Don’t get me wrong… the Confederate flag has no place flying over any public building in the United States. And I am by no means trying to lessen the need for action on civil rights in America – or Canada, really, for that matter. Racism is an issue that needs to be addressed. Seriously and with great social and governmental energy.
But I also wonder how proud we should be of flying any western nation flag. The fact of the matter is that first world nations support slavery in many, many forms. We support sweatshops. We support abysmal working conditions. We support unwaged and barely waged labour. Here in Canada, our nation actively supports other nations that thrive on slavery and inhumane treatment of workers.
It’s just not, you know, in your face. It’s hidden behind an ocean. A border. A brand name. Or a flag.
This is not merely at the government level. We do it ourselves, through our purchases, through our choice of past-times (hands up if you were planning on watching even a single game from the Qatar World Cup). We do it almost every time we fire up a computer or send a text. Oftentimes, like it or not, we do it just by existing — the components of so much of our day to day infrastructure is sourced from developing nations.
I look at what is in my cupboards and closets at home. At what I’m wearing today. At the computer I’m typing on. And I notice this: One hell of a lot of slavery went into my day today.
According to the Made in a Free World website, I have 47 slaves working for me – or have on the products that I own. Now, I don’t know a whole lot about Made in a Free World, or the accuracy of their survey, but, even if it is only half right, this number is indicative of a major problem when it comes to the importance of slave labour to Canadians.
What makes my almost 50 slave number astonishingly scary is the fact that I’m a conductor on the “shop local” train. I guide local food tours. I educate people on shopping locally.
Local, local, local.
The word is used so frequently in our society and yet covers such a small amount of our built/produced world. I mean, this sure isn’t a local keyboard I’m typing on. The global network of cables that this blog post travels through to get to you sure wasn’t made Peterborough. The satellite that beams this to your phone wasn’t hand-crafted or sold on Etsy. Hell, I’ve got no idea where half this stuff comes from – just like so many of the products and so much physical infrastructure that we depend on every day.
The products that we use – whether we purchase them or just unconsciously depend on them as we pass through the world – come from companies that operate on every continent of the planet. They come from some pretty sketchy countries that Canada is eager to trade with. I mean, really, really eager to trade with. So, often, we have no clue of the working conditions of the people that produce either the finished goods, the parts they are made of, or the materials needed to produce them.
The sad fact is that it is nearly impossible to live in Canada and not support slavery in one form or another.
Houston Ottawa, we have a problem.
And, man… I’m not even going to bring up oil wars, drone strikes, global environmental pillaging, or the human rights abuses that happen both across the planet and right here in the moose-hugging happyland of the Maple Leaf (what residential schools? what prison inequality? What murdered women?).
I could, but then I’d have to think about it. And then I wouldn’t sleep well tonight.
Our support of global slavery is more than enough to wrap a head around for the moment. Which is more time than we usually give it.
And why don’t we give this support of global slavery more attention? Probably because it isn’t celebrated on a flag or a concert stage or a car. Probably because it is an invisible slavery. But every bit as real to those living it.
I don’t really know what I’m getting at here.
Other than the notion that flags are funny things.
And funny things to rally around.
I suppose if I were to distill a message, it would be this:
Let’s tear down those confederate flags. They are relics of discrimination and dis-empowerment. They are also symbols of the race problems that remain today.
Tear them up and use the material to stanch the wounds of prejudice and hatred.
But let’s also think about what our own nation represents before we get too smug about them flying in the first place.
Because we’re not doing so shit hot ourselves.