One of the biggest misconceptions we have here in the United States is that the practice of enslaving (Black) individuals ended with the Civil War. (In fact, it continued until the WWII era in the form of convict leasing, also known as neo-slavery) Additionally, people often don’t realize that the United States was far from the only nation that enslaved individuals racialized as black and that this practice specifically began in what became the United States in 1619. By looking at world history, we can see that enslavement has been a mainstay across societies, times, and places. Although, to be sure, the practice of race-based, chattel enslavement by forcefully moving individuals collectively called “Black” to countries in the New World and forcing them to endure violence and extremely harsh conditions from the 1420s until 1888 was a distinct period in Atlantic World history.
Recently, there has been more media and academic attention (see the website, Historians Against Slavery) given to the practice of contemporary enslavement. There is a website called Slavery Footprint that ask a variety of questions about where you live and what kind of things are in your home to determine how many enslaved individuals work for you. The website also provides other resources related to advocacy.
The survey indicated that 48 enslaved individuals work for me.
How many work for you? I urge you to take the survey, too. Be patient. The website is a bit slow and cranky.
Slavery Footprint’s survey, while an approximation, is important at reminding us how we still pretty much live in a “slave society” (not a “society with slaves”) because the practice of enslavement is and has been thoroughly interwoven into the economic, legal, and social fabric of the United States (and the World). Students studying the 1800s, especially, frequently aren’t taught and don’t realize that the institution of slavery was present everywhere, in the North and the South, throughout the United States (see: Case Study: History, Myth, and Public Schools).
As I wrote in, Boycotts and Protestors, Companies, and (Sad) Realities of the World given the nature of business practices today, it is extremely difficult to avoid or stand up to these big companies and to have clothes, electronics, and food made by individuals compensated fairly.
At the very, very least, recognize that by virtue of reading this blog, you are among the richest 0.01% of people who have ever lived on this planet.