recall the documentary talking much about the creation of the amendment. It does call that clause a “loophole,” but it focuses more on how that clause was USED as a loophole to target black people.

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  6. Steph E

    I haven’t watched 13th, but I’ve read parts of “The New Jim Crow”. I’ve just put 13th on my list. :) This just came out in the New York Times today about racial bias even withIN prisons, not just the system that gets people into prison. We talk about this in my sociology class, and I try to make it neutral and not political (because I def. think it’s not a political issue- one that everyone should want to address!) but it’s very hard because there’s like certain “trigger words” for some people that when they hear, they think “Ah, this is something crazy liberal and I need to not listen to anything else on this topic” kind of thing. And I def. think segregation and people’s “lived experience” of race is so different for white and black people in the states. Many of the white students can’t take in the factual evidence showing racial injustice in our current criminal justice system because they just don’t believe racism is real anymore. When I told them about my friend being called N** after the election, they were like, “What? That happened?!” like Genuinely Shocked. And I was like, “Uh, this is a tiny anecdotal story, we’ve been looking at hard evidence and stats all semester here, people!” but it was that personal story that kind of clicked it for some of them. Ok, end of rant. :) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/03/nyregion/new-york-state-prisons-inmates-racial-bias.html?mabReward=A5&recp=7

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  7. Daniel Abbott

    Not subscribing to Netflix, I probably won’t watch it. However, even without watching it, I have already found certain information derived from it questionable.

    One instance is the “6.5% of Americans are black” statistic. Quoted in many reviews. However, not by the US Census.
    Link: infoplease.com/ipa/A0762156.html

    US Census has nearly twice that number 2010 12.2%. Why? I don’t know.

    I must recommend caution concerning the “facts” asserted in the “documentary.”

    The emotional rhetoric tied to questionable “facts” lends this sort of medium a dangerous form of “hate-mongering.” Ava DuVernay’s prima facie narrow-minded presumption of white supremacist rule in the United States of America turns me off, personally. And should turn off any open-minded viewer. Which in turn should turn her off. (And by that, I mean, not watch what she has to say without a healthy skepticism and verification of all facts presented. With such a powerful emotional portrayal that is difficult to do.)

    From what I’ve read and heard, it is very compelling propaganda. Not designed to inform the ignorant or to persuade the critic, but to enforce a disphoric sentiment amidst a targeted audience.

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      • Daniel Abbott

        Really? I think anyone who apprehends what I wrote will take it seriously.

        Why didn’t Bailey respond with, “That statistic isn’t in the documentary.”?

        Because that statistic is in the video. And you can really consider my criticism, while you watch the video. Consider what is true and what is false.

        It is an intriguing concept that not experiencing something firsthand disqualifies a criticism of that experience.

        Elizabeth, you are quite sharp. I always enjoy reading your comments. And this one was no exception.

        If you do watch “13TH,” I would like to know if that statistic is accurately represented by all these reviews, or if it is a misunderstanding.

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  8. Laura Jinkins

    I’ve been thinking about this for several days before commenting, and I’m still not certain I’ll be able to convey my thoughts properly.

    In the interest of complete transparency, my husband has taught at a youthful offenders unit for the last 17, almost 18 years. After teaching junior high for eight years, he decided to apply for a position with the Windham Independent School District — the largest school district in Texas, which serves the prison system. I find it heartbreaking that the largest school district in Texas is for the incarcerated.

    He teaches a program called “Changes” — a life skills program that is required for all inmates — they must complete a certain number of hours before they are released back into society. He covers topics like personal hygiene, dressing appropriately for job interviews, preparing for job interviews, answering questions regarding prison time honestly, anger management (including how not to beat your wife — I am not kidding), etc.

    My husband has come home from work many times to spend his personal time googling information to help these young men find jobs once they are released. He has built quite the list of companies that will give these guys another chance by hiring felons.

    His students are a mix of caucasian, hispanic, and black. I drive by the prison on my way to town and see them working the farm fields. I could ask him for percentages, but just to glance, it seems pretty evenly divided amongst the races.

    My husband’s personal experience has been one of hoping that he can reach that one kid — the kid that got mixed up with the wrong crowd and ended up in prison. The kid that is actually smart and has a chance of going straight when released. But he has become discouraged over time because so many of those in his classes are impressed with their “smarts” — they brag to him about how they are going to go back and make so much money when they start selling drugs again, or whatever. He shakes his head and tells them if that worked so well, how did they end up in prison?

    My husband had to sign a “non-negotiation” release. What is that, you may ask? It’s a piece of paper that basically says if the prisoners take him hostage, the state does not negotiate with prisoners. Take a look at this if you are curious about what can happen to those who work in the prison system: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1974_Huntsville_Prison_siege

    I understand wanting to show compassion. I understand wanting to help these people get back on the right track. I understand that there may be some who are falsely imprisoned. But there are also those who use their race as a “get out of jail” card and a means of punishing people who haven’t done anything to them — my husband has been on the opposite end of prejudice. He is white. His principal is black. And his principal has done everything within his power for the last eight years to get my husband to quit. He has accused my husband of racism (a female, black guard who was not even in the classroom (she was in the hallway) overheard my husband talking to his students about how he had some experience with being a minority, having gone to a predominantly black high school in Galveston, Texas — the guard took offense that he would dare to say he had been a minority… and so the principal wrote him up for making “racist comments”.

    When my husband and a good friend were joking during lunch, they made a couple of inappropriate jokes — nothing bad, but the principal overheard and jumped on it. He badgered the woman to file a sexual harassment complaint against my husband. She said, “Why??? We were joking!” The principal let this go for 11 months, and right when the statute of limitations was about to run out, HE filed a complaint against my husband. So my husband was investigated for sexual harassment, for making a joke with a friend that wasn’t even that bad. For several months, he had to go to work with that hanging over his head. Finally it ended when our friend was interviewed about the complaint while she was attending a training in Huntsville. The investigator asked her what her relationship with my husband was. She looked at him incredulously and said, “THEY are like family to me. He is like a brother. His wife is a good friend and their daughter calls me Aunt Tonya. And they are taking care of my dog while I am here in Huntsville.” The case was dismissed immediately, but not until after my husband had been through hell and back, and his reputation was in shreds.

    I guess I tell you all of this to say people are cruel and wicked — it has very little to do with skin color, or maybe it has a lot to do with it. The point is — it goes both ways. And what matters is the HERE AND NOW. Not what happened two hundred years ago. What matters is how we treat each other RIGHT NOW. There are a lot of people who want to punish other people because of things that did not even happen to them. And because I bring that up, those people will not even take a breath before calling me a racist. And if I try to deny it, I will not be believed. I just know that I have friends who are not white, and I love them and they love me. I also know people who are not white that I really do not like at all. And it has NOTHING to do with the color of their skin. It has to do with the content of their character.

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    • Bailey Steger

      Thank you for sharing that, Laura. What a tough situation. I also work with minorities (Latino and black), and I’ve seen minorities bully minorities over their skin color. And obviously, as your husband’s case shows, minorities are not immune to bad character and prejudice.

      To bring it back to the post, I think it’s completely possible to talk about how the system, both historically and currently, screws over minorities AND how minorities might use that as a scape goat for bad behavior. There’s a lot that’s broken along racial lines. I personally don’t see any problem with affirming that what your husband has endured is a problem and what minorities have endured is a problem. It’s completely possible to hold minorities accountable for bad behavior while acknowledging systemic racism that encourages destructive, illegal behavior. It’s a very multifaceted issue, I think, and listening to the pain and injustice experienced on both sides is the only way forward.

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  9. Laura Jinkins

    Having thought about it more, I guess what I would add is that we need to stop talking about race completely. We need to talk about human decency. We need to focus on inspiring people to be kind to each other no matter what gift wrap God put them in. As long as the focus remains on things that can’t be changed (skin color, history), wounds will remain raw — it’s the proverbial scab. Keep picking at it, and it will never heal. I do not believe in reparations for things that happened before an individual was even born. I think you can only be (or should only be) compensated for wrongs you have personally experienced.
    To address something said above, I live in a fairly rural area, and I do not see segregation the way others have described it above. I have several friends in interracial marriages and attend a church that is very diverse. It bothers me immensely that I am expected to feel guilty for something I had absolutely no control over (being born white). My husband teases me about being a closet Catholic because I am quick to confess my shortcomings — but I will not feel guilty or apologize for being white. I also will not refrain from eating Mexican food (appropriation of culture!!! One of the dumbest things I’ve read online)… it’s this kind of stuff that twists and dilutes the issue, which is not racism, but common human decency extended toward all.

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    • Bailey Steger

      I completely see your point, especially knowing of your husband’s back story. I disagree that we should stop talking about things in terms of race altogether, because racism is not a thing of the past, and it’s a particular *form* of human indecency that still needs to be called out for what it is. I would disagree with extremes like eating Mexican food is appropriating culture, of course. ;)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laura Jinkins

        Would you consider the idea, though, that it is a form of racism that makes allowances and exceptions for someone because they are supposedly not able to overcome economic, social, and spiritual obstacles? I saw this video regarding voter ID laws and it said A LOT regarding liberal-minded stereotypes of black voters. I encourage you to watch it and let me know what you think: https://youtu.be/rrBxZGWCdgs

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      • Bailey Steger

        Oh, I totally agree that placing minorities in a “victim” category without listening to their real grievances or lack thereof perpetuates racism. And I see no problem affirming that all lives matter. That’s why black lives matter — because all lives matter. I don’t see a problem with believing black experiences, whether they’re about racism or not. I don’t understand why there has to be this dichotomy between cop lives matter and black lives matter, or black experiences that indicate racism and black experiences that don’t. I can believe that both experiences happen. I can support efforts that oppose any racism, and I can rejoice whenever there’s no racism to be found. The world seems to be a far more complicated place than Fox News or CNN street interviews show, and I’m working toward a understanding of race that takes that complication into consideration.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Laura Jinkins

        One more I just found – I adore the woman in pink at the end – she says exactly what I’ve been saying – ALL LIVES MATTER. Not that it matters, but she and I are like two parts of an Oreo cookie, but I think I would like to sit down and have coffee with her. Smart lady with a lot of common sense: https://youtu.be/uufeEhq25rc

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      • Laura Jinkins

        I appreciate that you are giving both sides serious thought – I can respect that. I think what I find most frustrating is those who have an all or nothing attitude toward the issues at hand. Those who refuse to see that there are legitimate concerns on both sides of the table. I will own that my personal views are greatly influenced by what my husband does for a living and the few stories he has shared from his work experiences. Truthfully, I don’t really want to know much about what happens at work because I would be a basket case of worry. I know my husband has students who have the potential to get back on track and that’s what he works towards – helping them do that. I also know he has students who have no contrition regarding their crimes. Unfortunately, prison crowding often mandates some are released who should not be released. This has nothing to do with slavery or the infringement of their rights. This has to do with protecting the law-abiding public. One of the inmates at my husband’s unit was released early due to overcrowding. He promptly made his way to someone’s home, broke in, murdered them and took off with all the valuables he could carry. This inmate had sung a convincing song of his rehabilitation. He convinced the powers that be that he would be an upright and hardworking citizen upon release.

        They are called “cons” for more reasons than a guilty conviction. :'(

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bailey Steger

        Ugh, that’s so heartbreaking. My kids are pretty decent, but we have some really hard-hearted kids in our school, and I worry about them and those they interact with.

        As a side note, I might be writing a post about the “perfect victim” fallacy, and it might touch on issues of race. I just wanted you to know that I’ve been planning on writing that long before we had this good discussion, and that it’s not a reflection of what I think is your attitude on things or anything like that!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Laura Jinkins

        You are right! This is a good discussion – and I look forward to seeing what you have to say in the post you are planning.

        And as far as your kids go – blessings on you for choosing to teach those kids. Seriously – you could be the influence that makes the difference in their lives, so that one day when they are faced with choices (good or bad) they will remember Mrs. Steger and what she taught them and that will make all the difference.

        My father-in-law passed away recently — I think you would have liked him very much. He had a compassionate heart towards people from all walks of life. The thing I loved so much about Bill was his ability to keep trying, to never give up on struggling people even when the rest of us would want to throw up our hands. He served through prison ministry and became friends with a black woman whose 13 year old daughter needed a home while she was incarcerated. My in-laws took her in and tried to make a difference. She made some poor choices in spite of their efforts, and ended up with three children out of wedlock. Her oldest, an 18 year old boy, is the reward for my father-in-law’s refusal to give up. He invested his time and his love in that kid — and that kid graduated from high school, is teaching at a karate school, and saving up money to go to welding school. I wish there were more people like my father-in-law in this world.

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  10. Faith

    I don’t know… I doubt that massive numbers of police are just grabbing blacks off the streets because they’re racist.Sure, in the past maybe, but today? Other groups besides blacks have been persecuted, such as Asians (Japanese Internment camps), Jews (Holocaust, etc), and they’re wildly successful. Asians and Jews have been persecuted as a whole very recently, and yet they make up a disproportionate amount of doctors, business owners, etc. If they can overcome racism/persecution, why can’t blacks? Blacks, Asians, and Jews come from similar historical discrimination, yet only blacks (for the most part) seem to fall behind.

    I know saying “systematic racism” is an easy scapegoat, but it doesn’t apply to other groups. Blacks get extra privileges (affirmative action, laws targeted to help them, etc). To me, it has much more to do with culture. There ARE successful blacks who come from rough backgrounds (Clarence Thomas comes to mind), so they can succeed. I think ultimately the environment of fatherless homes, lack of motivation, bad environments, etc leads to mass incarceration. Blacks simply are more likely to commit crimes. Not BECAUSE they’re black, obviously, but because of where they grow up. Just as children who grow up without fathers are more likely to go to prison, become depressed, etc.

    We have to reach out to these kids in rough neighborhoods, but the culprit isn’t white people purposely jailing black people. What about men in prison? They make up about 90% of prison inmates. Are police targeting males? No, they are more likely to commit crimes than women.

    I’m sympathetic towards blacks, and do want to help them. But it starts at home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bailey Steger

      You haven’t watched this documentary, have you? :) In this country, Jews and Asians were not enslaved for generations and targeted with a particularly brutal, systemic kind of racism blacks were. Blacks have a history in America longer than Jews and Asians. The latter have been subject to horrible, racist attitudes and actions, but they have not experienced the same systemic racism blacks have. Systemic racism means that there are broken systems built on past racist attitudes that still, inadvertently or intentionally, keep blacks down. That’s why they can’t simply “overcome racism” like you’re suggesting, as if it’s mean white people attitudes that prevent them from leaving the ghetto. They’re stuck in a system of poverty, broken family infrastructure, unhelpful welfare, and a justice system operating on some principles from the openly racist sixties. A lot of this stems from segregation, which only officially ended a few decades ago.

      I also don’t think you understand what mass incarceration means. Watch the movie. ;)

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    • Laura Jinkins

      Your comment reminded me of something else that keeps blacks from succeeding that has absolutely nothing to do with their treatment by other races (specifically whites). I’ve witnessed this with my own eyes, so it’s not a “I heard about this guy…” anecdote.

      What about the black kid growing up in the projects who wants out? He or she has an aptitude for school — wants to do well, wants better. And when he or she starts bringing home good grades or gets recognized for an achievement at school, is suddenly the pariah. Shunned for wanting better. The loneliness, the intellectual discrimination is more than the kid can bear, so grades start slipping, ambition starts lessening, and no matter what a well-meaning outsider attempts to do, the brighter future on the horizon is lost to this kid because his own race bullied him into mediocrity.

      From the Urban Dictionary: Uncle Tom
      Uncle Tom is a term used by black people to try to convince other black people that working, education, living well, and setting a good example for their children is selling out.
      “De Shawn got a job? At Ameritech? He’s a Tom”

      The systemic racism can be found within, just as much as without.

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      • Bailey Steger

        I completely agree, Laura! There’s that, and then there’s the lack of imagination within the system too: “I want to go to jail when I grow up so I can watch TV all day and my wife can get welfare checks” (an actual thing a kid has said). One of the things the documentary talked about is how these things have affected the morale and self-image of black people themselves — and I think what we’re both describing is evidence of that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Laura Jinkins

        I don’t doubt that kid said that. My husband has students (of all races) that tell him the first thing they plan on doing when they are released is breaking the law so they can come back. They call it “three hots and a cot” — they know they’ll get fed and have a place to sleep. It’s just heartbreaking.

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      • Bailey Steger

        It really is. Fortunately, I’ve got my kids trained to say, “We’re in kindergarten so we can get smart and go to college and get a good job!” Trying to give them some hope and goals. And my kids, for the most part, have truly inspirational parents who work crazy hours while getting a higher education and involving themselves in the community and raising their families. I could never do what they do.

        Liked by 1 person

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