The Common Good

Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery

She is a girl whose father sold her to strangers. They took her far from home, and now she is a prostitute. He works for no money paying off the debt of a long dead ancestor. Another man works in a field, stolen from his home to labor for the profit of people whose language he does not speak. All are slaves today. Yet, they could have been slaves at almost any moment in human history. Slavery has been so widespread that if we look deeply enough into our history, we will see our enslaved ancestors. They have also been known by the name of serf, peon, indentured servant.

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A slave is considered a thing, domestic animal, property with few if any rights under the law, not a subject of the law but an object of the law. Slave societies regard slaves as a lesser humanity, without virtue, essentially vicious thus justifiably enslaved. Slaves bear the brutality of a society, and at the same time, work to hold onto their humanity. They concentrate to hear an internal whisper that says: "You are still a child of God and God loves you."

On March 25th the United Nations observed the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This year's theme was "Breaking the Silence, Beating the Drums." It references the talking drums of traditional African societies that spread news across distances. It is important to break the silence about the consequences of the history of slavery and about the forms slavery takes today.

Slavery is a generational curse. Its victims are not only those who suffered the shame and degradation of being loaded as cargo on a slave ship, of the auction block, of the chains and the lash upon their bodies, but the victims are also their descendants who still live with psychological chains, lash, and auction block. The victims of the transatlantic slave trade that lasted some 400 years are living today in societies around the world where they are still kept on the margins and suffer in their bodies the racist pathologies of various societies around the globe.

March 25th this year and in years to come is a day to remember. It is a time to remember the horror, and it is a time to remember the strength and resilience of people who held onto their philosophy, cosmology, religion, music, cooking, crafts, and arts. It is a time to remember their drive and determination to make the founding documents of the United States that proclaim liberty true in fact. Some 27 million people live in slavery today. They live in chattel slavery and debt bondage. They are infants sold through illegal adoption, child soldiers, and people enslaved to harvest their organs. Wisdom commands us to remember, and with remembrance comes responsibility to not only beat the drum but to bring an end to the horror of slavery.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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