How do you know when a Netflix documentary is groundbreaking? The answer is when it’s available for free for everyone on YouTube.

I never planned on watching “13th”. That’s actually because I never knew it existed. Now, what matters is that I have watched it and I cannot not share what I’ve learned from it.

“13th” is not just a documentary about the prison system in the States and racial discrimination prevalent right now. It is a plea in disguise asking for people to remember and learn from history. What exactly was so elemental about it? You see, the history of the North American continent is not very pretty. While most of us all have somehow decided to move forward towards the future, we are still carrying the wounds and scars from the past that have never been addressed, critically read and discussed. The struggles of our Black communities in the US are inevitably reflected in Canada and many other countries. To overlook the impact and connections of this would be incredibly naive and harmful. 13th, whilst painting us a heartbreaking reality, didn’t shy away from connecting pieces of traumatic pasts to what people have/are facing today.

Law & Order

I’d never heard about it before I saw Trump rage-tweeting about it randomly, multiple times. I always found it comedic because I believed that he just didn’t want to type out complete sentences. Turns out, thanks to the 13th, the phrase is actually dating back to the Nixon-era in America and was used with a malicious intent to paint communities of Black people as being dangerous to the peace and harmony of America. The phrase was a clever way to talk about other races in a negative light while being completely ambiguous.

My issue is that the phrase is not ambiguous anymore. Considering this part of history took place 50 years ago, we would have learned something. But it turns out many haven’t. If you use this phrase now and fail to acknowledge the baggage or somehow are unaware of it, history has failed us. Not only that, it’s not just the words that can be twisted but actions too. If you see a person talking viciously about how to punish people today and paints the imagery from violent, racist incidents from the past, you can tell that he is doing so with no fear because he knows many won’t understand. The alarming part is, those who he wants to understand, surely will. When someone tells you to look back at the “good ‘ol days” it’s important to know the history he is pushing you towards. 

George Bernard Shaw famously quoted,

“ We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”

I never liked this quote because I always found it to be pessimistic but now that I look back at it, it’s not mistaken.

My love of history makes me realize that the collective ignorance towards our past and I mean not just knowing something, but rather the very intentional absence of critical thinking and reading has somehow made our history books just a bunch of boring textbooks with thousands of words stringed together. While some may find them interesting, interest is not enough. Students haven’t been taught to look at subjects through a critical lens and that reflects in various aspects of our societies.

To make that G.B.S. quote just some rambling, there needs to be a collective initiative. While I know very well that I can’t change the education systems all around the world or how we teach history alone, I believe that documentaries like the 13th tell a very persuasive argument to rethink and relearn all that we have learnt. Don’t think that it’s only just the history of the US that is up for discussion, apply this to everything that you have seen happening today and try to trace it back to your books or wherever you learnt from for similarities and differences.

History isn’t boring or redundant. It is the key to our present and very directly influences our actions of the future. Our failures to not want to think critically will often times come back and bite us. It won’t be very tolerable in the future.

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