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From the Civil War to Today: Centuries of Institutional Racism, Explained in Less Than 20 Minutes

The history of racism in the United States is not a simple topic, but actor Romany Malco successfully delves into the topic in less than 20 minutes in a new video posted to Facebook. In “The Racket of Racism,” Malco explains how we can trace the current prison-industrial complex and reliance on the convict-lease system back to Civil War-era politics.

After that war, he explains, “the Southern economy was hurting,” but politicians found a solution in the 13th Amendment. “While common folk were fighting against one another over the abolition of slavery, or celebrating the abolition of slavery, political officials and wealthy slave owners were crafting a loophole,” Malco states. “Like I said, some things never change.”

So-called “black code” laws were passed to bring African-Americans into civil society and when they broke a law, to punish them in the judicial system. Black code laws were eventually replaced by “pig laws.”

“Basic misdemeanors came with extremely harsh sentences and fines,” Malco says. All these legal punishments ushered in the beginning of America’s reliance on a convict-lease system, essentially allowing white Americans to profit from cheap labor, “aka free slaves,” according to Malco.

“Pig law and the 13th Amendment pretty much reversed everything the abolitionists had accomplished,” he explains. “And that drama sustained well into the Jim Crow era.”

Malco zeroes in on the history of Tulsa, Okla., currently a focus of racial inequality in the wake of the police shooting of Terence Crutcher. In the early 1900s, Malco says, a prominent black community established itself in Tulsa. It didn’t last, though, because the Ku Klux Klan began to destroy the community in the 1920s.

After the Jim Crow era, Malco explains, sneakier methods were used to attack African-American communities and the civil rights movement. Nixon’s war on drugs, for example, was a direct assault on black people and black movements, as Nixon aide John Ehrlichman explained in an interview decades later. These efforts continued throughout the 1980s and into the ’90s, thanks to Bill Clinton’s crime bill (the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act) and Hillary Clinton’s coinage of the term “super predator,” referring to at-risk youth.

“Black is beautiful, but black is also highly abused and highly incarcerated—has been since 1865,” Malco sums up. He argues that the country is in dire need of “modern abolitionists” to combat the prison-industrial complex and the convict-lease system, both of which are designed to target African-American communities.

In fact, Malco explains, it’s affecting the U.S. economy as a whole—nonviolent prisoners are forced to work for 16 cents to 26 cents an hour at jobs that could go to general citizens. “The more you buy into the concept [that] putting nonviolent people in jail for extreme amounts of time is a good idea, the more jobs you lose to the convict-lease system,” he states.

Unfortunately, big prisons still hold enormous sway on Capitol Hill, and only by examining centuries of historical context can Americans understand the powerful, greedy forces destroying the economy and creating widespread racial injustice. Watch the full video below:

—Posted by Emma Niles

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