One of the main topics that seems to be working its way through the University opinion pages the past few weeks has been over whether slavery exists in America today. The opinions page editor, Eric Barton, has argued that is does not; this Tuesday, Howard Henderson argued that it does. The problem with their disagreement lies in the fact that they are talking about two different definitions of slavery.Mr. Barton, in his criticism of Warren Sapp’s comments about the NFL’s policy on showboating, argued that slavery doesn’t exist in the 21st Century. The definition Mr. Barton was using was the American historical experience of slavery; that being a condition of hard, menial labor without any form of recompense, and not the definition Sapp and Mr. Henderson used, which is the official definition of “submission to a dominating influence.” If “submission to a dominating influence” is one’s definition of slavery, it becomes very easy to argue that slavery still exists in America because a great majority of persons work under those conditions. Is a boss not a “dominating influence?” Is an underling of the boss not in a state of “submission?” One can certainly hold that they are. Therefore, slavery exists in America under that definition. But arguing that is related to arguing that we are all prostitutes in that we spend years developing skills and talents, only to sell them, preferably to the highest bidder. While there may be a grain of truth to these arguments, they are rather pessimistic and are cause for cynicism about life.Mr. Henderson’s argument is problematic because he uses the 13th Amendment, certainly an idea that would come from American historical experiences, to argue that slavery still exists in America because of the exception that is set in the 13th Amendment. The exception in the 13th Amendment deals with prisoners and the ability of the state to use them, without paying them, for labor that benefits the state. Under the American historical experiences definition of slavery, no one in America can be a slave unless they have been duly convicted of a crime. Therefore, no free person in America can be in a state of slavery. If one is not in jail, one cannot be a slave; thus, criminals in America are the only set of people that can possibly be slaves in America. This train of logic certainly contradicts Mr. Henderson’s argument.The ultimate end of this argument is that, under the American definition of slavery, slavery no longer exists in a free America, as everyone that labors must be compensated for it, else the companies that hire them violate the 13th Amendment and a slew of labor laws. However, under the official definition of slavery, that being a state of submission, it becomes easier to see that we are all slaves in that while we may get paid for our labor, the fact that we are forced to labor means that freedom is limited. It is therefore up to each individual to ascertain for themselves which definition of slavery they wish to agree with.
Letter to the EditorLes Stanaland