The 13th, Puts Everything Happening In America Right Now In Perspective
Last night I watched Ava DuVernay’s highly acclaimed documentary, The 13th. It wasn’t the most emotionally responsible thing to do while still mourning the results of Tuesday night’s election, but politically it put a lot of things into perspective. Namely, it answered the question everyone’s been asking that can’t be explained by voter turnout and poll numbers alone: How did Trump win this election?
While many of us know the legislation that has led to the mass incarceration of African American men — the three strikes rule, harsher punishment for crack than cocaine, truth in sentencing — what ‘s not talked about often is how politicians use the prison system to gain power in this country.
The election of Donald Trump is one of the first times in recent years a real discussion has been had about the way presidents prey on deeply rooted racial biases to win elections. But the only difference between Trump and some of his predecessors is he didn’t use code language to mask his hatred, he “told it like it is,” which a number of republicans told news stations on the night of the election was what made him such an endearing candidate.
It’s words like “law & order,” the 13th shows, that made Nixon appealing to the American public. John Ehrlichman, a domestic aid to the 37th president of the United States, blew the lid of the charade of their war on drugs when he confessed in 1994, “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
And when you vilify and then capture said people, you give off the impression to the American people that you are able to keep their streets safe. You have proof that you’ve delivered on your promise. The playbook Nixon wrote was followed by every president that succeeded him, from Reagan, whose wife we can thank for the “Just Say No” drug campaigns we grew up with in school, to George Bush whose campaign’s strategic use of Willie Horton– a Black man who, while serving a life sentence for murder, committed assault, robbery, and rape while out on a weekend furlough — led to his election as a leader who would be tough on crime and restore peace and order. And even Bill Clinton won the public’s trust when he declared “three strikes and you are out” in California. It’s for that reason his wife, Hillary, came into the presidential race at a deficit among Black communities who are still living with the effects of her husband’s 1994 federal crime bill.
But where presidents of the past covered up their racism with the word criminal, which many have come to understand as synonymous with Black men, Donald Trump has no qualms about pointing out exactly who he will target during his administration. And that is what white men and women took pride in voting for on Tuesday: a man who perceives Mexicans and Muslims as criminals like 60 million other Americans and has no problem letting it be known he doesn’t want them running the streets and he won’t allow them to. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But if you’re a white woman whose been told all her life that Blacks, Mexicans, and Muslims are a threat to your civil liberties, you’ll certainly take a p-ssy grab every now and then if it means you can sleep safely without the socially constructed threat of minority criminality waving over your head. And that doesn’t even begin to get into the business interests leaders like Trump protect.
Some of you may know these things already, but others may not. If you’re still grappling to make sense of the direction our nation is headed in, The 13th will help you understand how we got here — and show you we’re not all that far off from where we started from.