“Slavery by Another Name”—The Re-enslavement of Black Americans in the US

 

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This 90-minute PBS documentary, based upon the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Blackmon, eviscerates one of America’s most cherished myths: the belief that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. “Slavery by Another Name” documents how thousands of African Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality, sanctioned by the judicial and legislative system, and propelled by the loss of slave labor after the Civil War.

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African Americans were systematically charged for petty crimes, and sentenced to hard labor working for former white slave owners. “Convict leasing” became “Slavery by Another Name”, coercing African American “convicts” to work on chain-gangs and for major corporations. A form of “industrial slavery”, these purported convicts, who worked on month-to-month leases, were used and disposed of at will. Moreover, the brutality imposed on “prisoners” in the last part of the 19th and first half of the 20th century was identical to that used against slaves prior to the Civil War. The mortality rate was as high as 30-40% or more. No records were kept.

One strategy to recreate the slave economy was the creation of the crime of “vagrancy”. This provided a steady supply of “vagrants” forced to work off their sentences under heinous labor conditions. Convicts were repeatedly bought and sold throughout their sentences, again to former white slave-masters and industrialists. Replacing the outlawed debt slavery or peonage, convict leasing resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of corporate profit. Tolerated by both the North and South as essential for raising the gross domestic product and propelling the United States to unprecedented economic power, this form of industrial slavery did not begin to decrease until the Second World War [motivated in part by the Japanese intention to use US racism to justify their own military actions] and the need for African American soldiers.

Deeply moving, fascinating, and repugnant all at the same time, “Slavery By Another Name” opens our eyes to the deliberate exploitation of African Americans. A courageous refutation of the ongoing myth that “Lincoln freed the slaves,” the documentary “Slavery By Another Name” demonstrates that slavery survived long past emancipation, until less than eighty years ago.

Conveniently overlooked by the nation and perpetrated across an enormous region over many years, the institution of forced labor as a fixture of African American life perniciously suffocated their aspirations and opportunities for their families and their very existence. This documentary film should be a required history lesson for us all.

“The Tunnel” — Turf War or Building Bridges?

The Tunnel .
The Tunnel

This British-French bilingual thriller is a PBS television series, adapted from the 2011 Danish/Swedish crime series “The Bridge” [also remade as a 2013 American Fox series with a Mexican/American police team]. Hans Rosenfeldt, the original creator, develops this British-French version, renamed “The Tunnel”,  as well.

“The Tunnel” stars Stephen Dillane (of “Game of Thrones” fame) as British policeman Karl Roebuck and Clémence Poésy (from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”) as French policewoman Elise Wassermann. The mismatched detectives must work together to find a killer who has left the upper-half of a woman politician’s  body on the French side of the Channel Tunnel and the lower-half of another woman’s body on the UK side.

The murderer soon is revealed as a serial killer –nicknamed “TT” for “Truth Terrorist”– who is on a moral crusade. TT’s mission is to wreak vengeance for social injustices: particularly, the abolition of rights for immigrants and the poor, institutional mistreatment of the elderly, warehousing the mentally ill, jailing protesters rioting against government policies, and exploiting children. The “Truth Terrorist” revels maniacally in his own moral superiority. Forcing Roebuck and Wasserman into an uneasy partnership, the series of crimes involves ever more ingenious and horrific methods to underscore the moral bankruptcy of modern society.

“The Tunnel”, however, is more than a dramatic police thriller about fighting crime. The dualities of culture and personality, people divided by politics and history, are fascinating to watch for their layers of complexity. The uneasy chemistry between Roebuck and Wasserman are a metaphor for the cultural gap and ideological boundaries separating all of us: the powerful from the powerless, and the self-interest and turf-war conflicts between nations. “The Tunnel” is novelistic storytelling at its best!