Learning empathy, resolving identity, rejecting violence against women

In my Ring The Bell promise, I said I would continue to write on the subject of sexual violence and oppression against women. So here are some thoughts.

Born a white cisgendered male, I have two fundamental flaws. My life has been about first acknowledging these flaws, then working to overcome them.

First- the sheer blindness I have towards discrimination and unfair treatment. Only through reading Audre Lorde, Malcolm X, and right now Jimmy Santiago Baca’s memoir A Place to Stand have I began to appreciate how fixed the game is. Much like how a member of Congress can support and defend a war that they themselves do not have to fight, one is tempted to shut their ears and eyes and pretend that injustice is cleansed from our society. And many white, male Americans have retreated into this cocoon, and ignore what other people are suffering through.

The problem is distance, and the solution is an ever-vigilant campaign to understand and to empathize. In the civil rights battles of our time, white men like myself either stand with the enemies, or sit the fight out. An awakening to injustice in its countless forms: racial discrimination in arrests and sentencing, stop-and-frisk policies that almost exclusively target minority youth, and the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment across continents. Two weeks ago I wrote about how every country in the world has slaves– even countries that consider themselves enlightened and in a morally superior position on the global stage. The Walk Free Foundation says that just under thirty million people are treated as slaves. A strong majority of them are women, including many under the age of 18.

It seems impossible that in my own California county sex slaves are routinely found in police operations. Even if I personally do not mistreat women, it is because of men- as sexual consumers, as organized criminals, as buyers of goods that are far too cheap to come from voluntary labor- that this system continues. The bottom line is that violence, discrimination, and oppression- are not someone else’s problem. They are everyone’s problem.

The second flaw is an issue of identity. White men are often under siege as a major group perpetuating discrimination and abuse. This is statistically true, and many civil rights campaigns ended up against a power clique dominated by white men . One can become defensive from all of this- feel that they are personally being blamed. But just because other white people, other men, other cisgendered individuals are part of the problem doesn’t mean I am the same. This underlying primal mentality- to defend groups that look like you- is dangerous and has to be overcome.

So the first flaw requires an ability to understand the world, and learn from other people in different circumstances. The second is liberation to act for justice, not solely as a white man who sees the world in a very specific way. I am not just white, I am not just male, I am not just an American citizen. I am Andrew Mackay- and my concerns are universal.

This is all a complicated way of saying simple things. While I will never fully understand the plight of women, or another ethnic group, I can understand the conflicts going on among men- especially white men. Coming over to a side that speaks out against sexual violence requires a stark reading of your own philosophy and ideas of what is and what is not important. Some men are almost through the process, and will join me to continue on the path. Others have not even started yet. But there are millions of them, and without them only so much justice can be done.

 

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.