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“13th” responds to the utilitarian perspective which often agrees that “The end justifies the means”. By tracing the development of slavery and racism from the 13th amendment through mass imprisonment, minority targeting in drug culture, and media misrepresentation, this text shows the timeline and the flow of that racial current.
DuVernay argues that slavery changed in the way that it operates but exists with different kinds of strength and force today. The thirteenth amendment freed all people who had not committed crimes or shown signs of insanity. Because the southern economy lost its free labor force, the justice system became the only legal way to regain access. As “13th” points out, black arrests happened in huge numbers for such small reasons as loitering in public to enjoy the day and “unwelcome attention”. The southern states received their free workers back, and the status quo of how things always had been was kept. From being viewed as dumb animals in slavery to being viewed as mean animals in the twentieth century, the stage was set.
With the Civil Rights movement, activists took that power away when they began to publicly refuse these standards and publicize their arrests. President Nixon wanted the war to continue, he wanted to grow more powerful, and he wanted things to go back to the way that they were–no matter how unfair. He worked toward these objectives by pushing for harder jail and prison time for drug offenses. He knew that the poorest and most hopeless areas of town- often the majority communities- attracted more drug dealers offering promises of an easy escape. The harsher mandatory sentences established for crack cocaine simply for its being cheap, available, and smokable sent the message that the people who could afford the expensive powder form of cocaine could get away with a slap on the wrist.
Today this struggle continues, and the harsher punishments of the crack cocaine in black communities and the rise of rap as a means of calling out the struggle brought great attention to the new civil rights challenges in the 1990’s. That distrust between members of the law enforcement and/or white communities and the people of the black communities continues today and can be seen on the news daily. They earn more money by keeping that debate alive and distracting the public with a new and worse story every time that people start talking about the reasons why it is that way. Many white Americans react strongly to the threat of being viewed as the racist animals but still criticize black people for reacting strongly when they are being treatest as animals by racist people. Meanwhile, the oppressed minority communities cannot contribute their best possible outcomes to the good of American society as long as they are pushed around.
Being call a criminal means that other people no longer see you as a man or a woman. They see you as a threat. The Nazis did the same thing in World War II. First they tracked the Jewish people and then criminalized their ownership and came up with their ‘Final Solution’. They considered these plans like an extermination. In the same way, Americans today view the violence within the prison system as a karmic justice of one less threatening mouth to feed. They view these criminals and as outsiders that are less than human. Policemen, as representatives of an unfair system, uphold laws which directly threaten to enslave black people and other outsiders again.
Ava DuVernay’s “13th” shows that the American economic and political needs to take advantage of black people often became the utilitarian justification of a subtler form of racism. The utilitarian “The end justifies the means” perspective has been called hedonistic. Time flows into the future and new results, so the utilitarian ends that they achieved were short-term answers. The police, the black people, and every other American really loses out on the strong and peaceful America that we say that we want to become. It could easily be reduced to a ‘Which came first? The chicken or the egg?’ conversation about whether minorities become criminals because they’re poor or if they remain poor because they’re criminals. That debate lacks any acknowledgment of human nature and nurture and ignores the fact that America is producing a lot of rotten eggs. Those eggs aren’t the people; it’s the stench of what is really going on to push so many people to desperation and jail time.
Ava Duvernay’s “13th” included people on the liberal and conservative sides who argued about how many of these actions were directed at the black community. Even if it could be proven that race was not a factor, the bottom line shows that poor Americans are being set up by this legal system. Those ends and those means are not justified and ought to be abolished as surely as the 13th amendment almost abolished slavery completely.
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