Appropriating the term “slaves” from a modern perspective

Trivializing the exploitation of millions

By Cazzy Lewchuk, Opinions Editor

(Authors note: This article describes the very serious and horrible acts of people being exploited in every awful way possible. If you are particularly sensitive to hearing about abuse, you might want to not read this one.)

Slavery is the concept of owning other people as property and using them for unpaid labour. It is quite literally treating others as sub-human, and is almost universally condemned in modern society. While the most well-known example of slavery in North American society involved black people being exploited by white people in the 1600–1800s, it has been widely practiced throughout history world-wide.

While slavery is often thought of as archaic, it continues to be implemented in some form across the globe today, despite being illegal in every country. In fact, there are more people in slavery today than ever before due to population expansion. The majority of the estimated 30 million slaves today are in developing countries, particularly India and China. However, human trafficking, globalization, and exploitation of displaced persons or immigrants ensures that is not only a problem in the developing world. Thousands of people in countries like Canada, the US, or the UK still experience slavery.

While all slavery is absolutely horrible, particularly heinous is the issue of sexual slavery. Many slaves today are kept for the purpose of being sexually abused or forced into prostitution, and this includes children. Many slaves are sexually abused in addition to other dangerous and painful work. It is one of the most brutal, dehumanising, cruel lives a person can live.

There are two punk groups from the US and UK called Slaves (the American stylizing the name as SL▲VES.) Explaining their name, the American singer Jonny Craig said “Men have been enslaving men for as long as we’ve had gods to hide behind. Every man is a slave to what we love—whether it be women, drugs, music, or sports. Through art, we are all equals.”

I’m sure that Craig did not intend his band’s name to minimize the seriousness of millions around the world being stripped of human rights. Jonny’s defence of the name comes from a place of privilege, and denies the systemic racism and abuse that contributes to slavery. Slavery has an extremely racist and sexist history, which continues to dominate in its role today. Trivializing the millions of people—particularly women and people of colour—being brutally exploited under violent threat is not something one can defend.

It is true that “slave” is often used in a less serious definition than the original meaning. We’re probably all guilty of making jokes about being slaves to our low-paying, less-than-satisfactory jobs. But earning minimum wage at Starbucks is a lot different than regularly being beaten, starved, and dehumanized while working hard labour for no money. Calling yourself a “slave” to your love for craft beer is different from being a stateless child shipped off in a crate to be sexually abused for profit.

The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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