Vanity Fair‘s current over-Thor-in-a-flattering-red-t-shirt’s-right-shoulder headline, “Can a man of God end a 21st-century SLAVE TRADE?”* caught my attention while checking out of the grocery store today. I haven’t bought a magazine in forever, and yet after just putzing around watching a bit of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid last night, I confess that I do not have the fortitude to quit reading cold turkey. (Sidebar: I’d never seen that movie, but it seems to me that besides J.K. Rowling owing her success to her J.R.R. Tolkien ripoff name, she also wasn’t very creative after all with Lord Voldemort. Lord Baltimore. Lord Voldemort. Just sayin’. End Sidebar.)
When I was in the Air Force, because of both the protect-the-weak aspect of the work and the worldwide deployment, in my last few years there was recurring training on human trafficking. We were to be vigilant on duty and off duty–if you get my drift. Aren’t euphemisms great? Instead of sex-slave, we say human trafficking. Wouldn’t want to offend the P.C. gods. Anyhow, sex-slaves are one thing, but two years into my re-indoctrination into the civilian world, I found myself teaching remedial math at a local inner-city (read: black and Hispanic) high school. Out of the blue I gathered that something fishy is going on. On the bulletin board outside my classroom hung all these student projects that were calling for the end of slavery. “WTF?!” was all I could not say out loud. Thirteen year old kids who couldn’t fill out a multiplication table were being encouraged to affirm that not enough was being done to end slavery? I was speechless. Add to this that students wrote sentences that were allowed to make it to the wall like, “This took me back 150 years.”
In any case, I just finished up learning about the origins of Friars and Monks and the like, so when I opened up the magazine and saw that the “man of God” was a Friar who photographed well, I began to read. Then the it was my turn, so I let my training take over and made the command decision to add the magazine to my cart. My question, “What the hell is going on with slavery? I thought that that abomination was eradicated once and for all from the planet. Am I really that out of touch?”
I think I mentioned previously that one concept that we discussed last semester was formal curriculum versus hidden curriculum. Churches are notorious for lacking due diligence to match these two up, and if Friar Xavier Plassat can be trusted, Brazil is guilty of the same charge. Slavery (formal) is illegal, yes. But “conditions analogous to slavery” (hidden) are still present.
Mom, Dad: don’t worry. I haven’t purchased a plane ticket.
Here’s my problem with the word slavery being thrown around today. It’s sensational nature precedes and overpowers it’s descriptive nature. That’s my judgement. America is so sensitive and guilty over its unconscionable past that, me as evidence, using the word slavery sells magazines (and online ads…). And social programs. And makes young white teachers sleep easy at night because they find themselves standing nobly amidst an atrocity, much like Lincoln and the Blue. I shamefully admit that “slavery” interests me more than “human trafficking.” But it’s an abuse of a journalist’s responsibility just the same.
For any cranky readers, please calm down and realize that I haven’t opined one way or another on the reported situation in Brazil. I will now. It’s horrific. The horror is not the conditions (though they are horrible) but that money has such an effect on people that impoverished, uneducated men and women hop on buses that are taking them who knows where, for who knows how long, and that other calculating men and women send out those buses to be able to “improve” their standard of living.
My take? I work in the heart of downtown Denver. The homeless are unmissable. One day I got a call that video security noticed a person laying outside the back door and he/she looked unresponsive. I made my way to the back door and opened it, hoping for the best. I saw matted grey hair and a lot of layers of black clothing. I said, “Excuse me, sir. But I think you are going to have to move from this spot.” His head turned, and she said, barked rather, “Of course, I have to fucking move.” (For a more accurate account of her demeanor, think back to the Princess Bride “Booooooo” scene.)
I do not possess the mental capacity to discern all the nuances of that exchange. What does it matter what I think about slavery in Brazil? I think Brazilians need to stop slavery. I’m not the one turning a blind eye to it. Are you? How about you? Are you turning a blind eye to slavery?
That homeless woman though? Some dad, some mom, some brother, some sister, some child, someone was the first to turn a blind eye on her. It surely wasn’t me. And least that’s what I tell myself so I can sleep at night.
*Langewiesche, William. “Slaves Without Chains.” Vanity Fair Holiday 2015/2016: 94+.