The Oppression We Condone

Imagine a young, college student loading a bong and taking a hit. Then, imagine somewhere else, another person bites into a salad and swallows a small tomato. Neither person thinks they are hurting anyone by their actions. Neither thinks for a moment their action is connected to other people.

But both are wrong.

Two tragic articles bring this home. The first is a piece on the drug war in Mexico, featured in the latest issue of Foreign Policy.

“Mexico’s hillbilly drug smugglers have morphed into a raging insurgency. Violence claimed more lives there last year alone than all the Americans killed in the war in Iraq. And there’s no end in sight.”

It is a sad reminder of the brutal human cost that comes with the criminalization of drugs and drug use, yes, but it is also damning of U.S. consumption.  Even if marijuana and other drugs were legal in the U.S., the scale of our consumption would still create and nurture many of the power dynamics currently at play in the hemisphere.

If you doubt that, read this article on the production of tomatoes in South Florida. Featured in Gourmet magazine, it details the presence of modern slavery in the U.S.

“If you have eaten a tomato this winter, chances are very good that it was picked by a person who lives in virtual slavery. “

This perfectly legal food is  produced in ways which view their Latino laborers as nothing more than an ingredient to production, like dirt, water, or seed.  While this situation is both simple and complicated, the suffering is undeniable.

Halting our consumption of items which produce human suffering is a small change anybody can make.  Consumption feeds the continuation of the systems in question, both of which exact immeasurable human costs.  But that won’t do much to change the real problem.

James Baldwin once wrote of the indifference of whites to black suffering saying “It is their innocence that constitutes the crime.” What he meant is that “not knowing” isn’t a sign of innocence. Not when we live in a world where suffering is so easily evident.  Instead, it’s a sign of our guilt because it is the product of effort–effort to not know, effort to not associate yourself as linked to another you know is in pain, effort to preserve your need (for whatever) at the cost of others’ needs for human dignity and life.

When we open our eyes and see that the suffering of others is our suffering, then we are prepared to begin the hard work of creating the kinds of change called for in these situations.  What would you do to stop the abuse of your brother?  What would you do to save the life of your sister?

The article in Gourmet came to my attenton via Harvesting Justice, the wonderful blog of the non-profit advocacy group Farmworker Justice.

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