September 2018 – Is Slavery Over?

September 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Is Slavery Over?

  Monday, September 17, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Lincoln freed the enslaved — didn’t he? The 13th Amendment ratified in 1866 officially ended slavery in America. But are there still relics of slavery that treat African-Americans as having a lesser status than those of European descent? Is slavery limited to the treatment of blacks in the Antebellum South or does it include more widespread actions against them — as well as against Asian, Hispanic, and Native Americans? Is sex trafficking a form of slavery? Can debt, financial need or addiction create conditions of economic slavery? Can we even enslave ourselves, through bad choices, prejudice, and fear of freedom? Who is enslaved and who is free?

In post-Civil War America, blacks were often stripped of the rights provided by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Enslavement became debt-laden sharecropping under cheating landlords, indefinite servitude in chain gangs for “crimes” such as “loitering,” segregated but “equal” education and commerce, and the right to vote for those smart enough to pass a poll test, rich enough to pay a poll tax, and brave enough to face a noose. (And, today, for those lucky enough to not have been imprisoned for marijuana use, to have a driver’s license, and/or to be a week-day stroll from an unclosed polling station.) How much freedom is this?

Michelle Alexander argues in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness that our “War on Drugs,” and our justice system that punishes minorities more harshly, continues these “badges and relics” of slavery. Others point to racial gerrymandering and selective election law enforcement as denying the right to vote on account of race. But are these just excuses, belied by the successful votes of those who can work with the system?

Exclusion laws once targeted Asian immigrants with immediate imprisonment unless they carried papers. Today’s legal immigrants may be deprived of citizenship if they’ve ever filed for Obamacare-or earned-income- or Obamacare- tax credits (even if they were required to do so by ACA & IRS law). Native Americans’ land is now the “best” place to run pipelines. Must one be descended from enslaved ancestors to be less than free? Is slavery a symbol of pervasive white privilege? In our soon-to-be majority-minority nation, will all minorities equally share the stigma of lesser status, including blue collar and rural white citizens who see their way of life as under assault by groups who don’t accept their “American” values? Or will a shrinking population of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants still exercise inordinate power and privilege?

Are women being enslaved in an American Patriarchy? Did the #MeToo movement expose a culture of sexual abuse, or a culture of complaint? Is sex-trafficking within and across our borders the logical result of tyrannical attitudes towards “weak women”? Or was depriving all women of equal rights still not as bad as slavery and its lingering effects? Should we put gradations on evil? And should we just look in our own backyards, or consider other countries, like Sudan, where slavery is still practiced? Do we include child and debt slavery in India? What about “sexual tourism” victims in Thailand? Or peasants laboring for drug cartels in Latin America? What about the gulags of North Korea? The organ-donating prisoners of China? Can we “save” the world if our own house isn’t in order? (Should we ask a young black man making license plates for 50 cents a day in a for-profit prison, sentenced to life without parole for selling marijuana cigarettes to white kids driving into the city from their gated suburban communities?)

Do we need society to enslave us, to protect us? Can freedom of action land us in dead-end existences? Can drink, drugs, sexual pleasures, and tapping credit to gain the trappings of affluence dig us into Hell as “a prison with the locks on the inside?” Do we enslave ourselves? Are we ready for authenticity and liberty? How do our philosophical or economic worldviews, our ethical or spiritual orientations, or our religious or humanist traditions affect our attitudes about enslavement and freedom?

On Monday, September 17 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if we are free at last, or enslaved since the beginning. Our reasoning interbelief dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may be a path to liberation. But the treats always are free!