Yesterday in my History 1301 classes, I lectured about the slave trade. I discussed how the owners of slave ships made the sociopathic calculation that if they overfilled steerage with their human cargo – cramming 600 captives into a space meant for 450, for instance =- a higher percentage would die but the raw numbers who survived the nightmarish “Middle Passage” would be high enough that the shipper would make a larger profit.
Conditions were so miserable that slaves jumped overboard, preferring to drown, freeze or be eaten by sharks than spend another moment on these hellish vessels. To prevent this loss of profit, slave ship owners didn’t make conditions on board more humane. They placed nets on the side of the ship to catch would-be suicides.
I then noted to my students that I recently read that the Chinese workers toiling at the Foxconn sweatshop where they manufacture iPhones for Apple Computers have been driven to suicide by the endless working hours, abuse by their supervisors and ceaseless overtime. They began jumping out of the windows of the factories.
Did the Foxconn executives and their Apple overlords respond to this tragedy by improving salaries or working conditions? No. They placed nets outside the building to catch the falling human debris so they wouldn’t have to invest in training another modern-day slave.
So much for that old, Whiggish notion of history as a tale of progress. Today’s slave traders, at Apple, at Coca-Cola, at Nestle’s and at all agribusiness, cover every consumer in blood. They do it because we let them. We need another global abolition movement.
Michael Phillips has authored the following:
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006)
(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)
“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)
“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ” in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)
“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)
(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013).
“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).
He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.