31 for 41: Little Hands

Dear Donovan,

During the time that I stayed at home with the twins, I was able to enjoy watching them pop up each morning, ready for the day.  They awoke each day happy and optimistic, even before they could voice this optimism.  I cannot remember what prompted the thought, but one morning as I watched them, I tried to imagined myself as an enslaved mother in 1850 in North Carolina, watching her bouncing one-year-old begin his day.  I started to cry as I realized that, in that situation, a mother might look at her beautiful boy with this thought: “He doesn’t know that he’s not free.”

It would be so hard to look into a happy and innocent face and know just how soon happiness would be erased and innocence would be destroyed, and in the cruelest ways.  If I am teaching you to be a good man, I need you to know that there are many moms in the world today who are facing this reality in some way.

Before I tell you about slavery in the world today, let me say something about the past.  Sometimes, we like to think that we have freed ourselves from the problems of the past.  In addition, there are many battles being waged today over how to view the past.  Let me caution you to always be a careful student of history, and to recognize with humility that these are complex matters. 

On every ugly page of history, there were individuals who committed evil acts.  There were individuals who did not agree with the evil, but who did not actively work against it either.  There were individuals who actively worked against the evil.  There were individuals who risked their lives to work against the evil.  There were individuals who died fighting the evil.  Never minimize the evil.  Still, always remember that within any given population, some individuals chose personal gain and others chose principles.

You are not responsible for the decisions of others in the past, but you are responsible for your decisions now.  Use the lessons of the past to make wise decisions now.  As you do so, maintain that sense of humility I mentioned.  The self-righteous person who declares that he has absolutely no connection to any oppressive regime of the past may have to reexamine that claim if he drives a Mercedes or BMW, has a Hugo Boss suit in his closet, owns an IBM product, or drinks Coca-Cola products.  (Research companies that financed and/or profited from the Holocaust.)

Let’s stay on this topic of well-known companies, but let’s shift our focus to this year, 2020.  Many people would be shocked to find out that the handmade rug from India that they purchased at Target, Pottery Barn, or IKEA was woven by Indian children forced into labor.  They might be equally shocked to discover that the seafood they ate at a nice restaurant was harvested by slaves in Thailand.

Just the other day, I bought the twins some cute shirts at Carter’s.  Now I have just read that the Carter’s brand, along with 82 other companies including Amazon, Nike, Samsung, and Polo Ralph Lauren may all be a part of a supply chain that receives materials from the forced labor of ethnic minority groups in China.

Did you know that there is a major problem of child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to procure that cobalt needed for the batteries in our precious cell phones?  And you know how I love chocolate, but now I am facing the dilemma of what to buy since I have learned of the use of child labor and slave labor for harvesting cocoa.

I do not want to eat anything or own anything that came from the forced labor of little hands.  I have some decisions to make.  As a society, we have some decisions to make.  The benefits of a global economy have come with an enormous price.  Many companies are trying to eliminate any chance of slave labor or child labor from their supply chains, but many still cannot guarantee that fact when you buy their products.

Am I willing to pay more for my cocoa to make sure it is ethically sourced?  Are you willing to settle for a different shoe brand if your favorite brand hides under legal talk while continuing to profit from forced labor?  These are the questions we have to ask ourselves.  These are the choices we are now responsible for… the choice of personal gain or the choice of principles.

This is a complex matter into which we are all interwoven.  I certainly do not want an immigrant worker to lose his paid job on a farm in California, nor do I want a 14-year-old girl in South Africa to lose her afterschool job that is funding her education.  We must move forward with wisdom and balance.

Still, there are some absolutes that we can proclaim.  No humans should be robbed of their freedom.  No humans should be made to work without fair pay.  No teenager’s body should be a commodity for others’ profit and sick enjoyment.  No little children should have their innocence and happiness stolen from them.

I want to remind you that you cannot help anyone if you allow yourself to become imprisoned by drugs, alcohol, money, or any other thing that can rob you of your freedom.  Guard your personal freedom very attentively, and be ever concerned about those who have lost theirs.  Extend your hands, literally and figuratively, to help the oppressed.  Be a man who works actively to protect little hands.

He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.  Proverbs 22:16

Thou shalt not steal.  Exodus 20:15

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.  John 15:12

I love you forever,

Your mama

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