America has a long history of systemic racism: From the dehumanization of black people to justify slavery to the policies of segregation and mass incarceration that followed emancipation, the country has always made it difficult for many minorities to rise out of their literal and figurative shackles.
The video above, from the advocacy group Equal Justice Initiative, paints that history. It goes from the moment slaves were first brought to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619 to the thriving 19th-century slave trade of Montgomery, Alabama, to the Jim Crow policies of the 1870s through 1960s that segregated black Americans and kept them from voting — at times through pure terrorism. The video then goes into the subtler policies of today, which have racially disparate effects despite appearing race-neutral — including racial disparities in police use of force, the higher rates of incarceration among African Americans, and longer prison sentences black people tend to get when they're convicted.
The walk through history shows how black people have been consistently pushed down by US policy. The shackles of slavery deprived black Americans of any freedom, and then segregation ensured wealthier neighborhoods and better job prospects remained out of reach once they were free. When Jim Crow policies finally began collapsing under the civil rights movement, black communities were left mired in socioeconomic stagnation after decades of oppression — which led many to turn to crime as their only outlet for making ends meet. So as the war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies kicked in, black neighborhoods were more likely to be consumed by crime — and residents have faced the brunt of mass incarceration as a result.
It's this chain of history that groups like the Equal Justice Initiative point to when they say segregation and mass incarceration are an evolution of slavery. It's not that the three policies are equally abhorrent and have the exact same effects, but rather that they have all helped perpetuate the systemic oppression of African Americans through US history.