Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.Section 1 of the 13th Amendment
Friday, June 19th was Juneteenth, or Freedom Day. It commemerated the day in 1865 when Texas emancipated the last remaining slaves in the country. The day got a little more attention this year after the murder of George Floyd.
One hundred and fifty five years ago our country freed the slaves. The 13th amendment was not as huge a step as I once believed it to be. Within the amendment, a loophole was created so that slavery and involuntary servitude could occur as punishment for a crime. This was brough to my attention recently in the documentary 13th.
What this meant was that blacks could be arrested for the most petty of crimes (or for none at all) and then become enslaved once again. Companies had been benefiting from prison labor for over a century since the 13th amendment was ratified.
When doing drugs stopped being a health issue and started being a crime with the “war on drugs”, we as a nation continued our long historical practice of enslaving blacks through the penal system. Where many whites could post bail or get relaxed sentences, the white dominated law enforcement would not be so leniant on blacks. This continues to this day.
Shortly after the film, I began talking to others about it and was confronted with an anamoly that I couldn’t quite understand. While a vast majority in the persons of color (POC) community fully understand the white dominated and privileged society in which they live, there are a percentage that reject this idea (or at least, they reject it vocally). I thought this was somewhat bizarre, for POC to give their oppressers a pass on maintaining their white privliges and power in exchange for a higher status.
After doing a little research I found What is Internalized Racism? by Donna K. Bivens. Once you educate yourself on internalized racism, you will almost certainly observe that there are many kinds of internalized oppression. To oversimply, it is when someone believes or accepts the lies that their oppressers tell them. It is much more complex than that, but I will offer a few paragraphs from that chapter.
“As people of color are victimized by racism, we internalize it. That is, we develop ideas, beliefs, actions and behaviors that support or collude with racism. This internalized racism has its own systemic reality and its own negative consequences in the lives and communities of people of color. More than just a consequence of racism, then, internalized racism is a systemic oppression in reaction to racism that has a life of its own.
Individuals, institutions and communities of color are often unconsciously and habitually rewarded for supporting white privilege and power and punished and excluded when we do not. This system of oppression often coerces us to let go of or compromise our own better judgment, thus diminishing everyone as the diversity of human experience and wisdom is excluded.”
Internalized racism is a reason why combating racism is so difficult. Those POC who internalize racism give their oppressors a false sense that they are not oppressing, are not privileged, and that those actually fighting racism and oppression are in the wrong. This is why the fight against racism is so difficult.
Even I fall into the trap of internalizing racism. As I white person, I may not speak up when I hear racial slurs, racist remarks, or racist acts. I am guilty of not showing support for Black Lives Matter when it was formed. While I never was one to come back with All Lives Matter, I didn’t show my support for BLM.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”Edmund Burke
Black Lives Matter is a movement started in response to the aquittal of George Zimmerman (still free) after he murdered Trayvon Martin. Their mission, which few people care to read, is “to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” Too many people have dismissed or misunderstood the movement by misrepresenting the literal name of the movement, as if black lives are the only ones that matter.
#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important – it means that Black lives, which are seen without value within white supremacy, are important to your liberation.Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter
I feel very privileged to be able to simply educate myself on these matters so I can join the fight, and not experience the racism every day of my life. We can all do well by educating ourselves more.
Thanks to James Eades for the featured photo on Unsplash.