#BlackLivesMatter! It is a hashtag, it is the text on a protest sign and a chant being screamed out at the top of people’s lungs in the various demonstrations and marches around the world. So what better time to watch the documentary 13TH on Netflix.
Before I write down some of my thoughts on this documentary a few things. I do not live in the USA, nor have I ever visited the country. I however do have ancestors who were former slaves and worked on plantations in Suriname (a former Dutch colony) and sadly have experienced discrimination since I was a little.
Let me start with just stating a fact. Racism in today’s society still exists. Plenty of research is done on this topic and even more practical examples are available with a simple Google search. But why does racism still exists? Didn’t countries end slavery like centuries ago?
Well yes, if I look at my own history the Netherlands ended slavery on the 1st of July in 1863. This is almost 50 years later when it was no longer legally allowed to trade in slaves, which was in 1814. Every year on the 1st of July we celebrate this with Keti Koti. But when slavery legally ended, the Dutch and British found new ways to oppress. They agreed on a treaty for “contract labor”, which allowed them to “recruit” people from Asia to keep working on plantations. Now I’ve written “contract labor” and “recruit” in quotes, because in reality these people were the next generations of slaves. With false hopes and false papers, they were taken from the continent, often without them even knowing, just to end up doing the same work of the African slaves. In the history books these people were known as “Penny Slaves” (or “centslaven” in Dutch). In 1916 the British occupation in India ended, but it was not until 1975 before Suriname became independent.
See the communality? Slavery, racism and basic violations of human rights were all condoned if it could make a profit and help advance the white way of life. Being non-white meant that you were seen as inferior. And even though racism isn’t gone in the Netherlands, progress has been made and I – most of the time – feel safe in my country.
After seeing 13TH on Netflix it is sad to see that the situation in the US is worse. Where it started using African slaves, it continued by having a passage in the constitution which allows prisoners to be used as slaves. Combine this with (systemic) racism which never has been properly addressed, you can see why minorities in the US have always been a second-class citizen.
This documentary shows a bit of these black pages of history and hopefully will bring some empathy for movements like #BlackLivesMatter. We as a society still have a long way to go. Due to capitalism we all still want cheap labor, cheap prices and are willing to violate human right laws for it and discriminate others. In 13TH you can see how far the US government is willing to go and how one simple loophole can be exploited to condone slavery in the 21st century.