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+.
Black People does not exist. Black People is not an organization. Black People has no leader. Black People has no agenda. Black People has no logo. Black People is not looking to increase its membership. Black People has no bank account. Black People has no buildings.
Black People does not hate White People. Black People does not believe in looting. Black People does not encourage lawlessness. Black People does not teach its young members to ignore policemen. Black People does not fear for its life.
Black People does not align itself with views held by Al Sharpton, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, or Bill Cosby. Black People does not have a dress code. Black People does not believe the dream is deferred.
Black People is not responsible for Ferguson. Black People does not support Michael Brown’s family. Black People is not angry at Darren Wilson. Black People is not angry, period. That’s because there is no Black People.
You may wonder where Black People came from if it does not exist. You may be curious and ask, “Did Black People ever exist?” The answer is irrelevant to the universal goal. The goal is to get there. And no, there will never be defined more clearly than as an abstract place that I want to arrive at safely–with you.
The only way to get there is together. It’s the slogan of this blog. It is by no means an original concept. Air Force pilots and flight crews say it in the negative or inverse, well, they say it this way: “You don’t crash in compartments.” It is a stark reminder that aircrews use to eloquently express the concept if you know something is wrong with the flight and choose to let an outside pressure–real or perceived–prevent you from sharing the information and consequently the aircraft crashes, you die too. In this case, the mechanical problem is the widespread belief of a falsehood–that Black People is a real thing.
Crew, Black People does not exist. This has been true for some time, but it is now clear that the safe landing of this flight depends on you believing it. Black People does not exist. There is no Black People. Believe it.
This blog has a persona that I’ve been attempting to carefully control. It hasn’t been the full picture, though, and sometimes I don’t feel good about not sharing everything. As an experiment then, here’s some of what you’ve been missing:
“Hi Pete…maybe not cold blooded, but perhaps a bit narrow visioned, or at least inconsiderate, as a result of white male privilege…brutal enslavement of women is not a thing of the past. Sadly, that is not made up. And I disagree that it was “cured” by the U.S. military riding in on their white horse. It happens here too.”
I just finished watching “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and I have to say I’m in the mood to talk about my feelings. Brutal enslavement of women is not sanctioned by anyone (public or private) in the United States of America.
What are you even talking about?
Individual crimes happen, sure, but those will never stop happening. In fact, I heard the other day that a white male was murdered. I cried myself to sleep that night. Because I’m white. And I’m a male.
The terrible crimes against women that happen in America and occasionally are bizarre enough to receive national news coverage (which are the only things I can possibly imagine you’re referencing as evidence of women being enslaved “here”–you do know slavery is against the law here, right?), these individual crimes aren’t even in the same categorical universe as the situation in Afghanistan–the situation that is causing Afghan women to choose to burn themselves alive.
Wait a minute. I think I know what’s happened here. Yes, it’s all becoming clear now. Because I look like your dad, who I can only assume you hate, you think you get to bring up my “race” or my “culture” or my “ethnicity” without fear of reprisal. That must be it. Am I close?
To be clear: (I was taught once to not use the phrase “I think” when writing, because of course each of us only ever writes our opinion. But for those of you who haven’t learned that ev-er-y-thing is opinion, I’ll use “I think” here.) I read M-‘s poem. I thought it was good. I didn’t think it was great. But I thought it had the potential to be great. I never doubted that Afghan girls were burning themselves alive, though I don’t have time to focus on the news these days, and until reading the poem, I wasn’t aware they were doing this. The purpose of this course is to teach us to write better, teach us to use imagery, etc., teach us to write in a way that causes the reader–any reader–to feel what we (the writer) intended to be felt. I did not “feel” that M-‘s word choice was as effectively-imagery-ridden as it could be, and, in my own style, I told her as much.
S-, R-, and K-, that you chimed in on this discussion did nothing except reveal how misaligned your understandings’ of life on planet Earth are. Suffice it to say, because I have responded to you despite the fact that you used words like “offended” and “inconsiderate”, I’m now very afraid that some actual repercussion will occur, and, if so, that could result in me losing some money. Because I clearly think I know everything, I composed a swan song that I’d like to share with you now. Please write this down, and when able, commit it to memory:
College is the last time in your life
When you might be given actual honest feedback.
However, at your bidding, in this class, and from now on,
I’ll only say the most unoffensive and considerate things about everything you write.
That should cause
Some real growth.
I know I’m
Looking forward to it.
I’m writing this letter to you to give you notice that I’m coming after you. You’re toxic. Every time I think you’re finally gone, you pop right back up again. Over the years, I’ve learned to cope with your appearances in private capacities, but apparently some inner reservoir of boldness has caused you to gain an increasing amount of state sponsorship.
Do you even know what I’m referring to? No? Two weeks ago, we were required to read Paul Kivel’s The Culture of Power at work. How in the hell did you convince a public school district in 2013 that you deserve an audience?
Hiding between the lines of that article, you entered the room to remind us of some challenges that lay ahead. As it turned out, no amount of wishful thinking on my part would hide the fact that you were just getting started. Once you focused our attention on our differences, you became the predominant theme of the day.
Let me me clear: I have always despised you. In the past, however, I thought if I ignored you that you would go away. That day, you showed me the error of my ways. I now know that my choice to not give you the attention you so desperately desired caused you to misunderstand me. You misunderstood my thoughts about being in the “culture of power.” Allow me to state them plainly: I know that I should be in the “culture of power.” Two of your further attempts to infect me that day illustrate your weakness and will help demonstrate how I know that I’m better than you.
First, you said, “You’re going to be dealing with kids whose parents taught them to never trust white people.” My father never–not ever–taught me such a thing. On the “Things to Teach Children” continuum “Never Trust (fill in the culture) People” is close-minded and weak. Ever read Thucydides? Heard of the US Civil War? Cultures who think like you die out.
Second, you said, “To motivate them, I say to my students, ‘Are you telling me you always want a white president?'” Never have I, nor anyone else I know in the “culture of power,” ever considered skin tone when voting. A worthy candidate is difficult enough to find as it is. What possible good could come from adding clearly irrelevant, meaningless criteria?
I guess the mistake is probably mine. For some reason I projected that because I wanted you to die, you also wanted you to die. Now that I’ve had the time to think about it for a second, I realize that that would be suicide. And not many things willingly commit suicide. But die you must. So no more will I idly ignore you. Beginning now, I’m going on the offensive. I’m coming to kill you. My weapon is constant, consistent correction.
If you want to survive, grow eyes in the back of your head. Avoid public places. If you care for your friends, avoid them. Don’t stay in any one place too long. Get comfortable wearing a different size shoe. I really hope you think I’m joking. I’m begging you to test my resolve. Do it.
Your sworn enemy,