Flag-Waving and Flag-Shaming Distract from Real Issues

Map Showing Incidence of Slavery in 2013

Visualization of the Data from the Walk Free Foundation (linked below) (SRC: User Kwamikagami, Wikipedia)

In a tiny microcosm of how the manufactured outrage machine in this country works, my Facebook feed is saturated with discussions about how important it is that we remove some of the symbols associated with the Confederacy because of their links to defending slavery 150 years ago. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are uniting to argue for removal of the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (which some mistakenly call the “Stars and Bars” – the name of the actual flag of the Confederate States of America). Huge amounts of airtime is going to this issue, and impassioned statements are everywhere to be found.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Congress approved a bill giving the President the authority to move forward with his stated goal of negotiating a new Trans-Pacific trade partnership. The Republicans wanted this, as did President Obama, to ensure that mega-corporations could get even richer – with no concern for how it impacted everyday, hard-working Americans.

This is particularly germane to my opening paragraph because President Obama also opposed Senator Menendez’s amendment to block trade agreements with countries listed by the State Department as “Tier 3” in terms of human trafficking and slavery. Despite White House opposition, the amendment passed, and Paul Ryan is now actively working to gut it through a customs bill.

So, to be clear, while the corporate-owned media has us focusing our energy on a flag that, while still used today as a symbol by white supremacists and other idiots, dates from a war where slavery ended in this country 150 years ago; our leaders in both parties – including our President – want to make it as easy as possible for American companies to use actual slave labor, right now, in 2015.

Millions of people in countries like Malaysia, Mauritania, India and Saudi Arabia live in real slavery right now. Thousands of them will die this year as a result of the conditions of their enslavement (this includes the ones being sacrificed to build the World Cup stadium in Qatar). Our government helps make this possible, in the service of the billionaire class who benefits from the labors of the lives they own.

I’m not trying to understate or minimize the importance of our ongoing dialogue about racism and the systems of injustice which perpetuate it. Instead, I want to point out how the system is designed to focus our energies on symbolic causes célèbres rather than the very real issues of life and death.

If slavery is such a horrid concept that even a flag associated with the institution (from 150 years ago) warrants so much energy, why aren’t we willing to at least hold our elected officials accountable for curtailing the widespread use of slavery by our trading partners? If Amazon and Wal*Mart shouldn’t even sell a flag that represents the history of slavery in the United States, why should they be allowed to sell goods produced by actual slaves living in horrid conditions of brutality and slaughter?

If we all agree that slavery is horrible, why aren’t we willing to make even the tiniest sacrifices to actually end it?

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