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"Slavery By Another Name"

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From time to time I'm going to write in keeping with Black History Month. The first post in this series was on February 1, with a reprint of a letter from a former slave entitled "To My Old Master". (If you haven't already read this, do; it's quite a treat.)

This post showcases a PBS documentary, Slavery By Another Name, which tells how slavery persisted in the South despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War. I'm willing to bet that not one in 100 Americans knows about this system. I know I didn't.

Lindsay Beyerstein of the Hillman Foundation explains:

Slavery By Another Name debunks the cherished assumption that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, as Blackmon and Pollack show, the enslavement of black Southerners persisted under the guise of convict labor from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of World War II. ...

The polite term for the new slavery was "convict leasing." Southern states criminalized the slightest infractions by black people, real or imagined. It was a crime to be unemployed, or to be employed and look for a better job without permission. Unauthorized black job-seekers could be sent back to their employers to work off their "debt" as convict laborers. Walking along the railroad tracks or speaking loudly in the presence of white women could also condemn a black person to a term of hard labor.
So while indentured servitude was illegal, it wasn't illegal for states to perform "middle-man" services and lease out their prisoners. Since the "debt" was to the state, and the payer was the leasee, the law was satisfied.

Bet you can see where this is headed:
Employers paid the state to "lease" the prisoners. As under slavery, the hardiest-looking men fetched the highest prices. About 95% of the people in the convict labor system were black men between the ages of 14 and 30, because they were the most desirable laborers. Some women were also forced to work as laundresses and cooks. Blackmon's resesarch shows how arrest rates rose to meet the demand for labor.
Are you ready for the next connectable dot?
Blackmon, a longtime Wall Street Journal reporter. ... observed that a "potentially diabolical" conflict of interest arises when the people responsible for making arrests stand to profit by arresting more people.
Which leads us directly to:

■ Law enforcement agencies directly benefiting from "confiscated" property during drug arrests (which a drug-hating, tax-hating environment incentivizes); and

Private prison companies bribing (sorry, "incentivizing") state politicians to (a) pass harsh anti-immigrant laws, and (b) build more warehouses for their shared inventory (sorry, "malefactors of dark skintones") — all of which they profit from.

Slavery is America's original sin; always was, always will be. It's not like we're clear of it; those of us lighter-hued folks reap the benefits every day. (Doubt me? When was the the last time the cops searched your car — or bumped you around a bit — for "driving while white"?)

The PBS documentary airs starting February 13. Beyerstein's report on it is here.


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