by Max Sirak
“I freed thousands of slaves; I could have freed more if they knew they were slaves.” (Harriet Tubman.) (Although there's no historical evidence she ever said it. But it's a good line. And she was a bad bitch.)
Freedom has been on my mind a lot lately. This makes sense. I'm an American. It's July. And, a week ago today, I did my patriotic duty – gorging myself on grilled flesh, drinking cheap beer, and watching fake bombs burst in the air.
4th of July half-kidding aside, the real reason I've been thinking about freedom is because a couple weeks prior, I was thinking a lot about it's opposite. See – I co-host a podcast appropriately titled, Ignorant and Uninformed. Last week we were discussing the topic, “What gives you the right?” Over the course of the EpiDose (that's what we call them. It's not a typo. I mean, sure, it was originally. But still.) the topic of slavery came up.
Now, the whole premise of the podcast is myself and two friends randomly drawing listener submitted topics and talking about them for thirty minutes. We don't edit. We don't use the Internet. We just sit down, pull a piece of paper out of a bowl, discuss, and see where it goes.
About a year ago or so ago, I started toying around with the idea of producing additional content inspired by our weekly release. I came up with two ideas. The first was fact checking all the ridiculous nonsense we say and calling us out. The second, in attempts to make us all a little less ignorant and uninformed, was to shine light on an idea, concept, event, etc. that came up during the show.
All of this is to say, while doing research for that EpiDoses' auxiliary releases, I found a website and it made me sad. Then I got real mad.
Modern Day Slavery
Here – look. Anti-Slavery International has been around for 177 years. It's one of the oldest abolitionist organizations. It fights, to this day, against human rights violations and slavery of all kinds. These are people coming together and fighting the good fight. Nothing to be sad about here, right?
I start going through the site. I click the “Slavery Today” button in their navigation menu. I learn about the horrors of bonded labor, or as I think it should be called, “hopeless generational indentured servitude.” I learn about supply chain slavery, or “the gory reality behind where all our neat, little devices come from.”
Next, it's human trafficking, sex slavery, child labor, and your traditional generational slavery. All of which we know still happens some place in the world – but since, it's “over there,” we keep it at an intellectual arm's length. Out of sight. Out of mind. And happily we go merrily about our way – tra-la tra-la…
Yes, these grievous offenses are horrible. No, there is no excuse. Yes, it's appalling to kidnap children. Yes, it's immoral to treat people as beasts forcing them to burden. And, surely it's unconscionable to pass unconquerable debt down through generations and force entire families to work for free, forever. And, yet none of this brought about my despair.
It wasn't until I clicked “What Is Modern Slavery” and began to read that sadness took hold.
- “Slavery did not end with abolition in the 19th century.” (Alright. Makes sense. So, my history books lied about slavery ending with the Civil War. Shocking.)
- “According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) around 21 million men, women and children around the world are in a form of slavery.” (Damn. That's a lot of people.)
And then I got to the criteria of what constitutes slavery. And that's when the real trouble began.
Swallow The Sadness
Oh, no. I mean it. And there's not an ounce of exceptionalism here. Yeah, I am pointing a finger at you so I know there are three more pointing back at me. Not only am I one, but you are too. So are all my friends and family. So is pretty much everyone I've ever met.
Don't believe me? Fine. Don't want to believe me? Perfect.
Ignorance has always been the weapon of the masters, just ask Frederick Douglass. There's a reason it was illegal to teach slaves to read. Because knowledge leads to truth and, as you may have heard, truth can set you free.
So look – here's your out – if you'd rather stick your fingers in your ears and go “la-la-la-la-la” then “Bye, Felicia.” Peace be with you. Enjoy the rest of your captivity. I hope that Buzzfeed list of cats in sweaters makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, because it's about to get dirty and real.
– Have you ever felt forced to work? You know – you wake one morning feeling a little beat down from the day(s) before. You're a little sniffly or achy. Maybe you've got a pesky cough that's lingering. And, really what you need most, what your body, mind, and spirit are screaming at you to do – is rest. But you can't. You've got to get up, get out, and get something because you've got student loans, rent/mortgage, credit card debt, health insurance, auto insurance, car payments, and maybe even a family to feed. (How did you get all these obligations? Why, by doing what you're supposed to do.)
– Ever had to go in on your day off? Maybe you had to finish up a project or cover a shift. Ever tried to take some vacation time, only to decide beforehand to not even request the time off because you knew there are was too much on your plate? Was it a bad time for the company? Yeah? You too, huh? That's weird. (Why is it we feel this way? Why are we less important than those we work for?)
– Remember that one day, last week, when you got home from work all tired and frustrated? You know, because all the work you've been doing over the last three months proved useless, what with the new re-structuring of the organization. Or, was it the re-branding and new marketing campaign that rendered your project useless? Did you get re-assigned to a new division because the person they hired to replace your old boss doesn't like your resting bitch face? (Ever worked some place where you felt like a robot or just a number? Where you weren't appreciated or even treated like a person?)
– Or, have you ever just felt like picking up and leaving? Does relocating to a different place, starting out fresh, cleaning the slate, or any other euphemism we use when we talk about major life changes sound good to you? Wonderful! How'd it go? Oh, you never made it. Why not? Oh, you're trapped? Damn. Was it finances? A relationship? Doesn't matter.
Have you ever felt any of those ways? Amazing how comfy our chains are, huh? Anti-Slavery International says, “There are many different characteristics that distinguish slavery from other human rights violations, however only one needs to be present for slavery to exist.” It then goes on to list four statements. Four statements I reflected to you in the questions above. Nod your head up and down in response to even one of those, and you my friend, are a slave. Want to know what's worse? Chances are – you did it to yourself.
Feel The Burn
If you're reading this, it probably means there isn't an actual person cracking a whip and screaming at you to get back to work. Which is good. Because that would be terrible. However, it also probably means there's a metaphoric overseer stalking back and forth between your ears, waiting with a smirk for you to step out of line. Meet your inner-master. The one you chose yourself.
That's right. We enslave ourselves. Sure, culture, the media, and society all help. They hypnotize us into wanting to buy the ideas and lives they sell. They offer us immediate gratification with no warning of what that does to appetite. They provide endless assurance that their way is the right way with no mention of alternatives. They obfuscate the obvious – that all their foisted ideals and beliefs are choices – and enlist an army of enforcers, we the complicit consumers, to maintain the peace and order.
How does that make you feel, slave? Is it comforting and secure? Do you like the familiar weight of the chains you've been carrying for so long you forgot they were there? Are they cold against your skin? Is it nice to know all your minutes and days have been spent shackled in service to something you probably don't even believe in? Can you feel the bitter disgust rising up within you as you realize the only one to blame for this life you don't love is yourself? Does it make you angry?
Good. I hope it does. It should. Because, like Fredrick Douglas said in his July 5th speech in 1852: “Oppression makes a wise man mad.” Explore your rage and use it. Don't be dumb. Don't take it out on anyone else. It isn't their fault. You did this. So get inside your own head and rebel. Rise up against your inner-master. Examine what you think you know about the world and your life – and make damn well sure it's not some fairy tale you tell yourself.
Usually, I like to provide some sort of actionable steps, a plan you can follow to make life a little better or easier. But not this month. There is no plan. There are no steps. It's up to you to fight your own battle. And, hell – I say embrace the anger. Use it constructively. Feel it's raw power. Don't be afraid. Go darkside. Strike down your master. Not the fakes ones you blame outside. The real one. Inside.
You are a slave. Now wake the fuck up and do something about it.