Documentary shows transition from ‘slavery’ to ‘labor’

Cody Nilsen, Staff Reporter

Slavery and mass incarceration are issues that stretch through many generations and on Nov. 12, Central will be showing the documentary “Slavery By Another Name” based off the novel by Douglas A. Blackmon, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author.

The event is a part of Mass Incarceration and Racial Justice: Black and Brown Lives Do Matter; a campus wide series with 80 faculty and staff involved in making the events happen.

The committee chair is the dean of the Arts and Humanities College, Stacey Robertson.

Robertson is a member of the organization Historians Against Slavery, whose motto is “using history to make slavery history.”

“I think that to understand our justice system, you need to understand the history,”  Robertson said.

Robertson’s statement best describes the need to continue the conversation of slavery both past and present.  

While the emancipation proclamation is supposed to be the point in history where slavery was considered to be abolished, “Slavery by Another Name” sheds light on the fact slavery didn’t end, it was given a new title: punitive labor.

After the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of African-Americans were imprisoned for unfair reasons, such as the color of their skin, which continued up until about World War II.    

The Mass Incarceration and Racial Justice: Black and Brown Lives Do Matter series will be continuing all year.

Robertson hopes that this will continue to be an annual event, with a new theme each year.

There is a need for a meaningful conversation on Central’s campus about racial justice and mass incarceration. Not just on Central’s campus or in Ellensburg, but on a nationwide scale. The issue has been ignored by majority of the public.

“The economic disparity that is created from the incarceration of citizens from low income communities, in most cases the father of a family,” Robertson said. “This creates a system that created a second class of people.”

Currently, more than two million individuals are behind bars.

The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation and accounts for 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Worldwide, five percent of the population is incarcerated. A number that has seen an increase in recent years.

The burden of incarceration disproportionately falls on persons of color.

According to the 2010 census, African Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated as whites, and Latinos are twice as likely to be incarcerated.

The documentary will include interviews conducted by Blackmon, where he talked with families who had ancestors that suffered horrendous treatment worse than under slavery.

These men were imprisoned and forced to work every day with extreme hours. They were sent into coal mines, put back onto farms and worked on railroads for no pay.

It created a cycle of poverty that can be seen in low income communities throughout history.  

There were no longer slave owners. By imprisoning freed slaves, business owners were allowed to lease these prisoners. This exacerbated their situation, due to the fact no one cared whether they lived or died.

After the viewing, there will be a panel of faculty and staff from the Mass Incarceration and Racial Justice committee who will put on a Q&A. This will be an opportunity to start a meaningful conversation.

For students at Central, this is an opportunity to expand their knowledge. The Mass Incarceration and Racial Justice committee are donating their time to educate the student body on modern issues.

“Slavery by Another Name” shows how the correctional system is flawed and how flawed it’s been for generations.

Post-emancipation proclamation, anyone could be imprisoned for not having a worker card. Simply put, they could arrest someone for being unemployed.

While that was extreme, today, overcrowded prisons is an issue that is too often overlooked. For the Mass Incarceration and Racial Justice committee, putting on these events is a way to get Central students talking about the flaws in the system.

Blackmon will be coming to Central this spring quarter on May 11, 2016. He will be available to answer questions on either the book or documentary.