Just recently, the BBC came out with an article horrifying, but sadly, not surprising (it was Fascist Spain, after all). I’ve linked the article here.
Archive for January, 2011
…even by Israeli standards.
BBC article linked here.
At my college, I’ve been trying to get a number of products (made by immoral companies or through unethical means) boycotted, both by the campus and by the students. It hasn’t been going so great.
My fellow students are more than willing, when I come knocking at their doors, to sign my petitions, but overwhelmingly that’s as far as they’ll go. More often than not they sign without even asking what I’m trying to do or tell me that they need time to think it over (which has been just a euphemism for “go annoy someone else”). It’s not that I’m ungrateful for having as many signatures as I do, but the real issue here is getting my peers to make a conscious change to the way they live their lives- to make an ethical statement. In all honesty I’d rather have them not sign at all than sign without actually joining the boycotts.
But that’s a bit off topic- here’s the real problem.
I don’t think the moral lines could be more clearly drawn in such a situation. We have companies that have killed for profit, selling their products here on campus, and in the stores and markets across the world. These two companies make junk food, their products are easy to substitute or give up entirely. I and my fellow activists merely ask that our peers stop spending their money to these unethical corporations.
And yet we’ve had almost no response.
It’s not an issue of necessity, where our peers are forced to buy certain products. It’s not an issue of availability- there are plenty of perfectly good (or at least, less harmful) substitutes to the boycott products. It’s not an issue of trust- we don’t want donations. The issue is that my peers just don’t care!
And here seems to be the problem- people don’t care much either way if the beverage they’re drinking came from a sweatshop in Colombia, or if the chocolate they’re eating was harvested by ten year-old slave-laborers in Central America. Perhaps it was best said in the film Hotel Rwanda, when one of the characters comments “…When people turn on their TVs and see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible,’ and then they’ll go back to eating their dinners.”. Other than a shallow, fleeting expression of shock or sadness or horror, no one seems to be moved to action.
Perhaps it’s that my peers (and Westerners in general) simply don’t expect anything from the third world other than disease, poverty, starvation, war, and genocide. Just a couple days ago, I saw this advertisement for the New York Food Bank (linked here)- in it, one of the spokespersons states “hunger happens in the third world- not in New York City”. Granted, the statement was made to make a point about the very real presence of hunger in New York, but it bugged me nonetheless. I appreciate them dealing with the issue of hunger in New York, but are they saying it’s acceptable elsewhere? I want to think it was just a poor choice of words on their part, but this kind of mentality does indeed exist. It’s a kind of unconscious racism- the idea that these places always have been miserable and always will be. The idea that there’s no hope. Again, Hotel Rwanda hits the nail on the head when a UN colonel says to the protagonist “You’re black. You’re not even a nigger. You’re an African.”. Perhaps the reason we can’t get people to care is because they just don’t believe the oppressed peoples of the world are capable of ever living in better conditions.
Or maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it’s that people are just distracted by other things. We’re bombarded every waking moment with messages telling us to lose weight or to gain weight or to lighten our skin or to darken our skin or to get a better clothes or a house or a better car and better insurance to protect those things. Perhaps it’s easy to lose track or get our priorities confused, and we start valuing a specific brand of soda over the lives of farmers in India.
Or maybe it’s that people just won’t care unless they themselves are the ones being oppressed and exploited. Maybe we’re so selfish and self-centered that the only motivation we’ll ever have to make the world a better place is when we’re the ones bruised, bloody, and starving. Maybe that’s the only wake-up call I and peers will ever really respond to- a lashing from the sweatshop overseer for falling asleep at our station, or the jab of a soldier’s bayonet for having been born the wrong race. Is this how things are going to be? The people who can help don’t care, and the people need help aren’t able?
At this point in the post, I’d usually throw out some kind of appeal or call to action, but I just don’t know what to say. What is it going to take to wake the world up? What’s it going to take to spur people into action? The movies, the poetry, the charity, the music- it helps for a while and briefly seizes our attention, but we soon get bored and forget. The powerful stay powerful, the powerless stay powerless. The rich get richer and the poor get left further behind. Again, what do we- what do I need to do?
Tags: America, bigotry, Bourgeois, Bourgeoisie, Capitalism, Capitalist, class, Classism, Communism, Communist, economic class, Elite, English, Ethnic, Ethnicity, fear, illegal immigrants, immigrants, Immigration, Marx, Marxism, Marxist, middle-class, official language, Politics, Race, Racial Strife, Racial Tension, racism, ruling class, Social Class, Socialism, society, sociology, Spanish, the elite, United States, US, xenophobia
In an older post, I attempted to demonstrate how Capitalism spawns bigotry in terms of both class and race. For this post, I thought I might expound a bit on the latter issue.
First, a disclaimer. Capitalism is not inherently racist. It is exploitative, enslaving, and oppressive, but it is not inherently racist.
The key word here is inherently. While there’s nothing about in the tenets of Capitalism that embraces racism (just the opposite- Capitalism doesn’t care much who it exploits), the Capitalist system, once put into practice, adopts the bigotry of the Capitalists. Allow me to clarify.
Capitalism produces social classes, the rich, the middle class, and the poor and working class. The rich, often dubbed “the elite” or “the ruling class” by Communists, control society through politics, industry, disproportionate wealth and property, and so on. Now despite the growing multiculturalism we’re seeing across the globe, the ruling classes of various countries still tend be primarily from a single race or ethnicity. Look at America where, despite one of the highest levels of racial and cultural diversity, the upper and middle class remain almost entirely white and Protestant Christian. Now while there’s nothing racist about being white or Christian (though there’s been plenty of racism from whites and Christians), the problem is with human nature. We crave familiarity and are terrified of the strange or unknown. As a result the middle and upper-classes attempt, both consciously and unconsciously, to keep things the way they’ve always been, which often leads to cultural and racial tension.
For example, a couple years ago I was in a debate with a woman about the institution of English as the official language of the United States. She was decrying having to “press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish”, and the dire implications of having streets signs and forms written bilingually (though exactly what dire implications would arise she never did enumerate upon). Now as I talked with this woman, it became evident that she was not a racist. She did not believe that her ethnicity was in any way superior to anyone else’s. yet she passionately argued that immigrants must “learn English”. In short, she wasn’t afraid of racial mixing or other people groups, she was afraid of change and the unknown.
When you break it down into it’s most basic components, the race/class issue functions like this: the haves are race/ethnic group A, the have-nots are races/ethnic groups B, C, D, and so on. Those in power are race/ethnic group A, the powerless are races/ethnic groups B, C, D, etc. Again, the system is not inherently racist, however, the system almost always becomes racist. The ruling class becomes the ruling race- the lack of diversity spawns an atmosphere of xenophobia at best and blatant, unapologetic bigotry at worst. On the opposite end of the spectrum, resentment (understandably) foments. Again I have to state, even with a system that isn’t inherently racist and people who are, individually open-minded, any social structure that divides us up or separates us from each other will ultimately create racism.
Tags: A Dream Deferred, abuse, anti-union, Banana Republic, Bangladesh, boycott, Cambodia, Caterpillar, Caterpillar Inc., child labor, China, crime, Dead Peasant, Dead Peasant Insurance, Exploitation, GAP, IDF, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, labor rights, Langston Hughes, Nike, Old Navy, Pakistan, Palestine, Rachel Corrie, racism, Russia, Saipan, sexism, sweatshop, sweatshop labor, Thailand, The GAP, Tom COughlin, union, Vietnam, Wal-Mart, worker's rights, workers
As in my last post, this is by no means a complete list, and any and all suggestions (or criticisms) are welcome.
GAP (called “The Gap” by people who just don’t know better) is perhaps one of the most successful clothing stores in the US. GAP is also notorious for its use of sweatshops and child-labor (resulting in a tragic-yet-hilarious video by satirical publication “The Onion”, which I’ve linked for you here). Some of GAP’s more prominent crimes include:
- Operating sweatshops and abusing workers in Saipan (a pacific island administrated over by the United States).
- Operating sweatshops and using child labor in Jordan.
- Operating sweatshops and using child labor in India.
GAP also owns and operates other clothing outlets, including Banana Republic and Old Navy. Despite it’s size, boycotting GAP (and it’s subsidiaries) is fairly easy due to the prevalence of thrift stores.
As with GAP, Nike is infamous for it’s use of child labor, sweatshop labor, assorted violations of worker’s rights, and general exploitative practices, such as:
- Repeated and widespread use of sweatshops across the third-world, including such countries as Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Cambodia, and other countries.
- Exposure of workers in Thai factories to toxic chemicals.
- Repeated use of various music pieces (such as the Beatle’s “Revolution”) without permission from the artists.
- Capitalization of Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred”. Perhaps some explanation is needed here. Hughes was a major black writer during the 1930s, and his classic poem “A Dream Deferred” describes Hughes’ frustration and anger at the oppression of African-Americans. Nike used “A Dream Deferred” In a 2008 commercial advertising their shoes, (commercial linked here). The images and message of the advertisement have nothing in common with the meaning of the poem, and yet the poem is used for promotion of Nike’s product. There’s something very, very wrong about usurping a powerful work about racial segregation and degradation and using it to hawk footwear.
As with GAP, while Nike is a large company with a wide variety of brands and products, boycotting is fairly easy with the wide number of alternatives to buying $300 shoes made in sweatshops.
While you’re probably already familiar with the ocean of criticisms of Wal-Mart, it’s still worth listing a few of the more heinous acts and policies for the few who might not be aware:
- Wal-Mart is known for underpaying and overworking it’s employees. Allegations of sexism and racism have also been made.
- Wal-Mart is viciously anti-union, attempting to “inform” workers as to the dangers of unionization, firing workers for both joining/starting unions and discussion joining/starting unions. Wal-Mart has (based on the statements of a former executive, Tom Coughlin) even gone so far as to bribe union employees in order to single-out Wal-Mart employees who had signed union cards.
- Wal-Mart operates a number of sweatshops in China and Bangladesh.
- Wal-Mart’s use of sweatshop labor allow it to sell products cheaply in the US, undermining small and locally-owned competitors who are forced out of business.
- Wal-Mart, during the mid 90s, made a practice of taking out life-insurance policies on it’s employees, allowing the corporation to benefit from their deaths. Wal-Mart had named this practice “Dead Peasant” insurance.
- Wal-Mart sells furniture made from trees grown in protected habitats in Russia (the trees were illegally cut down). The corporation has stated it will not stop selling the furniture until 2013.
Now boycotting Wal-Mart is substantially more difficult than boycotting other corporations because of the relatively low prices of most Wal-Mart products. More often than not, Wal-Mart is the more economic choice, instead of the ethical. Nevertheless, buying from local stores (dollar stores make a decent alternative) is well worth it.
While I’m guessing most of you don’t buy heavy-duty construction and demolition equipment, it’s still worth adding Caterpillar on to the list- if nothing else it might help shake their public image a bit. The primary criticism of Caterpillar is:
- Caterpillar bulldozers (and other demolition machines) are bought and used by Israeli army to destroy Palestinian buildings.
- In 2003, activist Rachel Corrie was killed in Palestine when a Caterpillar bulldozer was driven into her.
As before, chances are you won’t be buying Caterpillar equipment in the future, but it’s still worth pointing out.