I Asked My White Friends to Watch 13th by Ava DuVernay — I’m Listening Series

In the June 11 episode of Seventh-day Adventist YouTuber Justin Khoe’s “I’m Listening” series, Khoe asked white Christians to watch the documentary 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay, and to share their thoughts on the film.

This is a follow-up to Khoe’s May 29 episode titled, “What My Black Friends Wish I Knew about Racism in America” in which several interviewees mentioned 13th, along with other anti-racism resources for white people.

WATCH “i asked my white friends to watch 13th by Ava DuVernay”:

Find more videos on Justin Khoe’s YouTube channel here.

Netflix has made the documentary 13th available for free on YouTube. Watch it below or by clicking here:

Alisa Williams is the managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

Image courtesy of Justin Khoe.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10522
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I’m stunned no one has replied to this. Or maybe people do not realise what’s in the movie 13th, and so haven’t bothered to view it.

If this documentary is wrong, then someone please help me understand. However, If it is correct…

It is not wrong, but it presents a very biased perspective on the issue with a very obvious political slant that devolves to downright deceptive political hit job of implying that Trump
call for “good old times when people are arrested” is comparable to segregation era racism, as though Trump protesters who this rhethoric is directed to are exclusively black.

I reject Trump’s enflamatory approach at his rallies when it comes to ejecting protesters, but misrepresenting his views on the subject is dishonest and undermines the legitimacy of this particular documentary effort.

With that out of the way, there are plenty of things that any centrist who cares about broader view can take away as rather difficult to deny truths:

  1. There was a history of racism and segregation.

  2. Something that this doc doesn’t detail really well was that hemp was outlawed in 30s due to its competitive issues for plastic and paper industry. So, there was a campaign that went through the ploy of “reefer madness” in which black people who smoked hemp described to behave like animals and raping white women. So, that essentially began a long history of the war on drugs in the US, with alcohol ironically legal and much more detrimental than cannabis.

  3. If you want a good outline of prison industrial complex, a good expose on it is “The New Jim Crow”, although it is incomplete in painting certain causal relationships, much like this doc… which I’ll address later.

  4. Overall, the prison system in US is problematic in basis of a rather simple premise that it arguably doesn’t do a good job rehabilitating, given the repeat offences it churns out and becomes a revolving door for violent criminals who develop “prison culture” which they export to neighborhoods via gang power structures.

  5. It correctly calls for abandoning the pop culture glamour associated with that inner-city gang and prison culture , especially as it is depicted and promoted by music and TV industry.

There are other things, but the above are more obvious.

What it gets wrong IMO and factual data:

  1. It leaves you thinking that it has been a growing problem over the years, while the opposite is true. Arrests and conviction for all types of crime have been in steady decline since 2005 in the US. That has been especially true with rape, burglaries and robberies, and drug-related offenses.

  2. The doc leaves out the democratic side of things at any possible culprit. It flashes Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Trump… but any Democrat complicity in this seems to be absent, when such is not the case. Again, there’s an obvious political bias.

  3. It doesn’t mention about community-driven demands for tougher stance on crime and drugs in the inner cities, called and demanded for by black leaders. There’s a Pulitzer award winning book on this subject written a couple of years ago:

https://www.amazon.com/Locking-Up-Our-Own-Punishment/

It details the historic efforts of black communities to combat crime from POV of community-driven initiatives in which black leaders in these communities progressively escalated more tough position on crime, all the way up to crack epidemic, which culminated with Federal war on drugs.

This documentary tends to omit this and presents all of this as some continuum of racist policing and media portrayal of black people as criminals. The history is much more nuanced.

  1. The biggest problem is that this doc seems to absolve black communities from responsibility of avoiding crime, even in poverty. So, it proposes a borderline conspiratorial view of this in which all of this wasn’t an unfortunate byproduct of circumstances, but it’s all by design of a continually racist system that seeks to keep people of color down. In fact it erroneously presents the language related to prison in 13th amendment as some “slavery loophole”, which arguably isn’t the case.

So, the central premise and political slant falls apart under close examination, but it does point to certain inherent problems in prison industrial complex that should be remedied with better programs that allow people to start new and productive lives.

4 Likes

I couldn’t agree more, and thought the very thing while watching that section of the documentary. And also the “obvious political bias” you brought up, was at times noticeable. They did bring up Bill and Hillary Clinton, and were not given a complete pass. However, they weren’t treated as harshly.

I’m curious as to what your take is on those recordings they revealed, and how it was admitted they knew all along that those particular policies would hurt the black community. I cant exactly remember what it was, but I’m hoping you may know what I’m referring to. I believe there were two recordings which were exposed. In one of them the person specifically asked that it be off the record; or something along those lines.

And lastly, I just wanted to say thank-you for answering my call. Because in all honesty, that’s exactly what it was. It wouldn’t be wrong for me to say I was left depressed after what I had just heard and seen. Living in another country (Aust), can sometimes leave a person with the wrong impression.

Cheers.

I think you may be referring to Lee Atwater interview about Republican Southern strategy in 80s? It’s a very historically-convoluted issue, but the background is that after the Civil War and desegregation, the racist sentiments still fell along North-South in the US. There were Dixiecrats that were historically Democratic and racists. I know it may sound odd today, but KKK voted for Democrats back in the day. But they were becoming less popular in the North which was much more progressive. So, LBJ “bet on black” with his push for desegregation and promise of funding and for black communities in exchange for votes… although he was more Machiavellian than doing it out kindness of his own heart. He was as good of an old-fashioned racist as one can be. He wasn’t shy about n-word, but was also very strategic about getting in power.

He infamously said:

These N*****, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them

… Likewise he’s say about black judges he appointed “when I appoint a n****” to the bench, I want everybody to know he’s a n*****."

Hence, it wasn’t all sunshine, and black population was largely trading votes for incremental social changes that both parties began attempting to purchase in exchange for votes… but Republicans couldn’t promise without losing their traditional constituency. After all, they ran on a platform that promised less taxation, and thus less of government spending.

So, Republicans lost rather consistently in 60s because of it, and resorted to political pragmatism and offered veiled appeals to South, by attempting to align certain financial incentive cuts as something that Southerners would want to see… predominantly through race-color glasses, as they didn’t like Johnson spending their tax dollars on black people.

And that’s the context of that quote by Lee Atwater. He is basically saying that in the past Dixiecrats were about overt racism, which got progressively more abstract and became more about policies that hurt black population indirectly, because racist rhethoric went out of style… especially after JFK and forced integration.

IMO the truth is somewhere in the middle, and I don’t think that either party really cared about these people at beyond them serving as a political padding that secured their elections.

I don’t think director is wrong about injecting this when it comes to historical context in which black America progressed… especially as it relates to subsequent exploitation of prison-indutrial complex… which btw wasn’t uniquely black. So, the Civil Rights legislation isn’t as clean and heroic as described in American history. I think a bit more context would help, but I don’t think it’s unfair. I actually think the director was very gracious. I would have slamed Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan much much harder, but it’s quite obvious that it would also open up an uncomfortable can of worms for generation of young Americans who see Civil Rights history through Democrat-colored glasses.

American “correctional” system is certainly in need of desperate reform.

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Comment from EGW

“There cannot be any greater harm done to the Southern colored people than to dilate (expand on) on the harm and wrong done them by the white Southerners.” Southern Work, 1899.

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I fully agree with Arkdrey regarding “13th,” that it is biased. Short of the Bible, all history is filtered through the eyes of the teller. Consider, for example, how history might be recorded by one of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves in contrast to what I was taught about him in grade school (USA). Those who produce documentaries, film or print, are no different. They have already drawn their own conclusions with respect to the evidence, as they see it. All hope to convince you that the evidence, which they suspect you don’t yet know or understand, supports their standpoint. Thus, there are really two separate components to be evaluated—the reasons behind the conclusions, and the conclusions themselves.

Arkdrey began by saying “It is not wrong,” and then proceeded to qualify this statement by showing those areas he considers to be incomplete or less than accurate. Arkdrey has done his homework and makes some very good points. I especially appreciate his reference to the lack of “rehabilitation” within our prison system, his recommendation for “The New Jim Crow,” and his reminder of the “reefer madness” crusade (I had forgotten that one).

Arkdrey presented a bit more conciliatory in his followup posting, so I think we are close in our understanding. There were, however, a few points in the first that I would like to respectfully challenge, just for the record. :wink:

This was covered pretty well in Arkdrey’s second post, but I think an outline is also helpful here.

The focus on presidents begins in earnest with Johnson who was, in fact, a democrat. He served from 1963-1969. The attention then turns to Nixon, a republican, serving from 1969-1974. 1974-1981 were served by republican Ford, then democrat Carter; both get a pass in the film. Reagan [R] presided 1981-1989 followed by G.H. Bush [R] 1989-1993. Democrat Clinton is next 1993-2001 (He is rightfully excoriated for “3 strikes you’re out”, “mandatory minimum”, “truth in sentencing”, as well as the politically expedient vacillation of both he and his wife). G.W. Bush [R] gets a two-term pass 2001-2009. Beginning with Obama [D] 2009-2017 democrats and republicans are more or less classed together in the general movement away from mass incarceration. Overall, with reference to political party, I feel that culpability is fairly equally distributed in the film. (With respect to President Trump, I’ll let him speak for himself)

Starting about 00:20:39, the next 10 minutes or so does include discussion on this point, with comments from New York Congressman Charles Rangel (D) who was one of those black leaders.

As to whether the “slavery loophole” was intentional or not is certainly debatable (I tend to think not), but there is no question that it was quickly recognized and extensively made use of. I’d like to think that all could agree that much of what has happened is indeed the “unfortunate byproduct of circumstances,” while also acknowledging the many examples of fully intended racist actions.

While the movie focused on disparities within the criminal justice system, this problem is only one of many areas of enduring inequity. Education, employment opportunities, housing, and others—any of which could easily provide material for its own such chronicle.

Finally, for what it’s worth, I really didn’t see the discussion as an attempt to absolve blacks of responsibility. I believe that the film is a reasonably honest attempt to make people aware of issues that most non-minorities have never even noticed. As TonyR originally posted, “If it is correct . . .”

Understanding does not exonerate the truly guilty, but it does open the way for productive communication and potential solutions. To end with one of my favorite quotes:

The divine Teacher bears with the erring through all their perversity. His love does not grow cold; His efforts to win them do not cease. With outstretched arms He waits to welcome again and again the erring, the rebellious, and even the apostate. His heart is touched with the helplessness of the little child subject to rough usage. The cry of human suffering never reaches His ear in vain. Though all are precious in His sight, the rough, sullen, stubborn dispositions draw most heavily upon His sympathy and love; for He traces from cause to effect. The one who is most easily tempted, and is most inclined to err, is the special object of His solicitude.

Every parent and every teacher should cherish the attributes of Him who makes the cause of the afflicted, the suffering, and the tempted His own. He should be one who can have “compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.” Hebrews 5:2. Jesus treats us far better than we deserve; and as He has treated us, so we are to treat others. The course of no parent or teacher is justifiable if it is unlike that which under similar circumstances the Saviour would pursue. [Education, p. 294]

Wisdom, at its best!

Also, same letter:

There must be laborers in the South who possess caution. They must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. All who engage in this work should be men who have their pens and tongues dipped in the holy oil of Zechariah 4:11-14. An unadvised word will stir the most violent passions of the human heart and set in operation a state of things that will close the way for the truth to find access to the fields now in such great need of workers. . . . Men, while their hearts burn with indignation as they see the attitude of the white people toward the black, will learn of the Master, Jesus Christ, that silence in expression regarding these things is eloquence.

And in the letter following:

If the greatest caution is not exercised, bitterness and hatred will be aroused in the white people in the South who are yearning for power to oppress the colored race as they have in the past.

She even recommends:

Common association with the blacks is not a wise course to pursue. To lodge with them in their homes may stir up feelings in the minds of the whites which will imperil the lives of the workers. Goods have been sent to this field which have helped to relieve the necessities of suffering humanity. But this work does not please the white people. In some localities they do not want help to be given to this downtrodden race. They desire that they shall ever feel their dependence. [SWk 95]

On a completely unrelated matter, she said:

I know that at present the great work to be done in New York City will be best carried forward without the startling things that will have to come into the message further on. Now is not the time to bring in the startling things that can be said. [Lt 17, 1902]

So, the $64 question is: Would she say something similar about segregation, etc. later? I don’t know, and wouldn’t presume to guess; but, at the end of the day, we each have to decide for ourselves what God would have us do at the present time.

I think it will be fun in heaven to listen in on the conversation between Ellen White and Rosa Parks! Wanna join me? :innocent:

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I’m into the 2nd hour of this 3 hour discussion between Ivor Myers, and his 2 guests Adventist historians Benjamin Baker and Kevin Burton - Streamed live on Jun 21, 2020. The description section reads:

“Slavery, Black Codes, Black resistance, White SDA resistance, Black SDA resistance, FBI on SDA surveillance, fear-provoked Church complicity, and a call to be modern abolitionists!”

Now some of the things I have heard/read before; however, some of it blew my mind. Even Ivor had to ask the speakers at times to stop, because he needed a few seconds to digest what he had just heard. Yeah no kidding, Ivor.

Now I’m still not sure what to make of this whole subject. So much information to sink in, and possible readjusting on some beliefs. Bon appetit:

Adventist History: Protestantism & Abolitionism

TonyR

Thank you for the link! Very interesting.

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