Crimes Against Humanity is an attempt to shine a light on the impact of human trafficking on our collective identity. I hope these posts start a thoughtful discussion about the way systemic slavery defines our political, social and economic realities. While I plan to explore this painful topic from different angles, the relationship between oppressive sexual negativity and human trafficking will be my main focus.
Slavery is a toxic by-product of civilization. Our relationship with slavery goes beyond the evolution of America or the scourge of modern bondage. It is a constant corruption in the history of humanity. It pollutes every aspect of society. Fighting slavery forces us to examine who and what we are and to recognize the magnitude of change required for everyone to be free.
Slavery in the Ancient World
Slavery began with the end of hunter gatherer tribes. When humans began to settle in communities, ancient industries like farming and mining created the need for cheap labor. Tribes defeated in war, captured criminals and debtors provided inventory since antiquity. Texts from Hammurabi, ancient Greece and the Roman Empire all detail the acceptable uses and abuses of slaves. Great Wonders of the World including the Egyptian pyramids, and the Great Wall of China were created by slave labor.
In his new book, the Great Stain, author Noel Rae links passages in both Genesis and Ephesians as both rationales and justifications for slavery in both the Middle Ages and the transatlantic slave trade. Slavery began independently in Europe, Asia, and the Arab world, developing under different regional customs until the emergence of the Portuguese slave trade and the explosion of the Middle Passage.
The Middle Passage
Although the slavery of Native Americans predates the transatlantic slave trade, it remains the most infamous example of widespread slavery.
It revolved around the triangle of finished goods from Europe to Africa, slaves from Africa to America, and raw materials from America back to Europe. It is the second leg of this triangle or the Middle Passage, that devastated West Africa, enriched Europe, and defines North America to the present day. It not only murdered millions of people and disintegrated generations of families, the slave trade in general, and the slave ship in particular, established the complex relationships of racism and colorism that we still grapple with long after slavery was officially abolished.
Post Freedom Slavery
While the formal institution of slavery theoretically ended with the end of the Civil War, American law has been altered, contested, manipulated, and ignored to maintain a steady stream of cheap labor. Jim Crow laws prevented freed slaves from moving or getting decent jobs and then shuttled them into prison labor when they couldn’t find work. Sharecropping, systemic police brutality and mass murder of anyone who questioned the inherently corrupt system endured beyond the murders of King, Kennedy and Malcom X. And slavery was not limited to African descendants. Chinese slaves worked on our railroads and slavery continued to provide cheap labor in Mexico and South America.
Corporate Evolution of Slavery
Modern examples of slavery are both global and specialized. The increased demand for material goods creates an increased demand for cheap labor. The ability to cover vast distances by air and sea creates access to new sources of manpower that are not hindered by legal restrictions or negative publicity. At the same time, domestic slavery exists on both the macro and micro level from the underground sex slave to the government sanctioned inmate worker.
Diamond mines have long used slave labor in mining operations and the most prestigious jewelers on earth do little to separate legitimate operations from slave mines. Household names like Nestle have admitted to using slave labor in South East Asia and Fortune 500 companies from McDonald’s to Wal-Mart to Microsoft have been accused of profiting from slavery. Government entities on the local and state level not only fail to prevent corporate slavery, many states in the US continue to sell their prison population to corporate America at pennies on the dollar.
Struggling Against Slavery
If slavery is a deviation from civilized society, then it makes sense to think we can stop it. If it were isolated to a particular culture or historical period, then perhaps it will pass at some point. Maybe we could grow out of it.
But what if slavery is a fundamental component of economic development? What if ending slavery meant we had to end our financial systems, our lifestyles, and our cultures? What if facing slavery meant coming to terms with who we have always been as a species? Aside from a certain type of ant called the Polyergus Lucidus, no other animal besides humans enslaves other creatures. Perhaps every slave freed is a rejection of our toxic nature. Maybe every effort to end slavery is an attempt to expand beyond our base desires.
Perhaps we can’t end slavery without altering our fundamental relationship with each other. The risk is worth the reward.
About the Author
Gamal Hennessy is an entertainment attorney and author from New York City. His legal work focused on helping independent artists in publishing, music, and film benefit from their creativity. His Crime and Passion novels explore the darker elements of personality and society against the backdrop of international sex slavery.