KAMLOOPS — The recent shocking events in Charlottesville have unleashed many a deep emotion, as well as vociferation of opinions. The world was shocked and for good reasons. Marches ensued, thousands affirming that no human being matters less than others, period. Many are trying to make that a reality where we are and beyond.
We want to have compassion and kindness fueling our intentions, thoughtfulness to carry us towards a place where we all get along and make life work rather seamlessly. We want all people to be treated with respect, we want no violence and we shudder when we think that throughout time, humans enslaved, killed, and otherwise treated fellow humans in reprehensible ways. Wars still plague our world, but slavery was abolished a long time ago, and its ill effects on people need to be remembered (rather than celebrated with statues) so that history does not take us there again. Right?
Well, not so fast. Admit it or not, taking down all statues representing controversial historic figures will be, at best, the tip of the iceberg. Though it became the starter for the Charlottesville riot, the statue of a Confederate general and many others like it should help bring awareness to the mostly hidden issue of slavery that still plagues our world.
Drawing attention to it is but a moral duty that I cannot ignore. A rather conservative estimate by an organization called Free the Slaves, places the number of slaves at 21 million worldwide, with 78 percent of them in industries that rely on manual labour, and 22 percent in sex trade (other estimates place the figure at over 35 million slaves.) A quarter of these are children.
Many of the products we use may include the work of slaves, and for the most part, we are no wiser about their provenience. We buy, we use, we discard, then repeat. The real price of many of the items we buy and rush towards when a sale is on, is higher than we can imagine. It involves long-term, often lifelong suffering of the kind we cannot imagine. We balk at the high prices tags of fairly-traded products, and often debate whether they are worth it.
Though visuals help, we do not see too many photos or videos of those trapped in slavery because there aren’t too many people allowed to witness the horrid operations. That makes the issue easy to ignore, more so when sly marketing wizards make us want more of the next best thing. At their ugly end, traffickers have all the reasons to keep it out of sight, the biggest one of all being the $150 billion in illicit profits annually.
What can individuals do? Consume less, be picky about what you buy, and support organizations that are working hard to free slaves and ensure that people in poor countries stand a chance. Inquire directly to companies and corporations whose products you prefer to buy about whether they employ slavery and demand that they stop that. It may seem small, but many small dents create a bigger one eventually.
It is uncomfortable to think that the world still favours some humans over the others, but the more we do it and recognize it, the higher the chance of changing it sooner than later. It feels wrong to say it aloud, yet based on what most of us pay attention to, some lives matter less. Like I said, it feels shameful to realize and admit that, but facts speak louder than words.
Case in point: While the events in Charlottesville and Barcelona shook the world, mudslides in Sierra Leone displaced more than 20,000 people and killed up to 500 (hundreds of people are still unaccounted for,) 150 of whom are children. Aside from what is shaping up to be one of the deadliest environmental disasters in Africa in recent years, cholera and malaria are ravaging the country as well.
Imagine if mudslides happened somewhere closer to home.
Then there are huge, heartbreaking devastating crises that have been happening in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Nigeria. They have been happening for a while now, yet few know enough about that. Over 20 million of people are suffering from famine, with 1.4 million or more children at risk of starving to death among them.
Again, imagine if an equal number of people in a different part of the world would be facing the same horrible situation.
The United Nations has characterized this as the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. Environmental and war-related causes are at the root of this, and they are also among the contributing factors to our world’s hidden and shameful slavery problem. It is all enmeshed but if we were to add to that mix our awareness on the issue, things could change.
With so much turmoil in local and world politics, those who have no power to speak for themselves or draw attention to their plight out of fear mostly, are pushed even more so to the edges of life, where living as if you’re dead becomes a dreadful reality. Our individual power to change that is limited, yet awareness in the age of information is a first step. Once seen, these things should not be unseen.
Standing up for human life, no matter the differences (which only make the uniqueness of life stand outs,) is a wonderful and mandatory thing for everyone with a conscience. There is no manual on how to do it, nor is there a singular way to go about it. It is high time we start acknowledging what we are all uncomfortable to say aloud, but know and try to forget: some lives matter more than others.
It is up to each of us and all of us to spread the word, talk about it and change things. Anything less than that makes us bystanders; there is no honour or humanity in that.