Monday, September 29, 2008

The Return of Slavery

Yesterday I read an article by Bob Hoare on the rise of slavery in the Deep South. He wasn't talking about antebellum slavery; he was talking about people--teenagers, twenty-somethings, and middle-aged men and women--who're returning to slavery as a way of life.

Here's a chunk of the story:

Young people are educated, experienced, and disillusioned. They don't like Bay Street, they don't like Wall Street, and they can't believe the absurdity of North American politics. So, increasingly, they're looking for something that'll provide a secure, focussed, and purposeful twenty or thirty years--an opportunity to live a stable life. What's more secure than slavery?

Three plantations have started with the goal of accepting American and international slaves. But they won't admit anyone. You'll need transcripts, letters of reference, and a 2x2 photo. They'll send your file to an admissions committee, and you'll be notified in the spring.

Why screen potential slaves? They want to know that candidates are serious. They don't want people doing this as a lark. Because once you're there, that's it. You can't call for a cab. You're a slave. Hoare writes, "The plantation 'owners'--really southern farmers--are serious about authenticity. If you even think about manumission, this is not for you."

There's also the problem of "bad" slaves. "You can't fire a slave," says a plantation owner whose slaves are largely ex-Los Angeles Jews--entertainment industry exiles. "Regardless of how inept he is, there's really nowhere for him to go. Some of the people applying, people who get through the admissions process, are really poor slaves. They're constantly breaking things, plowing crooked lines. They laugh and joke with me, talking about some of the movies they've produced. They chat with my wife, play with my daughter. What can we do? We hang them."

Once on the plantation, you'll live in a traditional bunkhouse, you'll eat around a communal bench, and you'll sow, tend, and reap fields of cotton and rice. You won't be remunerated for your work, but room and board are free. Occasionally you'll be raped, but never with the light on.

Stephen Katz is a New Yorker who's moved onto the Suivez Vague plantation in Louisiana. He describes the experience as "interesting, but not for everyone." Why? "Like anything else," Katz says, "it has its ups and downs. On the positive side, I'd say that your [sic] outside, you're working hard. There isn't a single day when I don't sleep right through the night. In Manhattan I'd wake up every hour, and I'd be tired in the morning. Here I'm very well-rested. And, I can't stress this enough, it's a good quality sleep. I've never slept this well. On the downside, I guess, I'd say that you're not allowed to read or to talk to each other or to have relationships. But you take the good with the bad."

Other things to consider: People with children can arrange to have them "sold" onto other plantations. (The experience is akin to an adoption.) If you ever change your mind, looking to gain your freedom, you can escape via the underground railroad (Greyhound) to Atlanta, up through Scranton, and all the way to Windsor, where you can take a GO train to Union Station. Now, you will be pursued and, if caught, will be brought back to the plantation where you'll receive your punishment. That probably means being whipped and doused with brine.

And it's not just plantation slavery; you'll also be able to work on the river, pulling rope, toting barges, lifting bales. It depends whether you're a good swimmer. If you are, it's the fields.

More on this later.

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