POLI-TICKS

Never a day in the U.S. where slavery is not legal

By Arlene Violet
Posted 11/2/22

As Rhode Islanders go to the polls to vote, at least the abolition of slavery will not be on the ballot. Elsewhere in five states, Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennesee and Vermont, voters will decide …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


POLI-TICKS

Never a day in the U.S. where slavery is not legal

Posted

As Rhode Islanders go to the polls to vote, at least the abolition of slavery will not be on the ballot. Elsewhere in five states, Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennesee and Vermont, voters will decide to close a species of slavery-forced labor by people convicted of certain crimes. In other words, these states (and about 20 in all whose constitutions include language permitting involuntary servitude and slavery as criminal punishments) allows our democracy to finish the sentence, “Slavery’s okay when it’s a punishment ”(Associated Press, Oct. 20, 2022 Kimberlee Krusi).

How can this remnant of rationalization still exist more than 150 years after emancipation? We are not talking here about prison labor, where the prisoner seeks employment during his incarceration and who should, by the way, make minimum wage if he is cleaning up the roads or making the proverbial license plates.

We are talking about incarcerated workers making nothing or just pennies on the dollar and, who if they refuse work can be denied phone calls, or visits with families. Recalcitrants are punished with solitary confinement and even denied parole.

I suppose that if most people see nothing wrong with the scenario here it makes the point that an acquiescent attitude toward “ legitimate” slavery purdures. It is plain wrong. If you commit the crime you should do the time, but society doesn’t have the right to demand free labor. It also is no accident that the overwhelming numbers of inmates in forced labor chain gangs are minorities. It is a fiction to suggest that forced labor is appropriate to make the prisoners pay for their upkeep. They haven’t voluntarily checked into the Marriott.

This societal glimpse into rationalizations to treat people as our “handmaidens” sometimes rears its head when the issue of welfare recipients comes up. Some, usually able-bodied folks, insist that the welfare moms should work 40 hours a week for the check and food stamps. Putting aside a moment the complicated situations normally presented by unemployed  women with children, or homeless veterans, recipients are often unable to work because of the climate that put them in the situation and the lack of resources.

That does not mean, however, that job training  or schooling shouldn’t be mandatory with a timeframe to exit the rolls as long as systems like child day care, mental health services, etc. are able to be accessed.

While not on a ballot, a race issue will be decided this year by the United States Supreme Court when it decides whether affirmative action practices have disproportionately harmed Asian-Americans who applied to Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. The Court is most likely to strike down race-based admissions.

Hopefully, the court would not conclude that factors like a first generation college student status or his/her “zip code” can’t be used. After teaching in an inner city school and years of  living and working in the poorest neighborhoods in Rhode Island, I know from experience that kids who get good grades despite the challenges in their environment have the “right stuff” for admission, since they have had to struggle mightily to get where they are.

This determination and drive are evaluative factors which should apply across the board to any “color of skin” who overcomes these obstacles. May this standard remain.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

2022 by East Bay Media Group

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.