It is little known to most Americans that Dec. 2 is a date with global significance, observed annually as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, which, lest we forget, continues in our time to an extent which most of us might not recognize or consider important to our own lives.
“The focus of this day is on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery, such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labor, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict,” according to a statement on the U.N. web site.
While such U.N.-declared international observances have a long and notorious history of being ignored in the United States, it took the Obama administration, in its first year in office, to break that tradition when, on Dec. 2, 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a press statement which said, in part, “Sadly, slavery persists around the globe, including within the United States.
Every day millions of men, women and children of all ages face forced labor and sexual exploitation, as well as brutal violence.”
In fact, online sources estimate the number of enslaved people in the world to be as high as 28 million, mostly in parts of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, with children the main victims. However, as Clinton boldly reminded us, slavery continues in the U.S., as well.
Arguably, far too few of us are aware of the fact that the prison system, with its greatly disproportionate percentage of African-American and other minority inmates, sharecropping, various forms of migrant labor and even everyday discrimination are continuations of slavery by other names, with the effect of both stifling and exploiting the human potential of some for the material benefit of others.
The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery is a call to governments and business but, mainly, to all the world’s peoples to take this occasion to inform ourselves, share information and actively change those practices in our lifestyles which depend upon, support and even encourage the continuation of slavery worldwide.
We need to know, for example, the links between our latest technological gadgets and the continuing rape of Africa, including the use of captured “child soldiers,” in order to acquire the raw materials needed to manufacture these objects.
We need to be conscious of the sources of our very food and of the weakening of our society by denying others their human potential in order to ensure high profits for the few.
We are often reminded that forms of slavery and forced servitude have existed throughout human history, as if that were a justification for it. But, historically, this was often reserved for war captives, individuals convicted of crimes against society, or even refugees from disasters who were taken in by other people and must earn their keep.
Today, however, slavery as we know it is much more arbitrary, although the poor are most commonly the victims, and is driven by capitalistic greed, lust and corruption. We support such forces, knowingly or unknowingly, at our peril.
It may be providential that Dec. 2 falls between our celebration of Thanksgiving for all our blessings and the holiday season which begins the new year.
The coming year, in fact, could not be a better time for us to change our ways, starting with taking advantage of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery as a fortuitous occasion to address these issues in our churches and even among our friends as we enjoy football and family gatherings.
We might even say a prayer, light a candle of remembrance or visit a historic site to honor the memory of those whom we have lost to the scourge of slavery.
Our younger and future generations will forever thank and honor us for our wisdom and the legacy we pass on to them.
Dinizulu Gene Tinnie is a co-director of the Dos Amigos/Fair Rosamond Slave Ship Replica Project. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org