A Higher Standard



So I spent three months working with a bunch of really great people on a video about incarceration in America. Of course the work was off and on, but videos like that are very difficult to get right because those situations are unsurprisingly complex. 

People who know about the full complexity will talk your ear off for about four days straight and at the end you’ll come away thinking “well, this is screwed up, but I’m not really sure how or why and obviously there’s nothing to be done about it.” But a point of pride for me is the ability to take complicated situations and distill them down for broader understanding. 

Of course, it also means that I don’t talk about everything. A lot of people in the comments of that video are criticizing me for not discussing race, which is indeed an important factor and the justice system does appear to be racially biased. 

I argue that taking on that issue would have blurred the over-arching theme I wanted to have with that video, which is that the justice system (even if it wasn’t racist) is broken. Which it is. 

They argue that I could have mentioned race in passing and that would have been better than nothing. I completely disagree…I think mentioning it in passing would have been a huge disservice to the complexity of the issue. There is clearly racial bias in the criminal justice system but where and why exactly it occurs is extremely complicated. I’ve seen a lot of really alarming stats, but when I tried to find their sources I was unable to. 

You can’t boil it down to a sentence…that’s the point of these videos…that the sound byte mentality of the news media is almost as broken as the policy of mass incarceration. I could of plopped some misleading statistic in the middle of the video, but that’s the opposite of my goal.

Talking to experts on incarceration made it clear that there was no one-sentence (or even one minute) summary that could in any way do that conversation justice. 

There’s a part of me that’s annoyed…I do my best to sometimes make videos about complicated issues that would otherwise never be discussed on a medium like YouTube. Videos like this are terrifying to make for this exact reason. John and I were terrified of posting “Human Sexuality is Complicated” because we knew we’d catch flak for not telling the whole story (which we did.) And I was scared to post that video yesterday for the same reasons. 

By far the easiest way to avoid these criticisms would be to not make videos about complicated topics. And so that little voice in my head is like “JESUS STOP GIVING ME SUCH A HARD TIME! AT LEAST I’M TRYING!”

But instead of being annoyed, I’m going to be thankful. Thankful to have intelligent people pushing me to create content that is more complete and more accurate than what a lot of major news networks can cobble together. Thankful for the opportunity to do that. Thankful for the ability to talk to experts and get free animation work provided in exchange for mentioning Visual.ly in my video. Thankfu

For plain-text version of this Infographic, visit: https://www.aclu.org/combating-mass-incarceration-facts-1

I think this is how Hank could have added race into the equation: After he mentions that 41% of juveniles are incarcerated by the age of 23 (which is a horrifying statistic), he could say that people of color are overrepresented among these incarcerated juveniles. That’s it. He can break it down the way the above ACLU infographic does, but he doesn’t even have to.

I included this infographic because it is an overview, just like a 4-minute youtube video. The infographic includes many statistics similar to the ones in Hank’s video and the fact that it breaks down race — as briefly and incompletely as it does — demonstrates an anti-racist perspective.

Hank wrote that including one line about racial disparity does the topic a disservice, but if including one line is a disservice, what does that make ignoring the topic?

The fact that people of color are incarcerated at higher rates than white people doesn’t “blur the overarching theme” of the video, it is a necessary part of the discussion on mass incarceration.