Monday, February 5, 2007

Modern-Day Slavery and Human Trafficking: The Horrific, Unmentioned Crime in Need of the World's Attention

The institution of slavery did not die when the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1865, contrary to popular thought. Though it is not often discussed, modern-day slavery and human trafficking across international borders is still very common. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children are trafficked each year. According to Human Rights Watch, “trafficking includes all acts related to the recruitment, transport, transfer, sale, or purchase of human beings by force, fraud, deceit, or other coercive tactics for the purpose of placing them into conditions of forced labor or practices similar to slavery, in which labor is extracted through physical or non-physical means of coercion, including blackmail, fraud, deceit, isolation, threat or use of physical force, or psychological pressure.” Once trafficked into foreign countries, victims are forced to perform physical labor and suffer in slave-like conditions, often with no pay at all. Human trafficking is especially common for women, who are often tricked into leaving their home countries for better lives, only to find themselves in slave-like environments or in brothels, as sex slaves, domestic servants, or agricultural or factory workers.

This was precisely the case for Thonglim Khampiranon, a 43-year old mother of two from Thailand. Khampiranon was one of three women trafficked from Thailand to Los Angeles to work for a woman who promised the three decent wages and decent living conditions. Of course, this was not the life they were given, as the women worked as slaves and endured years of abuse and exploitation. One concerned woman for America claims that some women are sold by their parents or husbands, looking for a payment of some kind in return. The issue is global; modern-day slavery exists in many countries, the twelve with the worst records being Belize, Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Uzbekistan, Burma, Laos and North Korea. This issue that involves practically every nation in the world is in need of serious attention.

America has decided to try and combat the problem. When releasing the sixth Annual Trafficking in Persons Report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed that the United States government has donated 400 million dollars to support global efforts to fight what has become a harsh reality for too many people. The Secretary of State believes in President Bush and in his success at increasing public awareness of this crime and targeting and prosecuting the perpetrators. Sadly, the problem is still widespread and tough to solve completely. The United States makes a powerful statement that it will partner with any other nation that shares the mission of putting an end to this moral injustice. There are three powerful actions society can take to abolish modern-day slavery within one generation, according to Ken Bales, a sociologist and expert on modern-day slavery. Public awareness must increase and the public has to agree that it is time to end slavery, money must be spent, and governments should enforce anti-slavery laws. It takes commitment but it is definitely possible.

Modern-day slavery and human trafficking has been going on way too long. It is time for the institution of slavery itself to come to an end. Too many people have been held captive, living in awful conditions and having to perform physical or domestic labor. Too many women have been sold as sex slaves and too many children have been captured only to live with little hope for their futures. The United States has taken a step in the right direction and has a very good chance at success. More nations will hopefully address the issue as the U.S. has done, and powerful and efficient alliances can be formed. Bright futures await those who were robbed of their freedom for too long.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Rebuilding New Orleans Post-Hurricane Katrina: A Look at How Race and Class Intersect in Our Nation

Over one year ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast, including New Orleans, Louisiana. The Category 5 hurricane caused the levees in New Orleans to break, flooding the city and turning it into what has been called a “toxic soup” filled with disease-ridden water. The water was pumped out of the city within weeks of the hurricane, yet the aftermath of the storm is continuing to present problems for the city of New Orleans and its inhabitants. Now, the issue of race is unfortunately contributing to plans for rebuilding New Orleans.

Approximately eighty percent of the city was flooded, yet while some neighborhoods are now up and running, others remain destroyed and desolate. Race, unfortunately, is the key factor that distinguishes those neighborhoods that have been rebuilt and those which are still in need of rebuilding. According to Lance Hill, executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University, “there were proposals not to rebuild historically black neighborhoods, which alarmed African-Americans.” The adverse consequence of these proposals would be the elimination of African-Americans from New Orleans, a city that, prior to the hurricane, was two thirds black. This is not the kind of blatant racism that our country is used to seeing; it is a type of institutionalized racism that lies in the plans to rebuild New Orleans. Not surprisingly, it was a small group of powerful business leaders and developers who took it upon themselves to plan the city into the next few decades. The African-American voice was lost in the process. The neighborhoods that were hit the hardest by the hurricane are those that were inhabited by working-class blacks. Consequently, these are the neighborhoods that to this day have not been rebuilt, such as the region of the city known as the Ninth Ward. According to Hill, the plans intended to eliminate poor people from the city. However, since New Orleans has been racially segregated for years, the outcome was the elimination of blacks. In effect, “class became race in New Orleans.”

Not only did race effect the decision of which specific areas in New Orleans to rebuild, it also effected the federal government’s response time to begin the rebuilding process in the first place. This is because of the fact that pre-Katrina, the majority of the city was black. The federal government did not even respond promptly to those who were left in New Orleans through and immediately following the hurricane. African-Americans were the victims of President Bush’s delayed response, forcing them to live for days in the Superdome without bathroom facilities, food, or even water. According to an article from the Black Commentator, “huge majorities of blacks agreed that the federal government’s response would have been faster if the victims of Katrina in New Orleans had been white.” The strong link between race and class is a huge indicator of why it was African-Americans who remained in New Orleans. They simply did not have the financial means to get out. It is an unfortunate truth which somehow made it okay for the government to take nearly a week to send help. However, it was not okay. Kanye West expressed this belief by stating that the president does not care about black people. His statement sparked much controversy yet the majority of blacks and a large number of whites did not consider it unjustified. While many whites agreed with West, a large number are in favor of fiscal responsibility. Fiscal responsibility is a code phrase used by the government that discourages the spending of money on African-American citizens. With fiscal responsibility, it is no wonder that the wealthy areas of New Orleans, such as the Garden District, have been rebuilt while others remain untouched. While some believe that Hurricane Katrina brought the New Orleans community together with the traumatic experience they shared, in reality it has perpetuated the racial divide that has always existed in the city.