"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Masters and Slaves Among Us

One evening I spent in the house of my PhD mentor, her husband brought this topic to our conversation. He spent a few years in the Philippines and one of the things that made him very uncomfortable was the number of domestic helpers some households had in the Philippines. He talked about it with a profound sense of contempt and aversion. I spent years being educated in a Jesuit institution advertising itself as a school that shaped men and women for others yet I never heard a single lecture that pointed out one of the greatest ills of Philippine society. The parking lots during my college days were often full of cars with chauffers spending their entire day waiting as my classmates went through their classes. I had long been in the midst of masters and slaves. I had received a doctorate degree in chemistry and had learned quantum mechanics but my mentor's husband was still lecturing me that evening on slavery.

After reading about the Atlantic's piece, "A Story of Slavery in Modern America", I knew some of my collegues here at Georgetown University would ask me about it.

Above copied from The Atlantic

I wanted to echo one of the comments I saw on Facebook from
Jennah Martens-Forrester:
This entire article wreaks of entitlement and someone who never really learned their lesson. Like those who believe in "good" slave owners who "treated their slaves like family" (/barf). This piece is a disgusting piece of propaganda meant to show the dilemma of "the benevolent slave owner" and to make the author's position seem oh so sympathetic. I'm over this kind of narrative. He didn't care enough to actually do more than the minimum to assuage his guilt.
The Philippines is a country molded by centuries of colonialism. With independence and since the country was largely agricultural, some families became powerful by virtue of the lands they were able to claim ownership after the colonizers had left. Those who had lands became masters and those who did not became slaves. This was the past and yet the situation had not really changed that much. For this reason, the comment above, in my opinion, must be really taken seriously. The lessons of slavery are not really that difficult to learn. But most of us do not understand slavery for one reason. We often fail to see what it has done to a person. The profound destruction of a person who has been enslaved always escapes our attention so we usually end up not seeing how much we really need to do to make amends.

The Facebook comment also had the following to say:
He didn't "offer her freedom" (at the age of 70 after his mother was dead), because it was never his to offer. He and his family stole it, and he continued to benefit from it, while refusing to ever face the just consequences of his part in it.
Sadly, this comment comes from someone who lives in Canada. Most comments I have seen describe the Atlantic article as a "beautiful story". Patricia Cofield seems to have the same impression as she writes a reply to Martens-Forrester's post:
Thank you for this post. This thread is so sympathetic to him as a slave owner.
This is not a beautiful story. It should bring shame to all of us in the Philippines. I have Filipino friends who are on Facebook who say that the article brings tears, yet I have never seen a single condemnation.

Slavery is alive and well in the Philippines. It is not surprising why there are warlords and private armies even in the urban areas. Technology may be replacing manual labor and some slaves are becoming free. Sadly, one should ask, "free for what?" There are no reparations for slavery in the Philippines. The system right at the very beginning remains tilted to favor the privileged. The basic education of a child in the Philippines is frequently decided by the socioeconomic status of one's parents. We do not understand slavery. This is why it is likewise difficult for us to appreciate the importance of equity in basic education.


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