With Juneteenth now having crept into the consciousness of those of us white-skinned folks previously oblivious to it, I have another “…teenth” for us to pay attention to.
If we have the guts.
I’m speaking of the winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary of 2016—“13th”.
Yeah, right. It won the Oscar—a really big deal—but for some reason it escaped my notice for four years. I had no more awareness of “13th” than I had of Juneteenth until our remedial education in racism began in earnest in recent weeks. Fortunately, a friend called it to my attention, and so I watched it on Netflix yesterday.
I barely survived. That’s why I say, watch it if you have the guts. Because it will flat-out turn you upside-down and inside-out. Because, this is the story of how Americans have deliberately, premeditatedly, and perennially—right up to today—created official and legal ways to perpetuate racism. You’ve been hearing that term “systemic”? Well, this documentary documents the system—again, I emphasize, the legal system—by which we have reinforced the racism that was the root cause of slavery and made it part of American life ever since. Devastating.
I’m not going to go on at length here, because it’d be so much better that you stop reading and turn on Netflix to watch “13th”. Let me just say that it is a take-no-prisoners history of how the initial and continuing servitude of blacks has been advantageous to many Americans who have skillfully ensured that nothing disrupted it very much. The “cast” of the film includes you and me, if not in a starring role then certainly as “best supporting actors” through our sins of commission and omission through the years.
You’ve heard an awakening described by the term “the scales fell from someone’s eyes”. Watching “13th” will de-scale you without benefit of anesthetic. But whatever pain you’ll experience is infinitesimal relative to the pain it depicts for people of color, a pain our shuttered scales have obscured so effectively.
Netflix. “13th”. It’s time.