12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen is the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York in pre-civil war America. He was abducted and sold into slavery, and the film is based on his account of what happened to him. It tells of his inhuman treatment at the hands of the slavers and shows their reasoning and their own level of personal degradation in the pursuit of economic wealth.
Eden directed by Megan Griffiths is a true story of Chong Kim a young Chinese American girl who had just graduated high school. When she was kidnapped and taken forcibly into prostitution. The film talks of her journey to stay alive and come to terms with what happened to her and how she eventually escaped her captors. Her journey at the hands of her captors and how she came to terms with what happened to her.
Both films are well worth watching as they chronicle the brutality and inhumanity of slavery and the resilience of the human spirit.
Descended from Slaves
I am the descendent of slaves as are many people from the West Indies. My father was born in 1919 a British citizen in Jamaica, the West Indies, a descendent of slaves himself. I am sure many people are familiar with the history of slavery in the West Indies and its connection with Africa, Britain and Europe. Of course, there is a new generation of children who are not familiar with the history at all. It is part of the school curriculum in Britain to teach it but it is an optional subject.
Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave feels that all children in Britain should be taught this history and the British involvement in it. I am in agreement with Mr McQueen. We need to teach this history in order to make sure it is not lost and forgotten. I do not think this because I am the descended of slaves but because I celebrate humanity. I know and understand that whilst it would be convenient to think that slavery is a thing of the past it is not, of course. Its global affects and influence are still felt throughout the world today.
Economics of Slavery
Slavery’s history and modern proliferation is rooted in economics and profit. Throughout history enslaved populations were exploited for economic gain.
The Africans were taken to America and the West Indies because they could work the land in unforgiving tropical conditions. Europeans fell prey to those harsh conditions and often died quickly and were not considered an economically viable source of physical labour.
To inflict brutality on a fellow human through the act of slavery is difficult but made easier if the person is seen as less than human. Negros were subject to a dehumanising proces and thought of as primitive inferior beings.
I had such taunts when I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in Britain. This attitude of intolerance that was a part of Britain’s colonial past. My generation were the offspring of the black Britons who came to rebuild Britain after World War II. They had a hard time of it to say the least. As a child my parents made sure I understood the history of slavery and told me many stories about intolerance. I did have some instruction on this at school when I was about ten. I have always wondered if it was as a result of having me in the class.
The multi-racial family that I grew up in, as well as the hard lessons I had as a child growing up in 1950s Britain have all gone to make me a person who totally opposes all forms of slavery. To my way of thinking, slavery in all its forms has no place on planet earth period.
Modern slavery, such as abduction for forced labour and prostitution, has no place in modern and enlightened life. People are not commodities as freedom is a basic human right.
Denial of Freedom
Most of us in the West are free people and we can do as we choose. It is our right to do, say and act in any lawful way we choose, whenever we choose. But what if one day that right and freedom is taken away from you? What if you were not allowed to see your family ever again or move freely anywhere as you choose? What if you were chained, beaten, drugged and forced to work in practices that you found morally, spiritually and ethically wrong? What if you were forced to work against you will without pay and with little food? How would that affect your life, your sense of self and will to live? What would you do to change that situation?
Scotland has proposed an anti-slavery law and it needs as many supporters as it can get. At the moment lawyers, activists, policy-makers and academics are united in their support for the suggested policies, which would:
- Establish a ‘Survivors Service’ to identify, assist and seek justice for victims.
- Ensure stronger penalties for traffickers and those that help them.
- Make special provisions for the child victims of trafficking, including allocating an expert guardian to fight for their rights.
Do we not have a responsibility to each other as fellow human beings? Or is it every man for him-self? As we discuss in Nourish the Flame Within, we are all interconnected energy. We are all part of a greater whole and the energy of the universe. We are all part of one human voice, one human family. This is not always easy to feel when we all put so many forms of separation between ourselves. We separate on colour, nationality, race, gender and religion. Each race, nationality and gender brings something special to human life and the human experience. Respect for all is essential to take life forward through this century and beyond.
Please join me in supporting anti- slavery in any way you can. Nourishing the flame within is not just a personal journey it is also a global one, nurturing our fellow man by allowing each one of us the freedom to pursue the path that leads to the realisation of our own inner talents, skills and potential.