Black History Month: Slavery by Another Name
PROVO, Utah (February 11, 2014)—Have you ever opened Facebook, only to be overwhelmed with invites and people asking you to care about their worthy cause? A side effect of this may be apathy, but as Matt Mason, an associate professor of history, described in his International Cinema lecture, you are probably ‘compassion fatigued.’
This was the same diagnosis that Mason ascribes to Northerners following the Civil War. From the 1840’s to the 1870’s, slavery was a constant topic of political and moral concern, which eventually left Northerners emotionally and morally exhausted. This compassion fatigue combined with other mounting political concerns allowed the North to turn a blind eye to the distressing condition of the convict labor system in the post-Civil War South, the central focus of the film.
You might wonder how we allowed slavery to continue after we fought a war to end it. In fact, it is one of the crucial documents of the Civil War, the famous thirteenth amendment, that both broke the bands of slavery, yet allowed it under conviction of crime. This important loophole allowed slavery to be practiced on convicts, or as Mason put it, this enabled white Southerners who had difficulty letting go of slavery to “resurrect slavery under another name”.
During the lecture, Mason also called attention to the ongoing state of slavery across the world. Just as we may have mistakenly assumed that slavery ended in the United States with the 13th amendment, today slavery is still in force despite its illegality in every country. By conservative estimates, 20 million are subjugated to slavery and other forms of human trafficking, but this number could be as high as 30 million.