Slavery

the Web Editors 01-12-2017

Screenshot via black-ish/Facebook

“You don’t think I care about this country?” asks Dre, an African American character played by Anthony Anderson, on the television show black-ish, in the Jan. 11 episode “Lemons.”

“I love this country, even though at times it doesn’t love me back.”

Abby Olcese 10-06-2016

Image via 'The Birth of a Nation'/Facebook

An early scene in Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation depicts the wedding of two slaves. As the bride and groom dance joyfully with each other in the midst of a circle of their fellow slaves, the group around them sings: “You got a right, you got a right, you got a right to the tree of life.”

Several scenes later, Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit plays as the camera pans out slowly to show a massive live oak tree full of lynched black bodies. It’s a nauseating image, and the two scenes draw a heartbreaking connection: In this world, oppressed people claiming their right to the tree of life can be a death sentence.

Juliet Vedral 10-05-2016

Image via "Birth of a Nation"/Facebook

James Baldwin, the American author wrote about this white inertia:

“Northerners proffer their indignation about the South as a kind of badge, as proof of good intentions; never suspecting that they thus increase, in the heart of the Negro they are speaking to, a kind of helpless pain and rage -- and pity. Negroes know how little most white people are prepared to implement their words with deeds, how little, when the chips are down, they are prepared to risk. And this long history of moral evasion has had an unhealthy effect on the total life of the country, and has eroded whatever respect Negroes may once have felt for white people.” (The Price of the Ticket, p. 266)

I came away from the film asking the question: Knowing that I have white privilege, what am I willing to risk to further the cause of racial justice?

Peter Armstrong 09-02-2016

Image via /Shutterstock.com

The continued use of the language of reconciliation around this news obfuscates the need for real, full-fledged atonement.

At a moment like this, while the nation watches Georgetown takes this opportunity to correct the sins of its past, white Americans must not demand reconciliation. We must take the work of atonement upon our own shoulders. To do otherwise is to live as if Jesus’ life were not a gift, but something God owed to us from the beginning.

Lisa Sharon Harper 06-30-2016

THE NATION'S FIRST blockbuster television miniseries, Roots, shocked the nation when it started airing on Jan. 23, 1977. Based on Alex Haley’s research on his own family’s story and adapted for television from Haley’s novel, Roots offered the world its first cinematic depiction of Africa and Africans unfiltered through the conduit of Hollywood’s racialized imagination. White Tarzan and Jane were nowhere to be found in Juffure, Gambia. Kunta Kinte was the leading man. Fanta was his ingénue—black ... and beautiful.

For eight nights the Kinte family unfolded from generation to generation, focused on individual family members’ struggles against generations of evil white slave masters.

But the 2016 “reimagined” version of Roots places the snatched descendants of Omoro and Binta Kinte squarely within the unyielding machine of the international slave trade—an economic system that, fundamentally, sought the well-being of European nations at the expense of the rest of the world.

In 380 B.C.E., Plato articulated a grand idea in his treatise The Republic. There is this thing called “race,” he posited. Race is determined by the kind of metal a person is made of, he said: silver, gold, iron, or copper. A person’s race determines how that person serves society.

The transatlantic slave trade took Plato’s notion and expanded the “republic” to encompass the world. Guided by Western philosophers’ notions of human hierarchy, Western popes and monarchs declared the right of Europeans to enslave “uncivilized” peoples for the benefit of the crown. It didn’t take long for Plato’s copper and gold to morph into Virginia judicial law that delineated between slaves and servants based on skin color. Colonial “races” became white, black, and red.

Image via STX Entertainment / RNS

It’s a long way from Hollywood, yet a swampy corner of southeast Mississippi has given the film world its latest hero — or maybe antihero.

His name is Newton Knight, born 180 years ago and played by Matthew McConaughey in the The Free State of Jones, which opened around the country on June 24.

the Web Editors 02-25-2016

Mississippi state capitol. Image via /Shutterstock.com

In his fathomless wisdom, the governor of Mississippi has declared April to be “Confederate Heritage Month,” though the proclamation was curiously missing from the State of Mississippi website, reports the Jackson Free Press.

Gov. Phil Bryant's proclamation — first posted on the website of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — states that “it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past.” And what better time? After all, April 25 “is set aside as Confederate Memorial Day to honor those who served in the Confederacy” — why not give them an entire month?

ISIS flag hangs in Palestinian refugee camp. Image via REUTERS/Ali Hashisho/RNS

The wife of a now-deceased Islamic State leader has been charged for her alleged role in last year’s death of American aid worker Kayla Jean Mueller. Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar, 25, the widow of former ISIS leader Abu Sayyaf, allegedly conspired to provide support to the terrorist group, often forcibly holding Mueller in the couple’s homes where she was subjected to repeated sexual abuse by ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Mueller died in February 2015.

Jim Wallis 12-17-2015

Bryan Stevenson, the nation’s premier lawyer on mass incarceration and the death penalty, says slavery never ended. It just evolved.

I just spent two days with 50 other faith leaders at Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., where Bryan emphasized four basic essentials for criminal justice reform in America: 1) Proximity to those most impacted, 2) Changing the narrative, 3) Hope replacing hopelessness, and 4) Committing ourselves to uncomfortable things, because injustice is never overcome by just doing comfortable things.

Jesse James DeConto 11-10-2015

Image via Jennifer Harvey / RNS

A white scholar touring churches across the nation is trying to convince Christians that racial reconciliation is not enough — it’s time to start talking about reparations for descendants of slaves.

And among mostly white, mainline Protestants this controversial — some would say unrealistic — notion is getting a hearing.

What divides the races in America, says Drake University ethicist Jennifer Harvey, is not the failure to embrace differences but the failure of white Americans to repent and repair the sins of the past.

Marcia Fingal 08-31-2015

Screenshot of Chibok Girls: 500 Days in Captivity/YouTube/Odyssey Networks

Five hundred days in captivity is a long time for anyone, let alone teen girls. But this is exactly the case for 219 students kidnapped and still missing. Under the cover of darkness on April 14, 2014, the terrorist group Boko Haram, dressed as military soldiers, abducted 276 female students from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria. They plundered and burned the school to the ground and forced the young girls into large trucks. A total of 57 girls escaped on their own, but 219 grieving families still await news of their daughters' fate. Based on the reports of other Boko Haram abductees, it's believed the Chibok girls have been sold as child brides, forced into sexual slavery, turned into unwilling weapons of terrorism. Shocking revelations ... as this story has virtually disappeared from the headlines.

What if this had happened in the United States or Europe?

Five hundred days in captivity is a long time for anyone, let alone teen girls. But this is exactly the case for 219 students kidnapped and still missing. Under the cover of darkness on April 14, 2014, the terrorist group Boko Haram, dressed as military soldiers, abducted 276 female students from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria. They plundered and burned the school to the ground and forced the young girls into large trucks. A total of 57 girls escaped on their own, but 219 grieving families still await news of their daughters' fate. Based on the reports of other Boko Haram abductees, it's believed the Chibok girls have been sold as child brides, forced into sexual slavery, turned into unwilling weapons of terrorism. Shocking revelations ... as this story has virtually disappeared from the headlines.

What if this had happened in the United States or Europe?

John Wagner 08-26-2015

Image via /Shutterstock

Recently, several human rights groups noted that the U.S. State Department has upgraded the status of some countries, notably Malaysia and Cuba, regarding human trafficking in order to improve diplomatic relations with those countries. Human trafficking, which is modern day slavery, is the illegal buying and selling of people, typically for forced labor or forced prostitution. 

As a human rights worker, I know it is vitally important to tell the truth about human rights and to not falsify official reports about human rights in order to achieve diplomatic goals.

Human rights workers are rarely “purists.” They fight a lonely battle, often knowing there is little they can do in the offending country and knowing that “good” countries such as the US often will choose to elevate diplomatic goals over human rights goals. That is a fact of life. But when we make such choices, we must do so knowingly, with our eyes open, and not falsify reports or documents in order to sanitize our decisions.

Our official reports must have credibility. The whole point of preparing Trafficking In Persons (TIP) reports — or, for that matter, any human rights reports — is to provide a solid basis for analyzing the problem and identifying the countries involved. Once the U.S. is known to “cook the books” on the TIP reports, it loses its moral authority.

Greg Williams 08-04-2015

Image via /Shutterstock

Yesterday, Reuters reported that top bureaucrats in the U.S. State Department overruled experts and analysts by successfully urging that 14 countries be upgraded in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) due to their strategic importance to the U.S. This report, released last week, evaluates how well 188 countries are fighting human trafficking by ranking countries in three tiers. These rankings are taken seriously in the U.S. government and around the world, with related impact on tradepublic perception, and diplomatic relations.

Upgraded countries include those that the United States wants to be friendly with for diplomatic reasons (such as Cuba or China) but also countries such as Malaysia, which could not be included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade treaty, if it was ranked poorly in the TIP report.

Vladimir Wrangel / Shutterstock.com

Sunset over the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Photo via Vladimir Wrangel / Shutterstock.com

On July 21 and 22, the Vatican hosts two conferences on human trafficking and climate change, bringing the mayors of major cities — including several in the U.S. — to Rome for the events. What do human trafficking and climate change have to do with each other? And what does Catholicism have to do with them? Let us explain.

Q: Why is the Vatican concerned with human trafficking and climate change?

A: If Pope Francis has two pet issues, they are human trafficking and climate change. Since the first year of his papacy he has spoken against human trafficking, calling it “a crime against humanity” and lamenting it as modern slavery. It’s an even bet that when the pope addresses the United Nations in late September he will hammer it as one of the crucial issues of our time. Ditto on climate change. In June, the pontiff published his encyclical — the highest teaching of the church — on climate change.

“Our home is being ruined and that hurts everyone, especially the poorest among us,” Francis said just before the publication of the encyclical.

the Web Editors 07-07-2015
Screenshot via Youtube

Screenshot via Youtube

A new video developed by artist Molly Crabapple and the Equal Justice Initiative shows exactly how slavery paved the way for our current system of mass incarceration.

In particular, the video highlights the horror of the domestic slave trade, tracing the development of an elaborate mythology of racial difference — a mythology that once perpetuated slavery and now sustains mass incarceration.  

“In many former slave states, slavery did not end. It simply evolved,” says narrator Bryan Stevenson, who directs the Equal Justice Initiative.

Molly Crabapple, known for her artistic contributions to Occupy Wall Street, creates videos combining the fast-paced style of dry-erase animation with the intricate watercolors of an award-winning artist.

Shane Claiborne 06-29-2015
confederateflagblock

Image via /shutterstock.com

I own a Confederate flag. Growing up, the flag meant little more to me than school spirit, pep rallies, and Southern pride … until I left East Tennessee. I’ll never forget the moment things began to change. I moved into my college dorm room and established my new home at Eastern University in Philadelphia. I carefully set up my desk, put my posters on the wall, and displayed my high school yearbook — with a Confederate flag on the cover — proudly on my bookshelf.

Adam Ericksen 06-14-2015
Diana Robinson / Flickr.com

American Pharoah ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza wins the Triple Crown at Belmont on June 6. Photo by Diana Robinson/Flickr.com

After winning the Triple Crown, American Pharoah’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, showed that he doesn’t live in fear of losing his power. And, as opposed to the Egyptian Pharaoh, he showed he has a soft heart for those who are suffering.

Espinoza reportedly earned $80,000 for his victory at the Belmont Stakes and he’s giving it all away. “I won the Triple Crown right now,” he stated, “but I don’t make any money because I’m donating all the money to the City of Hope.” The City of Hope is a cancer research and treatment center. Espinoza also donates his time at the City of Hope, visiting with children struck by cancer. He says, “The kids [are] 6 years old, 10 years old, it’s just heartbreaking.” Why does he do it? “I just saw one kid with the disease and that’s how I changed my life. I changed the way I think. Pretty much I changed everything … the first change I made was in my heart.”

Lisa Sharon Harper 06-08-2015

Today's stereotypes of the black family are hard-drawn, inhuman caricatures, not real humanity, explains Lisa Sharon Harper. 

Image via anawat sudchanham/shutterstock.com

Image via anawat sudchanham/shutterstock.com

Several weeks ago at the Minnesota State Capitol building, I and a host of others met with senators and representatives to lobby them on environmental issues. When I met with one senator he said he understood the issues and was on my side. It was a love fest. But when asked about working with the Republicans, the love fest ended.

He started rattling off how the other side will not listen, how there is no communication with them, how they are funded by the Koch brothers and will not compromise or even consider any proposals but their own, and so on and so forth. I do not doubt that he was speaking from personal experience, but if he only sees the other as bull-headed then that is exactly what he will get.

As he spoke I kept saying to myself, "There has to be another way of doing this…" ​

Last week I discovered "a more excellent way" when I re-read The Journal of John Woolman, the spiritual autobiography of the colonial Quaker who I describe as America’s first social mystic. It my seem odd to look to a colonial Quaker as the model for amending climate change — I say amend because we have already changed the climate; the best goal now is to stop further change and amend our way of live — but his model/witness may be the exact model/witness we need. 

In my work on environmental causes I have acted primarily from a place of loss, sorrow, and anger, centering on the loss of my family farm in northern West Virginia. In the mid-1980s, the farm was sold to a coal company who stripmined the farms and destroyed the community. I had had dreams of farming that land. 

But if I dig deeper through the loss, through the sorrow, and through the anger, I arrive at a place of love. I love creation, I feel I am a part of it, and I want it to flourish because if creation flourishes, all flourishes. 

Here is where Woolman’s witness comes in. His social conscience was formed because Love was the first motion. He was simply responding to that Love. 

How did he respond? Eighty years before the modern abolition movement of the 1830s, John Woolman began his personal mission to end slavery amongst Quakers in the American colonies. 

Micah Bales 02-12-2015
Obama in prayer. Image courtesy Stephen C./shutterstock.com

Obama in prayer. Image courtesy Stephen C./shutterstock.com

I’m very offended. Or so I’m told. As a believing Christian, I’m supposed to be deeply troubled by the remarks that President Barack Obama delivered at the recent National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, DC. Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore had this to say:

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

Strong words. But what were Obama’s terribly offensive remarks? Here’s what the president said:

And lest we get on our high horse and think [religious violence] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

Wait… what? Why should I be offended by that? That’s a fact. That’s our history. Every Christian should be aware of what we are capable of when we turn our eyes away from the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and instead turn Christianity into an ideology that justifies terror, brutality, oppression, and war.

It should be impossible to study Western history without getting some glimpse into the terrifying possibilities that any religious system — including Christian ones — hold out for those who seek to dominate others. We humans have a long track record of twisting our most precious faith into a weapon of violence and hatred. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement; it should be a matter of ongoing repentance and prayer for people of faith everywhere.

So I’m confused.

 

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