Sunday, 10 July 2016

We were discussing slavery

yesterday. One of the Senior Cat's current non-fiction books is "Sapiens" by Yuval Harari. Our friend H.... suggested it - a good pick on her part. 
Like most things these days he is taking his time with it - along with Ian Rankin's "Rebus's Scotland" and a book by Minette Walters that he somehow missed out on when it was first published. I am not sure how he missed the Rankin either because he has devoured everything else Rankin has written.
But, we were discussing the slave trade. It had come up in Sapiens and the Senior Cat was, as always, interested (and disturbed) by the motivations behind it. 
I was reminded yet again of my last history teacher at school - the one who told us to close our books and listen to what was going to happen in what is now Zimbabwe - telling me to read an account of the slave trade he had found. (Like my English teacher that year he tended to give me things to read. The rest of the class was apparently not interested.) He must have had great faith in me to provide me with the account he gave me. "I gave this man (and the writer goes on to describe the individuals) and he gave me...."
I was shocked - and it still appalls me - to discover that the slave trade was not just a "white man's trade". The idea that tribal chiefs had sold people they knew stunned me. As a very naive teenager this idea was almost incomprehensible. 
And, of course, I thought the slave trade had been abolished. It hasn't of course. There are "slaves" here. We may not have many but we do have some - and even one is too many.  They are hidden of course but they do exist. Some of them would not even be recognised as such but they are slaves - people who are not properly paid, who are not free to move to other employment, who are forever "in debt" to their employers, who are required to live in a particular place and in a particular way, and who are not permitted to mix with the rest of the community. Their "employers" have this new form of slavery down to a fine art.
I also reminded the Senior Cat of one of the establishments in our local shopping centre. It provides a sort of manicure/pedicure type service. The girls who work there are young Chinese. They don't smile. They don't engage in conversation with the customers. They "don't speak English".  An acquaintance of mine went in there recently - her children had given her a gift voucher and she felt compelled to use it. The staff there were not aware of it but she speaks their particular Chinese dialect - and speaks it fluently. She listened for a short time to them talking among themselves. Their speech is subdued and constrained even among themselves.
Then she spoke to the girl who indicated she was ready to do her nails - in her own language. There was a startled look, almost fearful. As my acquaintance (and I) had expected she was informed that they had been told not to engage the customers in conversation - it would be "impolite". 
She told the young manicurist it would be "impolite" not to engage in conversation with someone who spoke the same language. They talked - quietly.  It's a start.


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