I needed to write about the documentary Slavery by Another Name which was based on Douglas Blackmon’s Pulitzer Prize winning book. This documentary was one of my first introductions to African-American history, and it is an important part of all of our histories, and we cannot close our eyes to it and we cannot forget it. We have to always remember where we came from, so that we can heal ourselves and heal the future. It was difficult for me to sit in a classroom setting and watch this documentary being surrounded by mostly White students fifteen to twenty years younger than me, and it was eye opening and painful to watch. For weeks I kept retelling the story and reliving the experience to anyone who would listen, and I even made reference to this documentary in my essay Racism from 1865 to 2013. I will never be the same after watching this documentary. My eyes are finally open, and I will never be the same again period.
Slavery by Another Name is a retelling of our history in The United States, and it’s apart of our history that is not public knowledge, at least it wasn’t for me. It has taught me that since the very first day that African-American men were given their “freedom” in 1865 with the abolition of slavery that they were doomed to hold the racial stereotype of criminal every where they went. From the false accusations of being rapists and then lynched from the nearest tree to being ripped from the streets and falsely accused of criminal acts and thrown into jail just because of the color of his skin. This documentary tells the story of how African-American men were rounded up on false accusations and thrown into prison, and put to work in conditions worse than what was experienced through slavery on the plantations. The reality was that he could be picked up for standing on a street corner, charged with vagrancy, and then sentenced to six months in prison, put to work in the mines or on the rail road through the convict-leasing system, and be dead in five months. He was disposable because White supremacist laws could rule that they can just go out and pick up another Black man any time they wanted and put him to work. Slavery did not end in 1865, because it was continued through the convict-leasing system, share cropping, and the debt peonage system. This became a lucrative business for the United States, and continued until the 1940’s.
Is it still continuing today? Look at our present prison system, the mass incarceration of African American males, “the war on drugs,” and the present state of the convict leasing system. “Wisconsin has started a convict leasing system in their state, and they are so excited that they are saving tax payers money. Many companies and businesses are relying on convict labor for making military uniforms and McDonald’s uniforms, and also IBM, Dell, Motorola, Compaq, Honeywell, Revlon, Boeing, Microsoft, Chevron, Eddie Bauer, Victoria’s Secret, Kmart and JC Penney all use convict labor.” Does anybody have more information on the convict leasing system in Wisconsin or any where else?
A good documentary on the “war on drugs” or the mass incarceration of African American men is: The House I Live In, PBS isn’t showing it anymore, but I have seen it showing on On Demand and Netflix will be getting it soon.
Knowledge is power.