Wednesday, January 15, 2014

American Slavery

It's a supercharged word in America: Slavery. When you bring it up, it conjures images of southern plantations, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights movement. There's still debates going on among various groups about whether there is still racial division in this country, and whether it is something that needs to be addressed.

But we still have forms of slavery in America. They just happen to be less obvious. For one thing, women are struggling against a kind of institutionalized slavery by being unable to exercise freedom over their own bodies and health choices. When it comes to laws that restrict access to abortions, limit women's access to certain types of birth control, or require woment to undergo medically frivolous procedures to simply access their own rights, it's a kind of slavery. We are denying women rights that they would otherwise be entitled to under our laws. Why? Because a group of people (many who are not women) don't believe in it. Hypocritically, one of America's founding principles was that each citizen should have the freedom to pursue the life that they think is right for them.

In a similar vein is the slavery that those in the gay community must endure. Theirs is a slavery to that denies them equal representation and rights under the law because they love someone of the same gender. It has largely been proven by mainstream science that homosexuality, like skin tone, is a matter of genetics, not upbringing or personal choice. But beyond that, even if it was a choice to be gay, shouldn't people be allowed to make that choice for themselves? Denying people fundamantal rights and freedoms that are enjoyed by others, simply because they are gay, is a form of slavery to my mind.

Then there is American economic slavery. That is, people who are trapped in the Catch-22 of working long hours for too little pay, and having to either rely on public assistance or failing to move up the economic ladder. This is, perhaps, the most insidious form of slavery we have in America today. The reason I say that is, it is the only form of slavery that is inter-generational. A child from a poor family is more likely to grow up and be poor themselves. They have less access to education, health care, healthy food options, and have fewer opportunities in general. It is rooted, not only in our failure to raise the minimum wage and tie it to the cost of living, but also in the systematic dismantling of the social safety net which, at one time, all but guaranteed universal support for low-income families.

Economic and social inequality is new frontier in American rights and freedoms. We must answer the questions for ourselves about who has the right to marry, who has the right to their own moral decisions, and who has the right of economic opportunity and stability? Make no mistake, these are forms of slavery, because they directly inhibit the inherent rights and freedoms of a group of people who, by the letter of the law, should not be so limited in their rights and freedoms.

And remember, the more freedom a person has, the more responsibility. It is ironic to me that those who most loudly advocate for these forms of inequality are the very same people who advocate greater personal responsibility. They do not seem to realize that the two, freedom and responsibility, are two sides of the same coin. You cannot demand one while denying the other.

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