I recently returned from vacation in the Okanagan. One of my favourite parts about going there every summer is that I have more time to read. This year, snuggled up late at night with a cozy mug of tea at my side, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill nestled into my hands. It had been on my reading list for over a year, and I quickly dove into it and found myself mesmerized by the strength of the main character named Aminata Diallo, around whom this capturing story revolves. Hill's work is truly one of those books where you get completely lost in the story... You become so invested in the characters that you think about them throughout the day, molding your perspective to theirs.
I knowingly chose The Book of Negroes because I was certain I would find parallels between the Atlantic slave trade and the modern-day slave trade of human trafficking that I've become impassioned with fighting. Of course, there are distinctions between these two nightmares, (and I mean not to diminish the horror experienced by an impossible number of Africans during the original slave trade) but there are also many similarities. Most strikingly, the lack of human dignity recognized in slaves both then and now caught my attention...
Telling of the toubabu's (white man's) inability to acknowledge the human worth of Africans, Aminata writes, "Never have I met a person doing terrible things who would meet my own eyes peacefully. To gaze into another person's face is to do two things: to recognize their humanity, and to assert your own."
Those who forced Africans to walk for weeks, naked and tied together on their way to the massive slave ships that would ship them to the 'New World' to work for white people... Those who inspected Africans' bodies as if they were cattle... Those who raped African women with no regard for the destruction of their souls... Those who stole African parents' babies to be sold to other slave owners... Those who forced the 'Africa' out of the Africans... Those who killed African Muslims who prayed to their God for mercy... Those who forced African slaves to work for them until they died from disease or exhaustion... They had no inner peace with which to look their victims in the eyes.
Those who violently take women to 'breaking grounds' so that they can be gang raped and initiated into the sex trade... Those who line young girls up to inspect which bodies will bring them the most return for their investment... Those who trick teenage girls into thinking, "If you really love me, you'll prostitute your body"... Those who give their workers no way out by forcing them to become addicted to drugs... Those who lie to young people telling them they'll have a better life in a new country, only to trick them into forced sex for pay... Those who beat their prostitutes that don't turn in enough money each evening... Those who kill girls that are too old to make them any more money... They have no inner peace with which to look their victims in the eyes.
To meet another person's eyes peacefully is to recognize their humanity. You may not be a trafficker of slaves, but I want to challenge you to bluntly ask yourself if there are people in your world that you look on as sub-human. People you entrap in feelings of worthlessness and shame. Are there people you gossip about? People you make fun of? People you joke about being useless and unworthy of any sort of attention? People you think because of their age, gender, race, weight, or past mistakes the world would be better off without? Sometimes I need a reminder that we are ALL made in God's image. Every single one of us. We all bear the Maker's mark. We all fall short. And yet we all are never too far gone for God to reach and to transform us. None of us are beyond His kiss of grace!
As a white, middle-class female, I've tried to ask of myself honestly, If you lived during the Atlantic slave trade... Would you have treated Africans in the same way? Would you have dehumanized them and made them work for you like animals?
I desperately want to be able to say that I wouldn't have, but given the historical context of that time period, the odds are working against me. The past cannot be altered, yet we each carry within us the possibility of a better tomorrow. What I've realized is that although we may not have directly participated in the trafficking of African slaves, and although at times we may feel stifled in our efforts to combat human trafficking, at the very least, we have the ability to stop one of the root thoughts behind these kinds of crimes... We have the ability to say 'no' to the thought that somebody else is not worth anything. Today I ask of myself, and of you... Are you dehumanizing anyone? Are you unable to look someone in the eye? Do you lack the ability to recognize someone's humanity because of a prejudice you need to let go of? And most importantly, does it honestly sit well with you to carry that belief and cause someone the pain of not being recognized as a whole person?
If that's striking a chord, let me repeat what I wrote earlier... We are ALL made in God's image. Every single one of us. We all bear the Maker's mark. We all fall short. And yet we all are never too far gone for God to reach and to transform us. None of us are beyond His kiss of grace!
Grace is for all of us: the judgers and the judged. I pray you'd embrace that today. Please join me in being a true chain breaker in a very local and tangible way. Through Christ, we have the ability to break free from the sin of judgment and contempt towards others, and instead refresh those around us with affirmations of their incredible worth.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus..." (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV).