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Last Friday, the Business Students of Color hosted a viewing of 13th, a documentary by Ava DuVernay. The film is titled in reference to the 13th amendment to the constitution, which states that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime” is permitted in the United States. DuVernay argues, alongside many experts (including the author of The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander) that racism and white supremacy in the United States has not been eliminated. Instead, the ways in which this power has been enacted and perpetuated has transformed, from slavery, to Jim Crow, and now mass incarceration. The powerful and provocative film artfully examined the transitions between each of these systems, displaying on a broader scale how society does not just switch from one era to the next, but evolves.

I think it is interesting to consider how racism has transformed throughout American history within the framework of power, as John Gaventa describes in Power and Powerlessness. The first form of oppression analyzed in the film, slavery, can be seen as the manifestation of the one-dimensional approach to power and quiescence. Within this dimension one party gets another to “do something that they would not otherwise do.” Fast forward to Jim Crow, and barriers put into place by those in power prevent the grievances of black people around the country from being recognized, known as the two-dimensional approach. Finally, the three-dimensional approach is what we see today in the system of mass incarceration. Issues are unable to receive attention because those in power have preemptively shaped conceptions of “non-conflict.” Millions of black people in prison is not the problem that we talk about on cable news, the problem is protecting “our neighborhoods” from criminals and “thugs,” who, history tells us, look like people of color.

13th is streaming on Netflix, and I have attached a clip of it here. I want to acknowledge that it was very hard for me to watch and made many in the room emotional.

Cameron • November 13, 2016

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