In a trance of boredom, I scrolled through some Gawker comments. I do this from time to time, because the very elite trolls comment on Gawker content. In fact, Gawker is the flagship meeting place for most trolls, and their words are, at times, enjoyable. However, I came across one comment that had me fuming… or at the very least…shaking my head vigorously.
From memory, the article was about 12 Years a Slave, the 2013 period drama that launched Lupita Nyong’o to mainstream success. The film, as we all know, is a harsh reminder about the brutal and shameful racism that was the underpinning of American slavery.
But the commenter did not dare articulate sound knowledge about slavery and its atrocious consequences. The commenter did not detail how slavery completely disadvantages people of color to date, and has thoroughly resonated in America’s collective prejudicial consciousness.
No. Instead the commenter remarked, (with the eloquence of a Tea Party Republican), that “slavery is in the past. Let’s move on!” A quick traipse to the commenter’s Facebook page revealed that she is an older white woman from the Deep South. I calmed down a bit. For someone in her demographic, her words aren’t entirely revealing, and her ignorance isn’t entirely surprising. I’d hazard a guess that she’s a firm believer in the tragic teachings of Rush Limbaugh.
What does surprise me, though, is when people in my demographic espouse the same foolish beliefs. I’ve seen young people, millennials, the supposedly educated set, register their views on the futility of slavery. I remember sitting in class where a fellow student said (with a completely straight face) that student loans are modern day slavery. No, dude. I’ll throw you a bone if you said “indentured servitude,” but slavery…. chill.
I stopped fuming, and I began typing.
A while ago, I watched a great segment from comedian Louis C.K. about slavery and how we try to distance ourselves from its harsh realities. I appreciated his opinions; it’s nice to hear someone from the privileged class recognize their privilege and the racism from which it comes from.
Although the commenter is not likely to see this post, I think she, and others who believe her foolish ideologies, need a quick lesson about slavery and why, as a society, we should never “get over it.”
Slavery is NOT over. Really, it’s not…. slavery exists today. Like, seriously.
According to the International Labor Organization, there are over 21 million slaves in the world. The Walk Free Foundation puts this number at 30 million. The ILO reports that 11.4 million are women and girls and 9.5 million are men and boys. 4.5 million are sex slaves, and most slaves work in the domestic sector, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, or entertainment industries. Accurate statistics are very difficult to ascertain given the intangible nature of this expansive illegal enterprise.
Slaves are extremely vulnerable to a slew of health issues and violence. Forced laborers work in inhumane conditions, and are susceptible to unsanitary work conditions. Sex slaves are especially vulnerable to health concerns, among them HIV and STDs, unplanned pregnancy, unsafe abortions, rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Slavery is also connected to war, especially ethnically-fueled regional battles.
Today’s slavery is a vast geopolitical enterprise, which makes perpetuators hard to catch and prosecute. Even more troubling is the difficulty in finding help for victims. What’s even more daunting is the rate at which the global slave trade is growing, especially right here in the United States.
If you’d like more information about the global slave trade, then PLEASE take a look at this wonderful interactive put together by the Walk Free Foundation. WFF compiled impressive data into The Global Slavery Index 2013.
I am proud to say that many commenters responded to the one ignorant one with facts like these. They mentioned (with all the charm of a seasoned Gawker troll) that slavery is even more pervasive and sickening than the institution we’ve become familiar with during Black History Month.
And others, to her defense, remarked that the slavery we should *get over* isn’t the one that’s happening now… oh no, it’s the one that’s happened in the past… ummm really? Really.
Never mind that most slaves of the 21st century are people of color and are trafficked for that very reason. People of color in the global community are disproportionally poorer than their white counterparts. They are more likely to hail from heavily embattled regions, and are thus less likely to be missed. The socioeconomic status of Black, Brown, and Yellow victims are tied to a history of racist oppression….slavery plays a large role in this history.
And, if we are to demarcate slavery from then and now, the slavery of then (think, Transatlantic Slave Trade era) is connected to the plight of Black Americans today. Slavery, especially when exacerbated by Jim Crow, has led to an uneven playing field, where Black Americans are less likely to achieve success, and are more likely to end up dead or in jail. Institutional slavery can be equalled to our current criminal justice and prison systems, that actively work to trap young poor people who just so happen to be Black.
We were held at the starting line for over 200 years.
Slavery is also related to our attitudes today about Black people. Slavery was perpetuated, in part, by propaganda that demonized people of color, while exalting white oppressors. If we weren’t demonized, then we were patronized; we were made into dependent caricatures unable of taking care of ourselves and our families. Patronization served as a justification of our oppression. This, of course… wasn’t enough. Slave masters also divided us along phenotype. The pretty slaves were the mulattoes who got to work in the house, while the ugly dark slaves were outside picking cotton in sweltering heat for hours on end. The light and dark slaves eventually distanced themselves from one another, and today, we have twisted ideas about beauty.
These attitudes have transcended throughout history, and today, find their way into the Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin murders. Into very scary white savior complexes. Into neo-liberal financial schemes that wedge communities deeper into depression and war. Into the Cameroonian pop star Dencia who values white skin over her own. Into the celebration of Lupita Nyong’o as the standard-bearer of authentic Black beauty. Into the millions of other stories, both positive and negative, that will never come to light.
So, Gawker commenter, we can’t just *move on* from slavery. Because slavery, its whole and its parts, have not moved on from us.