My inherent issue with Facebook solidarity

So I didn’t change my Facebook profile picture for Paris. Or Beirut, or Syria, or Kenya, or anywhere else. Nor do I have strong feelings about what people should or should not do after a tragedy, as long as it’s not rooted in bigotry. For me, I have an issue because I know Facebook solidarity is incomplete, and that my friends only focus on certain types of events.

First, as people have pointed out before, there are many places on Earth in perpetual crisis. Syria recently, but also the Rohingya refugee crisis that extends from Burma into Bangladesh and various surrounding territories. Central Africa has been in a series of ongoing conflicts where rape is a major weapon of war. Billions of people are in varying degrees of poverty, most of which is long-standing. There is something ethically troubling about showing visible solidarity with other people when there is an acute incident. Haiti has never recovered from the earthquake several years back- we had a brief period of solidarity, money was raised, and much of the humanitarian crisis was not solved. It still hasn’t been, but our Haiti Facebook pictures have long since been taken down.

Second, since I am an American (along with my race, class, sex . . ) I have a bias towards places and people I can directly relate to. I’ve been to Paris, I’ve never been to Beirut or Nigeria. The entire way I receive information about the world is skewed, and even with wonderful outlets like Al Jazeera English, the lack of coverage of Africa, south Asia, etc. creates an unconscious tendency to think that even when atrocities are reported from there, they aren’t as important as events of a similar magnitude in the developed world.

Which is a long way to say that I feel not changing my profile picture is not a signal that I don’t care about terrorism and imperialism. Rather, it’s an acceptance that the world is immensely fucked up all the time, and only recognizing a tiny portion of the new evils introduced to the world seems somehow wrong. It goes without saying that ultimately fighting global problems on an individual level is about donating money, donating time, and standing against imperialism and exploitation. But don’t lose the past when the unpleasant present roars into view. Because the Haiti crisis is still here, and they don’t get their flag on social media anymore.

Slavery: work yet unfinished


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Over a year ago, I wrote a post about the large number of slaves in a world where it is almost unanimously illegal. The number I cited was 27,000,000.

The Walk Free Foundation has joined in this study by releasing their first report on global slavery. Their number is around 29,600,000- almost ten percent higher. And it points out how wide the problem is. Some countries (Mauritania, Haiti) have a high proportion of slaves, and large countries like India, Pakistan, and China have slave populations in the millions. But no country is completely free. The use of illegal immigrants as sexual or servile labor exists even in the most advanced, liberal stated. They estimate 59,000 slaves live in the United States. They remark:

“The relative wealth of Canada and the United States, their demand for cheap labor and relatively porous land borders, makes them prime destinations for human trafficking.”

In some ways, it is still like the days of the Transatlantic slave trade. Economics makes the international trafficking of people lucrative, and while it is no longer legal, it is also difficult to control. For a citizen, it is unlikely that he or she will be enslaved; but for another class of people, they come to America in chains. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries it was Africans, now they come from all over the world. Families from Asia and the Middle East bring child servants with them (a well-known case¬†from an Egyptian couple), and prostitution is in many ways buoyed by cheap involuntary labor. Living in the the Bay Area, I know that San Francisco has slaves, brought from Asian countries to work in brothels and “massage parlours.” Actions to rescue children have happened as recently as August- a nationwide sweep included 12 children in San Francisco.

Often we think of freedom in political terms. You live in a democracy like France or Japan, or you live in a dictatorship like North Korea. The first means you are free, the latter unfree. But it’s more essential than that. It’s about freedom to go to school, and to work where you want to. It’s about receiving pay and benefits for what you accomplish. It’s about being able to appeal to the government or private organizations for help and advice. It’s ultimately being treated as a person rather than property.

In America we think of “slavery” as a historical concept, something that was settled with the Thirteenth Amendment and a brief ceremony in a Virginia parlor. But it’s not just history. It is memory, it is reality. We have work yet unfinished.