Tag Archives: human rights

Delia on Student Pulse

Student Pulse is an online journal of collegiate work with a variety of topics.  The idea was to take all the best papers written by college students and gather them in one location online for everyone to read.  So often, students write brilliant papers and they are only read by the professor or TA.  With Student Pulse, the whole world can read these papers, after they pass through the lengthy editorial process of the site’s administrators. 

A while ago, I submitted a paper for them, and this morning I got word that it appears on the website, in its entirety, here

The paper is a book review of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism that I wrote for M. Shahid Alam‘s Global Economy class, which is one of the toughest classes I’ve ever taken.  This book and its theories have likewise shaped many of my opinions on the world, and especially the US government and the CIA, since I first heard of them in Dr. Ryan’s high school AP history classes. 

If you’d like a little taste of what the book is about, and to see some fine short film creation, check out Klein’s collaboration with Alfonso Cuarón, acclaimed writer and director of Children of Men, another piece that shaped my world.  Marisa, this means you!

You can also see a link to the paper on the site’s main page.

Slavery

The momument to the Point of No Return in Ouidah, Benin

During some of our history lectures in Benin on the slave trade, I learned a lot that had never been presented to me in public school, and realized just how US-centric our education is about this matter.  I thought I would share a few odds and ends that stuck out to me.

  • While we in the US are taught about slavery from an American perspective, many other countries were far more active in the slave trade, Brazil topping that list.  Other Latin American and Caribbean countries (like Haiti)
  • While Europeans were heavily involved in the slave trade, relatively few slaves went to Europe
  • Most slaves came through the Slave Coast, like Benin’s Point of No Return in the coastal city of Ouidah
  • A statue at the Point of No Return. Millions of slaves came through here, on their way to Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean.

    Slavery was an active part of many African societies long before the Europeans got involved, but it was a bit different.

  • While Africans did capture and sell other Africans to European slave trade (whose immune systems were too weak and numbers too small to go into the interior themselves) Africans did not sell their own.  That is, one kingdom would sell their prisoners of war and such, but not their own people.  This in turn allowed them to get firepower and increase their authority within the region.
  • Slavery within Africa was also distinct in that it never denied that a person was a human being, and they were not excluded from society.  One could earn their freedom (and it was actually realistic to do so, unlike in antebellum America), be a respected member of society, marry and have children.  They could return to their community after they were released, although many chose not to.
  • The term “African-American”was thoughtto be offensive for a
    Detail on the momument

    while, particularly around the time of abolition and the founding of former slave colonies in Liberia and Sierra Leone.  The insinuation was that these Americans really belonged in Africa, which is a big part of why these colonies were founded in the first place–so there wouldn’t be a whole bunch of free blacks in America, demanding their rights and respect.  The disdain for this term certainly sheds some light on the debate over the use of the terms “negro” and “colored” in the US census.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever learned about slavery?  Any reactions to these tidbits?  And of course, thanks to Professor Kate Luongho for the knowledge and inspiration!

Domestic Servant

While in Benin, we discussed and even met some domestic servants. And by that I mean, adults who had worked as servants for a period of time to work off debt, and children who were “adopted” to help run the house.  It became easier over time to pick out these young girls, by their plain, short hair and extremely reserved demeanor.  They always referred to the women who essentially owned them as their mothers.  They were well-fed and pretty well dressed, but it was clear that they were always on duty: cooking, raising children just a few years younger than themselves, and cleaning.  These domestic servants were often orphans or in debt (or their parents were) and eventually they do attain freedom.  But their existence was highly disturbing and confusing for all of us.

Before going to Egypt, I talked with Phil about a similar conundrum with the carpet makers of Cairo.  Several students would refuse to enter the factories, on the grounds that children make the carpets.  But, as Phil pointed out, they were essentially apprentices, earning their room and board by making carpets.  Many of them had no parents, or had parents too poor to support them.  Compared to being street children, this path had a future.

Sometimes it’s hard to balance our idealism with realism.  We want every child to have a fulfilling life, complete with education, friendship, parental figures, good food, love and playtime. We want them to go on to work that they enjoy, or that at the very least can support them and their families, should they choose to have them.

But that’s not what life is like for most people in the world.  For many people, being an orphan or the child of people in debt means living on the street, begging and stealing, prostitution, jail.  Certainly no education, and few opportunities for lasting happiness.  In that sort of world, it is preferable to work as a child and be able to work your way out of extreme poverty, or to at least have food, clothes and shelter for a while.

I know human rights are immutable. They are all the time, for everyone, always and forever.  They cannot be lessened or taken away for any reason.  When someone or something lessens your rights, they do not take them away from you (you always have them)–they abuse your rights.  And that’s a world that I want, but not one that I live in.  In this world, working at a carpet factory can mean a career and a life off the streets.  It certainly means food and shelter.  Sometimes we have to turn off our western sensibilities of what’s right and wrong, and look for what’s best in the meantime, while we try to create a world where this is no longer an issue.

What is the point of having no child labor, if the child will starve if they don’t work?  In many places in the world, not working doesn’t mean you get to school.  In fact, in many cases, not working means your younger siblings now no longer get to go to school.

What do you think?  Is it okay to settle when it comes to human rights?  It obviously happens all the time, but is it okay for human rights workers to ever say such a thing?  Is our version of human rights really universal?  And, if children’s rights are so important in the US, why haven’t we ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

Tax Man

Trash on the side of the (unpaved) road in Porto-Novo, Benin. This is a relatively small amount of trash, for Benin.

My Friend Across the Aisle Mike pointed out something we often forget about: the benefit of taxes. Love ’em or Hate ’em, they aren’t going away.  The following are some examples of the things we have because of our taxes, things that we assume are basic, things that many other countries have never had.

  • Paved roads
  • Traffic lights
  • Cops who do things
  • The National Guard
  • Firemen, Policemen, Coast Guard et al
  • Stop signs
  • Roads with minimal potholes
  • 911, EMTs and ambulances
  • Free public education through 12th grade
  • A civil code that is updated
  • Public servants and bureaucrats who do their jobs without taking kickbacks
  • A government with a low enough rate of corruption that we’re actually still surprised and outraged when it does happen
  • Prisons with guards on the INSIDE, as well as separate prisons for men, women and children
  • A fully-functioning legal system

Some housekeeping:

I’ll be updating more on this later, but I’m taking part in the 21.5.800 project, which combines self-discipline, writing and yoga!  I figure what else am I doing until co-op starts?  So you’ll see a lot of that product on the site, as well as a better explanation of the project itself.

Most of my posts do not appear on the day they are written, especially when it comes to days of travel, and when I’m in places with poor internet, or when I just have my game together.  As a result, you’ll read about things like Jose Marti airport on the day I’m actually passing through Cotonou Airport in Benin.  And of course, I keep writing about the places I’ve been, long after I come home.  So don’t run away from the blog, there’ll be some changes around here soon!