The Importance of Watching “13th”


Watch the trailer here.

It’s been several months since my last post. I haven’t been able to find the right words to follow up. It wasn’t enough to just complain about the horrible conditions of racial injustice in this country. I needed to find a constructive way to add to the conversation. Many reached out to me to echo my sentiments of frustration and despair, feelings of incompetence at our inabilities to effect real change.

In the recent election, Black Lives Matter brought the conversation of racial justice to the fore. On the Democratic side, in the primaries, both frontrunners adopted racial justice platforms, both of them adapted their language (to some extent), and the presumption was made (by myself and millions of others) that while both old white candidates fell short, at the very least, assuming a Democratic win, we’d have something to build on in terms of prioritizing issues of systemic racism that impinge on the black community via mass incarceration, police brutality, environmental, economic and countless social injustices.

And then came the wrecking ball.

Since the election, the relentless assault on every avenue of justice and protection has obviously roused the nation. It’s shameful that it’s come to this. That for all these years, we’ve allowed so many injustices. We’ve expected time to rectify history instead of facing it and making amends. This has led to now. The conversation has devolved to the starkest of divisions—we recently had to debate whether Jeff Sessions, who was rejected as a federal judge for being too racist in 1986, should be appointed to basically oversee civil rights issues. And as a further step back, he was approved. I do blame this on a form of complacency. The sickeningly cruel history of this country (from its inception) has never been sufficiently addressed. This has allowed a huge segment to carry on as if nothing happened, as if the wounds of slavery and oppression live in history books rather than in the souls of generations and throughout all facets of our society’s systems. It’s offensively naive to propose that such recent barbarism and exploitation would simply evaporate and render a level playing field.

It’s become clear to me that without racial justice in America, we have no justice of any kind.

Prior to November 9th, I watched 13th on Netflix. It struck me as urgently essential viewing…clearly illustrating, connecting the dots of how the past treatment of black people in America relates to the present and how the exploitation of marginalized people has been politically and financially profitable.

Now that we have Trump and the lines of division have become so pronounced, I feel it’s beyond instructive to watch 13th, it’s imperative, and as imperative for liberals as it is for conservatives. There’s been a rash of liberals contemplating how to appeal to the “white working class,” angling to direct attention away from identity politics. While I lament that politicians who profit off of division and oppression exploit identity to gain power and influence, there’s an adjustment we need to make. A shift to nuanced, sincere, thoughtful, solution based, policy-backed, identity politics. Part of the problem with politics is when politicians shallowly exploit issues, it’s the people who pay. We can’t allow that to happen. We must demand more depth from our politicians and from each other.

Given the law and order rhetoric of the current administration, it’s clear that the public urgently needs to be educated with regard to how those words translate to policies that target and destroy lives for profit.

I’ve urged everyone I know, across the political spectrum to watch 13th. I’ve even begged on occasion. It’s a film that answers clearly, why “black lives matter” (as opposed to “all lives matter”). It acknowledges hypocrisy and exploitation across party lines. It illuminates how profit and ruthless capitalism have fueled systemic racism and the evolution of slavery into its modern day form.

Watching 13th is a uniquely personal, subjective experience and this post isn’t intended to be an objective critique or review. I cried from beginning to end. I’ve had an intrinsic sensitivity to injustice since I was a child. I’d long ago come to the (rather obvious to me) conclusion that the ramifications of historical injustices permeate society and change form rather than disappear.  Some of the information in 13th wasn’t new to me, but pieced together, the film packed a dizzying visceral punch. I am not an expert on racial or criminal justice issues, not by any stretch. I defer to 13th to give voice to those who are educated, empowered, and entitled to speak with authority on matters of racial and criminal justice.

I’m grateful this film and its brilliant director, Ava DuVernay are garnering so much attention, including multiple awards and Oscar nominations. It’s a work of purposeful art that serves to facilitate a conversation that must happen, now more than ever.