A beautiful mansion, wonderfully decorated on the outside with blood stained velvet ribbons and towering marble statues. A gilded mansion, with glimmering golden paint on rotting wooden walls. A peculiar mansion, with its grandeur appearance and its crooked foundation, held up on the backs of children, held up on the backs of the poor, held up on the backs of those who were deceived. A peculiar mansion, built in the memory of a peculiar institution. This is the house of slavery, built on the foundation of inequality, in a land where justice cannot stand. Can justice truly exist in a society founded on inequality?
It would surprise many people that not only does slavery still exist in all parts of the globe, but it has over 25 million innocent lives held in bondage. Many of these slaves were tricked into slavery or were kidnapped or even trafficked, being forced to work tirelessly with no pay and little food in compensation. An astounding majority of those that are trafficked are either children or women, like Hema, who at twelve years old was taken from her home in Karnataka, India to earn money to feed her family as a housemaid in Bangalore. However, upon arriving, she found that she had been deceived, as her job, “wasn’t what she had expected. Instead of being paid money for her work, she was treated as a slave. She was not paid and was not allowed to leave the grounds of the mansion. She was very badly treated by the man who had seemed so kind when he arrived at her parents’ house.” Taken from the blog, “Southern Arizona Against Slavery,” the story exemplified the inequality that exists in modern day India. Hema, who at the age of twelve had to work to support her impoverished family, was taken to work as a slave in someone else’s mansion, to supplement someone else’s riches, to work and be treated as if she were inferior. Although Hema was eventually rescued and returned to her family, there was no justice for her, there was no retribution for the actions of the man who took her from her family and deceived her, no justice for the little girl who just wanted to help her family. What allows a man to get away scotch-free in such an insidious crime?
Wealth and power.
In a country where the upper class owns more than 70% of India’s wealth, the rich impose their laws and judicial structure, a structure that only benefits them and their greed. In a country full of inequality like India, owning slaves is fair game as long as you have the wealth and power.
Transitioning to 19th century America, the land of freedom and justice, and a haven for all white Anglo-Saxon males living under tyranny and injustice. A country that fought so bravely to achieve liberty and equality, and a country that fought even more fiercely to prevent liberty and equality. The United States has often been viewed as an example to other countries and a model for democracy and freedom, but often a large portion of its dark history is ignored, and those who suffered in this history forgotten. This is the story of the slave society of the “gallant South”, and how justice was truly absent during this time. The Dred Scott Case of 1857 was a landmark decision in what the Supreme Court of the United States ruled what the status of African-Americans was in the United States. Chief “Justice” Roger Taney ruled that, “the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that the memorable instrument…”. This was a primary document of the Dred Scott vs. Sanford decision in 1857, where the final ruling was that since Dred Scott was an African American, and since African Americans were not granted citizenship in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence, Dred Scott therefore could not even plea in court for his freedom as he was not considered a citizen of the United States. Dred Scott pleaded for his freedom as he claimed that since he was taken to the free state of Illinois (where slavery was prohibited) and claimed that since he had been taken to a sate where slavery was prohibited, he was therefore free and no longer bounded. Roger Taney’s decision was a prime example of the inequality and injustice that all African-Americans were subject to during the 19th century. It is this inequality and idea of racial superiority that allows the Court and government to make these decisions and uphold slavery. It is this inequality that drives justice away from “the land of the free and home of the brave”.
Perhaps this is in our past. Perhaps the United States really is a model for the rest of the world; a forerunner in democracy, liberty, and justice. Perhaps the hundreds of thousands of children, women, and immigrants currently held in fear and in bondage are just exceptions. Perhaps we were wrong.
Ima Matul is from Indonesia, where at 17 years old she was offered a job in Los Angeles as a nanny. Ima was already valiant enough to travel on her own, at such a young age, to a country she has never been to nor has ever spoken the language of. She had come trusting the American democracy, believing that she would have a better life. It seemed that Ima was misled, “As soon as she passed through customs, the woman who she’d be ‘working’ for confiscated her passport. At the tony house of her employer just outside Beverly Hills, the $150 a month she’d been promised never materialized.” A great story reported by Steve Hargreaves at CNN, it tells the tragic tale of an innocent immigrant being taken advantage of. Where she was seen as inferior by her captors, Ima had no route for escape; unable to speak english, Ima could not tell anyone of her plight. She worked as a slave for two years, beaten, abused, and threatened with being sent to the police if she were to attempt to escape. She would eventually escape, with the help of her captors’ neighbors, but that doesn’t mean justice was carried out, ” Her captors were never prosecuted, she said, as the case was too difficult to prove.” Ima’s captors, who forced her to work and violently abused her for two years straight, were never brought before the law. They were never punished for what they had done, and they still profited from taking advantage of Ima. Justice wasn’t served in Ima’s case, in a society where immigrants who toil to find a better life in the United States are seen as inferior and not deserving of American citizenship. Ima’s captors weren’t prosecuted because “it was too difficult to prove”, they weren’t prosecuted because they had money, power, and were legalized citizens. American or not, justice should be blind to ethnicity, not to crime.
The most convincing piece of evidence for the fact that justice cannot exist in a society that promotes inequality comes from Frederick Douglass’ “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”. A prolific, self-educated author, Frederick Douglass does an incredible job of portraying the life of a slave without leaving out any detail. His book serves as an insight into what Southern society was like and what Southern attitudes were towards slavery and African-Americans in general. In one quote, Frederick managed to encompass the American justice system and inequality of society in America during the nineteenth century, “If I had been killed in the presence of a thousand colored people, their testimony combined would have been insufficient to have arrested one of the murderers.” This one quote moved me. After learning about modern day slavery, before reading all the personal accounts of contemporary slaves and documents of unjust court rulings, I would never have guessed that a society could be so broken, that a society could be so divided, that a society could be so unequal as to let one man get away with murder in front of thousands of witnesses because of a difference in skin color. This quote made it blatant, it became apparent that slavery and injustice are processes driven by inequality and hatred. Two twisted institutions, supported and reinforced by two dark and looming columns.
How can we stop this? Is there a solution to ending slavery worldwide? Will inequality plague us as a race for the rest of history? When will justice truly be reached? Is inequality part of our human nature? So many questions can stem from this single question. But the answer is apparent; a house divided against itself cannot stand, but a house united can change the world. The peculiar mansion, with its rotting walls and unequal foundation, is bound to fall. The mallet is in our hands: will we continue to support this institution, or will we destroy slavery and global inequality?