400 Years of Slavery and the Lash of the Whip Can Still be Felt
October 30, 2019
Since human trafficking involves taking away someone's freedom in order to allow someone else to economically benefit, it is modern-day slavery.
The first recorded group of slaves arrived in the U.S. in 1619. This year, 2019, marks 400 years of slavery in this country. In 2000, the U.S. government passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, acknowledging the presence of modern day slaves on U.S. soil. There are similarities between historic slavery and modern day slavery and also many differences. According to Kevin Bales, slaves today are disposable. There is little need to provide long term housing, food, and health care to them. It is much easier to recruit vulnerable youth and adults, exploit them for sex and/or labor and when used up, move on to others who are vulnerable. Modern-day slavery is a lucrative business bringing in upwards of 150 billion dollars.
We no longer openly support slavery in its crudest forms, having abolished pre-Civil War chattel slavery in 1865. However, our acceptance of the new form of slavery is evident. Just as we turned a blind eye to slavery in historic times, we do so today, but in a more civilized manner.
The lash of the whip now comes in the form of our words, our ignorance, and our judgement. For example, underage victims of sex trafficking are sometimes called “child prostitutes” while trafficking victims from other countries are referred to as “illegals” when forced to work on U.S. soil. It was not long ago that the U.S. deported international trafficking victims, thereby denying them justice and ignoring what awaited them when they returned home to traffickers. It was not until 2010 that Ohio passed laws to protect these victims. We would arrest and stigmatize a 14 year old American teen who was forced by an adult to sell sex to another adult. We felt comfortable blaming a child by stigmatizing and incarcerating them. It wasn't until 2012 that Ohio decided to view child trafficking as child abuse.
Furthermore, just because laws change does not mean that our attitudes follow suit. When we stigmatize someone; other them; and make them feel excluded in our organizations, our houses of worship, and our daily interactions; it can feel like a whip across their back. It’s the whip of privilege and ignorance.
You can use your privilege for good or for evil. There is no in between. If you claim ignorance, you are using your privilege to deny reality. There is no safe space from this fight. You are working for oppression or you’re working for freedom from oppression. For those of you that are not so sure, working for the freedom of others is a full time job. As an abolitionist or emancipator you should know that your words are important. Your actions are important. What you spend your money on is important. What you spend your time on is important. Who you spend your time with is important. What you choose to wear or not wear and the places to which you go or don’t go is all important. How you choose to speak or not speak as you pass someone is all important. What you attend to and what you ignore is important. Understanding your privilege is important.
In historic slavery it was clear who was in charge and who was oppressed. When someone stepped out of line, the lash of the whip caused immediate pain. In the present time, we still use the lash of the whip. The lash comes in the form of our words, our actions, what we choose to attend to and what we don’t. How we vote, how we shop, who we give power and attention to and who we dismiss or ignore is the lash of the whip.
In historic slavery the whip was meant to whip you back into submission and to keep you in line. The current form of the whip is meant to whip you into submission and keep you in line. The former could cause immediate death, the current causes a slow death. The former cuts immediately across your back, the latter is death by a thousand cuts, and the cumulative effect is felt just as deeply and over time.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the issue of human trafficking is not as much about rescue and restore, as the U.S. government claims. Rather, it is mostly about human rights, emancipation, and freedom. These are the ideals we should aspire to uphold in the U.S. and around the world.
It’s a critical time. Instead of trivializing the issue by believing the fight to end trafficking is solely about rescuing victims, let’s end the exploitation and victimization of others. Fighting for freedom means we have to go deeper than that and not compartmentalize our actions for freedom and “do” anti-trafficking work. We need to spend our time on real human rights violations and daily actions to support a pro-freedom and anti-trafficking stance and “be” a freedom fighter in all we do.