Quakers and Slavery

My whole life, I’ve been taught that Quaker’s were at the forefront of the abolitionist movement. Movies about the Underground Railroad almost always include a Friend or two. Quakers often hid runaway slaves in their homes. These things are true. And yet, if you dig deeper, you find that their history has been rather whitewashed over time.

You can find the typical story line on the brynmawr.edu website:

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) was the first corporate body in Britain and North America to fully condemn slavery as both ethically and religiously wrong in all circumstances. It is in Quaker records that we have some of the earliest manifestations of anti-slavery sentiment, dating from the 1600s. After the 1750s, Quakers actively engaged in attempting to sway public opinion in Britain and America against the slave trade and slavery in general. At the same time, Quakers became actively involved in the economic, educational and political well being of the formerly enslaved.

The earliest anti-slavery organizations in America and Britain consisted primarily of members of the Society of Friends. Thus much of the record of the development of anti-slavery thought and actions is embedded in Quaker-produced records and documents. Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College and the Quaker Collection at Haverford College are jointly the custodians of Quaker meeting records of the Mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New York and Vermont and these records illuminate the origins of the anti-slavery movement as well as the continued Quaker involvement, often behind the scenes, in the leadership and direction of the abolitionist movement from the 1770s to the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, and beyond.

Again, all these things are true. So imagine my shock when I stumbled across this article entitled, “The 18th-Century Quaker Dwarf Who Challenged Slavery, Meat-Eating, and Racism”. I mean, with a title like that, one is rather compelled to read the article, right? I was expecting the typical Quaker/slavery juxtaposition, but that is not what I got. Not at all.

It seems this radical Quaker lived in a cave in Pennsylvania, and was a bit of a thorn in the side of his fellow Quakers. According to the article,

One Sunday, 18th-century Quakers living in Abington, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, were met with a strange sight outside their morning meeting. The snow lay thick on the ground and there was Benjamin Lay, a member of the congregation, wearing little clothing, with his “right leg and foot uncovered,” almost knee-deep in the snow. When one Quaker after the next told him that he would get sick or that he should get inside and cover up, he turned to them. “Ah,” he said, “you pretend compassion for me, but you do not feel for the poor slaves in your fields, who go all winter half-clad.”

Wait a minute. “The poor slaves in your fields?” But, um… they’re Quakers, right?

But it turns out that the Quakers only started muttering about slavery in the 1750’s, didn’t really start a true abolitionist movement until the 1770’s, and all Quakers weren’t really on the same page until the 1830’s. And yet this little guy, Benjamin Lay, was doing his radical protest thing in the 1730’s. Go, Benjamin!

Before he acted up in Pennsylvania, he had lived in a Quaker community in Barbados, where 90 percent of the people were enslaved and treated worse than horses. His protests there got him ejected from the community.

In 1737 Benjamin Franklin published Lay’s tract entitled, All Slaveholders That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates. (Good old Franklin didn’t have the courage to include his name as publisher, though. He was a slave owner himself, and profited from running ads in his gazette about runaway slaves. He only became an ardent abolitionist just prior to his death.)

Basically, Benjamin Lay was one of Quaker’s first truly dedicated abolitionists, and you don’t often hear anything about him because to admit he existed is to admit that many Quakers were slave owners, and given that they finally and quite outspokenly got on the right side of history, admitting to their slave owning past is, at best, awkward.

I had to learn more about Quakers and slavery, but it wasn’t easy. I waded through a ton of articles that touted the party line, but then I came across this one entitled Slavery in the Quaker World by Katharine Gerbner.

In it, Gerbner states that the earliest abolitionist Quaker article, called the Germantown Protest, is from 1688. It denounces slavery, but the majority of Quakers at the time rejected this article. In fact, many Quakers in the 17th century were involved in the slave trade. She further states that the Quakers of the time were all for converting slaves to Christianity, but that they felt slavery and Christianity were perfectly compatible, and that Christian slaves would work harder and be more docile.

All this information was rather eye opening for me. It just goes to show that nothing is ever as simple as it is described in elementary school history textbooks. I’ll never look at Quakers as pure abolitionist heroes again. Now I’ll see them as a flawed people who came to learn enough from their morally repugnant past to change and do the right thing.

And when all is said and done, shouldn’t that be what we all do?

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Benjamin Lay

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On Banning Gone With the Wind

As most of us know by now, HBO MAX pulled Gone With the Wind from streaming video. I don’t blame them. This is a movie that makes the Confederate South seem like a place where the slaves loved being slaves, and where the way of life was all fine and dandy until those pesky Northerners butted in.

Here are the opening credits, according to IMDB:

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow… Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind…”

Make no mistake: This movie glorifies a system that should be shown as the ugly, racist, deadly and ignorant thing that it was. Slavery and everything that came with it is not pretty or gallant. It isn’t a dream remembered. It’s a nightmare for which this country should be truly ashamed.

But this movie is also a work of art. The cinematography is stunning, and the costumes are even more so. In the 1940 Academy Awards, it won an Oscar for best actress, best actress in a supporting role, best director, best writing, best cinematography, best art direction, best film editing, and best picture. Whether we like it or not in modern times, it’s a classic.

I do not believe in censoring works of art. What I believe in is providing context for those works that are offensive. This movie should be forever linked with a disclaimer/explanation/warning label. It should discuss how these views and opinions seemed acceptable in 1940, but we have come to realize how unacceptable they really are in modern times. It should come with links to other movies, books and articles that more accurately portray American slavery. It should warn that this film’s racism and misogyny will be offensive to many. It should also warn us not to fall victim to the false nostalgia that is Gone With the Wind.

I think everyone should see this movie and learn from it. It is a gorgeous work of art. I hope will never be created again, but it’s there, a huge boulder in the center of our cinematic culture, and we should acknowledge that. We also should celebrate that so many of us now find this movie inappropriate at best. You might say that we should all give a damn.

(Oh, and it’s rumored that Clarke Gable had really bad breath, so think of that during all the kissing scenes. Poor Vivien!)

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“Oh, Rhett, please take a breath mint!”

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Prison Labor: Modern Day Slavery

From 1998 to 2001 I worked at the St. Augustine Maintenance Yard for the Florida Department of Transportation. I truly hated that job. There is something off about that place, like it was cursed. The morale there was abysmal, and many of the people were just this side of criminally insane. It felt dangerous, in an inmates-running-the-asylum kind of way. It’s what turned me into a bridgetender. I needed peace, after that horror. So I suppose something good came out of it after all.

One of the things that made me squirm the most in that place is that we had a contract with the Department of Corrections. We paid them. They provided us with slaves in the form of prisoners who not only had no choice, but also were not paid for their labors. They dug ditches in the hot Florida sun. They cleared underbrush, using machetes, in amongst the snakes and scorpions and spiders. They picked up trash on the side of busy highways. They did all the grit labor that our other crews didn’t do. Prison Crews are chain gangs without the chains, and field hands without the field.

Were they treated well? In front of us, yes. But some of the guards were thinly veiled Neandertals, and I have no doubt a lot happened out there in the boonies that we were not made privy to. They used to tell us that the prisoners enjoyed this work, but I don’t see how that’s possible. Yes, they got out in the fresh air, but they were sweat-soaked, underfed, and not doing anything that would give them work experience that they could employ upon release. And after all that unpaid labor, they often still had to pay restitution. After digging ditches for about 4 hours, they were treated to a baloney sandwich, and then were expected to work another 4 hours. If some emergency came up and they had to stay late, the prison didn’t hold dinner for them. They simply went without.

One of my coworkers used to long for the good old days. Back then, when a prisoner got “uppity” and refused to work, they’d be locked in a small metal box in the oppressive heat, and the guards would beat on the box with sticks. “That would straighten them right up.” Now, they only get written up and thrown into solitary confinement. Happy to work, my butt.

I have no doubt that that coworker voted for Trump. He wanted to make America great again. He used to make my flesh crawl. And he was free to go home at night, after standing around not doing a thing all day.

According to this article, entitled “Work Forced”, Florida is but one of several southern states that use unpaid prison labor. In these states, the vast majority of prisoners are African American. Without these P Crews, many rural communities would not be able to function, as they’d actually have to pay people a living wage, and they’d be hard-pressed to find people willing to do this scut work.

Is it any wonder that more and more people are locked up for petty crimes? What a boon to the economy when you can snatch someone off the streets for carrying a small bag of weed, and you can work him for years. Slavery still exists, folks.

And it’s not just those Southern states that are culpable. Other states employ prison labor as well. They just pay them. After prison fees and expenses and fines, some of them are lucky to get 90 cents an hour, which isn’t even enough for them to buy a bar of soap in the prison commissary. In many states, if prisoners have a hundred dollars or more in their prison account upon release, the prison doesn’t give them any further money. Just a bus ticket. Thanks for all your hard work.

Lest I entertain the fantasy that this stuff was a thing of the past, I saw P Crews on a daily basis maintaining the grounds of Indian River State College when I was a student there in 2011-2012. These “hardened criminals” were allowed to move around campus, unsupervised, amongst the co-eds.

And that same article really gave me a shiver when it directly discussed some abuses that were happening out of the same prison that we had our contract with when I worked for FDOT, and in the same area where our maintenance yard worked, so it had to be some of the very crews I used to work around. It said:

The Times-Union reviewed all 105 disciplinary reports issued for “refusing to work” from July 2018 and identified at least nine that were written for work squad members. Two of those were written by the same officer, Steven Holmes, who policed a Department of Transportation work squad based out of Putnam Correctional Institution.

In his response to an infraction, Derrick Harmon insisted that he wasn’t refusing to work, but that he simply felt unsafe on Holmes’ work squad. For a week, he said, he had been suspecting Holmes and another officer were plotting to set him up with a disciplinary report for refusing to work.

The disciplinary hearing team, made up of other officers, found Harmon guilty based on Holmes’ statement, which quoted Harmon saying, “I ain’t getting in no ditches today.”

“When Officer Holmes asked Inmate Harmon if he was refusing to work, he said yes,” the disciplinary report said.

Harmon spent two weeks in administrative confinement before he was reassigned to a different squad.

Two weeks later, another prisoner on Holmes’ squad, Henry Summerlin, complained of personal difficulties and other safety concerns. Summerlin, who told officials he was distraught after recently finding out his wife had died, complained of being forced to work in the middle of a “very busy intersection at St. Augustine Beach.” A couple of days later, Summerlin said, Holmes denied his request for a new pair of safety glasses and gloves.

“He stated that he already told us that we needed to start keeping up with our equipment better and that he could not keep getting us new ones every day,” Summerlin wrote in his statement.

“You know that I have been taking it real easy on your ass,” Holmes warned the men, according to Summerlin’s statement on the disciplinary report.

After spending a week in administrative confinement, Summerlin lost 10 days of “gain time,” or time earned off his sentence. He was then reassigned to food service.

I can’t believe this is happening in the 21st century.

As a matter of fact, the documentary that I recently blogged about, 13th, mentions that prisons nationwide have also forced their inmates to work in sweat shops for some very well known companies. Microsoft. Boeing. Victoria’s Secret. JC Penney. Seattle Fish.

Do you eat Idaho Potatoes? Odds are very good that your potato was planted, harvested and packaged by inmates. In fact, more and more farmers are using prison labor because now that we have such an anti-immigration stance, they’re finding it impossible to employ anyone else for that back-breaking work. So, like it or not, we’ve all eaten off the backs of an involuntary farmhand at some point or another.

It kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? Government sanctioned slavery. Here and now.

I know I’ll never look at an Idaho potato the same way again.

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Nowadays the uniforms are a solid light blue, and the shackles are gone, but the work hasn’t changed a bit.

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13th

I know it can be a hard sell to get people to watch documentaries, but if you watch only one documentary in your life, it should be this one. 13th can be seen on Netflix. I’ve had the good fortune to see it twice. Once on my own, and once as a part of my Race and Social Justice Initiative training at work. Each time, it brough out a storm of emotions within me.

This movie discusses a very shocking loophole in the 13th amendment to the US constitution. The amendment reads as follows (italics mine):

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

We’d like to think we’ve abolished slavery in this country, but that’s not at all true, as this movie makes blatantly obvious. Once “official” slavery was abolished, this country had a big, sucking vacuum where all that free labor used to exist. The solution to that problem became obvious rather quickly. After emancipation, convictions for petty crimes began to rise, and they’ve been rising steadily ever since. As it stands, America has 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prisoners. There are 2.3 million Americans in prison today, and the majority of them are African American. And oh, are we ever good at putting them to work.

We’ve criminalized drug addiction. We’ve waged war on crime. Politicians began to talk about “getting tough” and “law and order” as a backlash against the civil rights movement. We’ve had harsher sentencing for crack than we do for cocaine, and these drugs are divided along racial and economic lines. We’ve called these people super predators and beasts. They are considered enemy combatants that we should be able to stop and frisk with impunity.

We’ve perpetuated the myth that black men are rapists. Something we rarely think about is that the history of interracial rape is far more white male/black female. Which makes a creepy amount of sense, given the unequal power dynamic.

We created a three strike policy in this country that requires mandatory minimum sentencing. This means that judges can’t dispense justice with any type of discretion. For example, if someone had been convicted of two petty crimes as a brash young teenager, and then lives an upstanding, crime free life for another forty years, and is then talked into plea bargaining for a crime he didn’t commit to avoid this mandatory minimum situation, that person will practically be thrown under the jail, as the saying goes. 97% of those locked up have plea bargained for that very reason. Which means they aren’t really getting any justice at all.

Even former President Clinton now admits that his Omnibus Crime Bill was a mistake. It has militarized our police departments, and funded a lot of prisons which then needed to be filled to remain profitable. It has doubled the prison population.

This has decimated the African American community. Black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison, whereas for white men, the statistics are 1 in 17. It has left a whole generation of leaders incarcerated. African Americans comprise 6.5% of the US population, but 40.2% of the prison population. This makes it difficult for the black community to defend itself.

And have you ever thought about the injustice of the Stand Your Ground laws in some states? Stand your ground allowed George Zimmerman to hunt down and kill Trayvon Martin. Where was Trayvon Martin’s right to stand his ground?

And then, you have to think about all the convicts who pay their debt to society and never have their rights fully restored. It can be nearly impossible to find a job when you get out of prison. And 30% of the black male population in Alabama has lost its ability to vote. Is that democracy? Really?

Two other issues that this movie discusses in depth are ALEC (the American Legislation Exchange Council), and Prison Labor. Those issues are so intense that they’ll each have a blog post of their own.

The frustrating thing about the modern day slavery in this country is that I feel personally helpless to do anything about it. And if I’m honest, most of the time I get to not think about it. I can sit in my white privilege comfort zone and focus on other things, like my next vacation or the fact that my dog wants to go for a walk. It’s a big source of shame for me.

The very least I can do is blog about this issue in an effort to signal boost the voices of the less privileged. So here I am, doing the very least I can do. But it sure doesn’t make me feel any better.

WAR & CONFLICT BOOKERA:  CIVIL WAR/BACKGROUND:  SLAVERY & ABOLITIONISM
The scars aren’t as visible these days, but they’re still there.

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Freedom of Movement

There is an excellent yardstick for measuring liberty and quality of life. Simply consider how much freedom of movement you have. From that basic indicator, you can determine if you live in a police state and/or a cult, you will know how much information and education you have access to, and you will have a good sense of the level of prejudice you are being exposed to.

Your ability to travel goes hand in hand with your freedom. If you live in a country where the women cannot travel without the permission of their husbands or fathers, you live in a misogynistic police state. If you are in a religion that does not allow you to interact with outsiders or learn about opposing points of view, or worse yet, cuts you off from family, then you are in a cult. If you can’t go anywhere without having your papers constantly checked by authority figures, then you are a slave.

Inhibiting your ability to go where you wish is an effective way of controlling the information that you have access to. If you can’t even move about the internet, then someone else is controlling your narrative, and they have an agenda that is not in your best interest. If someone wants to leave and you don’t let them, then you have just reduced them to a mere object.

Also, preventing women or minorities from having access to education is a self-defeating power play. One should be able to travel in mind as well as body. If your opportunity to learn is hindered, you should wonder what the powers that be don’t want you to discover.

People who put up walls to restrict movement are the worst kind of racists. They are either attempting to keep a group out or keep a group in. Either way, they are restricting the flow of information, and preventing the masses from becoming unified. Divide and conquer.

The only things that should prevent you from being able to travel are your own priorities and your own budgetary constraints. And even that is a can of worms, because income inequality is another great way to keep us all ignorant and close to home.

The more you travel, the more you learn. The more you travel, the less you hate. The more you travel in mind, body, and spirit, the more you know what it is to be free.

Freedom

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Civil Trade War

So now Trump thinks Canada is a security risk? Oh, come on. Those people won’t even jaywalk at an intersection. Seriously. There could be no cars for miles, and they’d still patiently wait for the crossing signal.

Trump imposing tariffs on Mexico, Canada, and the European Union is like walking up to your three best friends in the school yard and punching them each in the throat. Just ‘cuz.

As if we weren’t already convinced that this man is an idiot, he now decides to do something that has absolutely no upside, even for him. But oh, yeah, it certainly has taken our focus off of Russia, hasn’t it? He does like to stir shit up.

Smoke and mirrors. It’s all smoke and mirrors. The next election can’t come fast enough.

For some reason, though, a lot of people don’t quite get (yet) what a global pissing match Trump has just set off. So let’s scale it down a bit for easier comprehension.

Let’s say the Governor of Maine doesn’t like the Governor of Georgia. So Maine decides to impose a tariff on all peaches. This means that it gets a lot more expensive for Georgia to get their peaches to consumers in Maine. This causes the Governor of Georgia’s head to explode, and he says, “Fine! We are now putting a tariff on Lobsters! Take that!”

Well, messing with Lobsters in Maine is like touching the third rail. This cannot be borne! So Maine says, okay, now we’re going to put a tariff on airplanes. (You may not know this, but Georgia’s top export is airplanes.)

But hold on. Airplanes are also the top export in California, Arizona, Washington, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, and Connecticut. So they all sit up tensely and blink, too. What’s going to happen next? They all start looking around to see how they can hurt other states who might hurt them. Everyone is poised for battle.

That’s really how the civil war started. Only back then, the commodity was slaves. Not only won’t we buy your slaves, but you can’t have them either. And before we knew it, hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead.

This trade war? Worst idea ever. Thanks, Trump. Way to go.

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That Race Thing

Recently I attended an all day seminar at work regarding race and racism. That’s one of the many beautiful things about living on the left coast. I doubt it would even occur to my former employers in Florida to allow us to have such training, let alone make it an annual event.

I learned much that day. For instance, on a scientific level, race doesn’t even exist. If you look at our DNA, only one out of every thousand nucleotides is different, from human to human. In fact, Penguins and fruit flies have more genetic differences within their own species than we humans do. (I didn’t learn this in the training, but I’ve read somewhere that our DNA is has 40 percent in common with that of a banana! Think about that the next time you eat a banana…)

The trainers showed us a fascinating video in which they did an experiment with a high school class. They sequenced a portion of each student’s DNA. Before the results came back, they were asked who they assumed they had the most genetic similarities to. Naturally, the African Americans assumed they would have more in common with each other, and the Whites gravitated toward the Whites, the Asians with the Asians, the Hispanics with the Hispanics, and so on. But here’s the interesting thing. That turned out not to be true at all. The commonalities and disparities were actually amazingly random.

The skin color thing is a function of the sun. Humans in more overcast climes developed lighter skin over time so that they could absorb every ounce of vitamin D that they could. Otherwise they would not have survived to pass on their genes. It’s just a melanin thing, as simple as that.

Race is something constructed by society to further political and economic goals. Thomas Jefferson, the same guy who wrote that all men are created equal, also wrote, in Notes on the State of Virginia, that “Blacks are inferior to whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” That was, in essence, his way of justifying his ownership of 225 slaves. But there is no scientific evidence of these inferiorities whatsoever. The only reason blacks became slaves in our society was that the white indentured servants who used to do our scut work before slavery could too easily run away and blend in with the general population. Whereas if your skin was a different color, you had nowhere to hide. Slavery was a much more sustainable outrage than indentured servitude.

We often talk about America being a melting pot. I was taught to believe that that meant we are diverse, and we’ve all blended together to become Americans. I used to be so proud of that! But actually, the melting pot concept was more about the desire for all Americans to be able to assimilate and be exactly the same. It was all about only allowing white Christians to sit at the table. I’m repulsed by how twisted I got this. I’d much rather that we be a hardy stew.

One last thought for those of you who still think others are inferior because they have not reached your level of success. It’s easy for us W.A.S.P.s to forget that everyone else has to start 30 yards deep in their own end zone. They don’t have the leg-up that we were born with and never earned. This picture is one of the hand outs from the training. Print it out. Mark off all the privileges you have. Then mark off any additional ones you feel you don’t have that people will assume you have. (For example, I’m not a Christian, but people would think that I was.)

Once you’ve marked off all that privilege, think about who has to be oppressed for you to have each one. It’s a sobering realization. Now, tell me again how all men are created equal?

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20,528 Karma Bombs in Two Minutes

Born in 1800’s America, I’d have been an abolitionist. That is, if I were lucky enough to be a member of the upper class, rather than dying at the age of 25 while working some nasty, brutish factory job for 100 hours a week, while pregnant for the 6th time. What a difference time and place makes in your fate.

That thought, among many others, was in the forefront of my mind while looking at an interactive entitled The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes. This stunning, horrifying animation graphically illustrates the 20,528 voyages that we still have accurate records of for the 315 year period between the 16th and 19th centuries. This visual will haunt me for quite some time.

Each vessel is a dot moving across the Atlantic. You can pause the graphic and click on each one to get the chilling specifics. For example, “The Noordstar, under a flag of the Netherlands, left Senegambia in 1679 with 500 enslaved people, and arrived in Surinam with 421.”

Each dot represents the theft and kidnap of human beings. Each dot represents pain and disease and pestilence and death and despair and the destruction of families and communities. Each dot represents avarice and evil. And there were so many of them. So very many.

And consider this: 2 million of these slaves did not survive the ocean passage. That means the Atlantic Ocean is riddled with minute traces of 2 million bodies. Think of that the next time you make a sand castle on the beach or take a cruise to the Bahamas.

I was really surprised to discover that fewer than 4 percent of the slave ships arrived in the continental U.S. Most went to Brazil or the Caribbean. Not that that’s an excuse, mind you. It just makes me realize that the horror of the American slave trade was eclipsed a thousand times over by what was happening to our south. I can’t even imagine it. It is the stuff of nightmares.

Another interesting thing about this graphic is that if you were to look at it without knowing what it was, you’d be inclined to think that it was missiles being shot at us from Africa. And in a way, it was. Because this destructive and horrible industry was not only devastating to that continent. It was a poisonous legacy for the ports of call, as well. It brought a moral plague to our shores. And for centuries we welcomed it.

It is sobering to see that the very places where these ships landed are economically depressed to this day. They are also, in my opinion, still sites of heightened prejudice, ignorance, and fundamentalism. They are areas of backwardness. As observations go, that one isn’t particularly scientific. It could be pure coincidence. But it could also be karma brought upon us by a legacy of greed.

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Chocolate Isn’t So Sweet

I am allergic to chocolate. It gives me migraines. But that doesn’t stop me from eating it. Over the years I’ve just learned how much I can get away with by trial and error. I love chocolate.

So if the prospect of excruciating pain would not deter me from eating this delectable treat, and my ever-increasing waistline clearly hasn’t, what would? Well, I must admit that this documentary, “The Dark Side of Chocolate” certainly has me rethinking my consumption habits. It reveals that child labor and even slavery is very common in the cocoa industry in Western Africa.

From there, I read this article from the Food Empowerment Project, and it made me feel even more uncomfortable.

I’ll let those two sources provide you with the statistics, but suffice it to say that children have been sold, abducted and/or deceived in order to be forced to work on these cocoa plantations. They are often beaten, deprived of education, forced to survive on a diet of corn paste and bananas, all while working inhumane hours using very dangerous tools that leave them scarred. They are locked in at night as they sleep on the floor, and are whipped if they try to run away. Many never see their families again.

That’s what you are most likely holding in your hand if you are holding a candy bar. And some of the worst culprits are the larger chocolate companies, such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle. The industry hopes to keep this a dirty little secret. In fact, several reporters have been killed trying to get this story to you. After all, there’s big money in chocolate.

Suddenly chocolate doesn’t taste so sweet to me.

All is not lost, however. Go here for a list of companies that source their cocoa from Latin America and Asia, where this horrible cycle of child labor on cocoa plantations is not currently in evidence. (Seattleites, great news! Theo Chocolate is on the list!) It’s still possible to eat chocolate without compromising your morals. It’s just harder, because 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from Western Africa.

If I could stop all child abuse on these plantations by never eating another piece of chocolate again as long as I live, I would do it. It would be hard, but not nearly as hard as what these children are forced to endure. But as with all important changes in the world, it’s going to take more than just me. As individuals, making smarter chocolate purchases is the very least we can do.

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The Greatest Example of Revisionist History

I love it when people are willing to admit that their forefathers were on the wrong side of history, and they choose not to honor certain historical figures anymore. When schools and city parks are named after confederates it gives me great pride when people have the sense to change those names. And it’s glorious to see the statues of tyrants torn down.

But I have to say that of all the positive examples I’ve seen of this, I stumbled upon this particular story quite by accident, and it is, in my humble opinion, brilliant.

I was riding down the street here in Seattle with a coworker, and we passed a truck that had the King County logo on its side. Martin Luther King’s face. So I had to ask, “What was King County called before MLK?”

He smiled, and said, “King County.”

Huh?

Well, it seems that when this county was originally named in 1852, the powers that be chose to honor William Rufus DeVane King. Two days earlier he had resigned his seat on the US Senate due to ill health, oddly, after being elected Vice President. He had been a lifelong politician and only got to serve as Vice President for 6 weeks before dying of tuberculosis.

So far, so good. But what made things rather awkward throughout the years for one of the most liberal counties in the United States is that William King was not only from Alabama, but his family was one of the largest slaveholding families in the state, running a cotton plantation near Selma, basically off the backs of 500 slaves. He consistently voted pro-slavery in the senate.

Oh, and just to make the conservatives slightly uncomfortable, too, there is strong evidence to suggest he had a 10 year homosexual relationship with James Buchanan. Gasp! So, yeah, it seems that just about everyone in the Seattle area was uncomfortable with the name King County for one reason or another.

But here’s where it gets brilliant. How did the King County Council correct this grave historical error? In 1986 they passed a motion to rename King County… King County. Now the county is named after the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Isn’t that the most excellent solution you’ve ever heard? King County is now on the right side of history, and they were able to do it without the added expense of changing signage, letterhead, or acronyms. High five, King County! That’s got to be the most graceful turnaround I’ve ever seen.

William R. D. King
William R. D. King
Martin Luther King Jr. (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Martin Luther King Jr.
(Image credit: AFP/Getty Images)