A rally was held in Nigeria earlier this week to protest that government’s inaction against the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram (translated “Western Education Is Sinful”). The group recently kidnapped some 230 school girls, and is selling them into slavery for as little as $12 or “marrying” them to their captors .
Though estimates vary, there are as many as 30 million men, women, and children entrapped in slavery, as I write this.
Included among these are forced laborers recruited under threat of violence, by governments and political parties; chattel slaves abducted from their homes – bought, sold, inherited, and given as gifts; bonded laborers whose loans – impossible of repayment – can be passed from generation to generation; child soldiers; child brides in forced marriages; children engaged in toil destructive of their health and well-being; and sexually exploited women and children, now a basis for sex tourism.
If any of this sounds familiar to Americans, it should. The impact of slavery on our country has been immense. It is a lasting scar the extent of which cannot be summed up in a few neat words.
But slavery has not been confined to a single race or nation. Slavery is referenced as far back as the Code of Hammurabi and the Bible . Slavery existed in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome; in Ireland, Poland, and elsewhere across the globe. It existed among Christians and Muslims. Slave labor camps in the form of gulags were utilized as a political tool by Russia until 1960. They persist in China (under the name “laogai”) and North Korea today.
By focusing exclusively on grievances of the past – albeit, legitimate grievances – we may overlook the chance we have as Americans of every stripe to make a difference in the present.
The evils (and insidious after-effects) of slavery should, if anything, make America the nation foremost in seeking an end worldwide to that institution, once and for all. Instead, we remain a house divided, consumed by our own pain.
There is a tendency for the oppressed to view their suffering as incomprehensible to those who have not lived it first-hand. This is an act of self-assertion; of “ownership” over the one thing permitted the oppressed, namely their suffering.
But the assertion that suffering is incomprehensible to others inherently denies a common humanity with the oppressors (however vile their actions). In effect, it feeds the very stereotype on which oppressors rely, the lie that the oppressed of whatever group are not fully human and, therefore, not “deserving” of humane treatment.
If we reach back far enough, all or almost all of us (of whatever race, color or ethnicity) can trace our lineage back to slavery – our forefathers not slave masters, but property – whether in the Americas, Europe, Africa, or Asia.
Admittedly, for many the wound is still fresh.
Rather than a mark of shame to the men and women subjected to that atrocity, however, slavery is an august heritage – a heritage far surpassing riches, titles, or family ties to so called royalty. The experience of those men and women is an everlasting monument to courage and endurance.
Shackled, whipped and bleeding, disposed of at another’s will, our great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers somehow managed to survive.
In that shared history we should be able to find a common bond.
 NBC News, “Boko Haram: Nigerian Terror Group Sells Girls Into Slavery” by Hasani Gittens, 4/30/14, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/boko-haram-nigerian-terror-group-sells-girls-slavery-n93951.
 Both abolitionists and pro-slavery proponents used passages from the Bible to justify their views, prior to and during the American Civil War. It is incorrect to state, however, that the Bible supports slavery. The Bible reflects the historical reality of slavery. Joseph, for instance, was sold into slavery in Egypt. The New Testament clarified that “[t]here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 28).
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