Robert “Shuken” McCarthy
April 24, 2017
This week’s subject is the “Being Part of the Solution.” After last week’s race counsel I am not so sure if I am capable of that. I found last week’s exercise to be a little more challenging for me, people were trying to check their privileges in the most disgusting ways possible. I was almost on the verge of visible disgust after Luke’s sharing. I am not sure what brought that on, I was just so disgusted by his self-labels that I checked out after his turn. I just have nothing to say about any of it. It’s a lose-lose situation, I really do not have anything to offer in the realm of social justice, maybe you could say that is part of my privilege, it brooks deeper examination I feel. I am not sure how to connect to the issue, I felt like everyone just provided dry empty, myself included. I imagine what ever could I say about the world that People of Color inhabit.
Hopefully this week’s readings can help me create a better understanding of what I am going through and how to be part of the solution, which I feel was what we automatically tried solving in the race council. What an exercise in futility, maybe which says something about my fellow chaplains that is immediately where they go on the discussion of race, straight to trying to solve the issues of the world. Maybe it’s telling that my mind immediately runs in the opposite direction of the rest of the cohort
Getting into the meat of this week’s readings I would like to hit on what I encountered in “Radical Dharma.” The first chapter is titled: “What the World Needs Now” by Dr. Syedullah, she starts the first part of the chapter off by quoting the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution: “The Thirteenth Amendment, the Constitutional abolition of slavery in 1865, proof-positive that democracy works and is an ever-evolving, self-correcting system of consensus, justice, and deliberation. The Amendment states that ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime…’ emphasis added by author.”1 This really struck me on the macro level it made me think back to what I know of United States history.
I’ll start the macro examination by talking about the aftermath of the US Civil War, shortly after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse and the subsequent signing of the Thirteenth Amendment the United States Government embarked on the ambitious plan of connecting the East and West Coasts of the nations by rail. Such an undertaking would require massive amounts of labor, not many men in those days were willing to venture into the wild frontier of the nascent of US, filled with malevolent natives, disease, hardship, bandits, and ferocious wild animals. So large corporations like the Union Pacific, which was working its way West from St. Louis, Missouri, looking to link up with the Western Pacific Railroad somewhere in Utah, which was working its way East from San Francisco. This meant that both companies were forced to look elsewhere to fill their labor needs and considering the business ethics of the 1800s they would also seek the cheapest alternatives, the Western Pacific used Chinese
immigrants who were no better off than slaves, and the Union Pacific struck a deal with the post war carpetbagger government of the state of Georgia to secure masses of incarcerated laborers who were paid very little for their labor, and while not uniformly black the majority of those being drawn from Georgia penitentiaries just so happened to be.
The moral of the story is that the Thirteenth Amendment has a lot of weasel words in it, while these loopholes were more exploited in the late 19th and early 20th centuries today it would be much harder in terms of media coverage to subject incarcerated prisoners to hard slave labor. On a micro level I recognize the use of “weasel words” in the enslavement of certain groups of people. This is unfortunate often the history of a nation is quite clear, though from time to time it is covered by clouds, hard to parse out. Thank you reading this long rant, there was quite a bit for me to digest.
Johnson, Allan G., Privilege, Power and Difference, New York, NY, McGraw-Hill (2006).
Williams, Angel, Radical Dharma, Berkeley, CA, North Atlantic Press (2016).