Throwing around loaded terms

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2006

Recently, I was reading a magazine and came across an article about chocolate. Since I’m pretty much a chocoholic, the article caught my attention.

The subject matter, however, was bittersweet.

The article, which was published in the January/February 2006 issue of Utne magazine, outlined the use of child and slave labor on the Ivory Coast in West Africa in the harvesting of cacao beans.

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I began to do some research and found that a study was conducted on the subject and presented to the U.S. Congress last July.

The study reported that “approximately 284,000 children were found to be working under hazardous conditions, the large majority in Cote d’Ivoire.”

While some of these children were members of farming families, many were not, according to the report.

“All of the salaried child workers in Cte d’Ivoire originated outside of the cocoa-producing zone. Sixty-two percent (756) of the salaried child workers expected to be paid personally, while 32 percent (390) reported that their earnings were received by their family members, and 6 percent indicated that payment was made to the intermediary who had brought the child to the work site. The latter situation may, in some cases, be an indicator of the use of indentured labor,” according to the report.

“Some children working on cocoa farms have no family ties to the farmers – some 4 percent (12,000 children) in Cte d’Ivoire,” the report continues. “The ILO (International Labor Office) speculates that these children were most likely trafficked … More than 60 percent of children working in cocoa farming are below the age of 14.”

Consider this is only one report, of one part of one country where such practices take place.

As I was reading the Utne magazine article, I realized how much of our time and dialogue here in Selma is spent spouting words like “racism,” “slavery” and “oppression.”

When these words are used here – in Selma – by local residents, they are meant to be a diatribe about something that is happening here – and now – in Selma.

That’s not really the case, is it? While slavery is an immoral practice of our past that ended more than 100 years ago, it is a current practice in other countries – right now it’s taking place.

All the flapping of gums here about whatever woes local residents think they are facing does nothing to change the situation for those children in West Africa, or the hundreds of thousands of other humans trapped in slave labor.

Let’s talk about racism. In Rwanda in 1994, nearly 1 million Tutsis and Hutu moderates were massacred by Hutu extremists in what a CNN report said was “perhaps the fastest genocide in history.” It was all over in 100 days.

Even now in 2006, millions are displaced and hundreds of thousands have been killed in

Sudan in a breakout of violence “initially sparked in response to marginalization and discrimination,” according to a UN report.

Terms like “racism” and “slavery” are very loaded words. When people use them, they should choose those words carefully, ensuring they are using the terms in an appropriate context.

If we’re going to spend our time talking about racism, slavery and oppression, let’s have an open, genuine dialogue about what is happening in the world right now and what we might can do to stop it.

TAMMY LEYTHAM is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.