The word “slavery” typically evokes images of Civil War-era America, of a time when the North and the South were at each other’s throats and blacks were forced into arduous work without pay or fair treatment. It’s easy to think that slavery ended with the 13th Amendment – but it has simply changed how it operates, continuing to rear its ugly head in less blatant ways.
In recent months, however, the most insidious form of slavery as we know it has resurfaced in Libya. That unstable nation is caving in on itself through a brutal civil war, and countless of its citizens are choosing to traverse its dangerous terrains in an attempt to reach the safety of Europe. To do so, they pay exorbitant fees to smugglers who dangle the false prospects of a better life.
This journey is reminiscent of the Middle Passage over the Atlantic – though in this case, immigrants believe they are escaping rather than heading toward a life of slavery. For hundreds of people, this has not been the case.
Following a lockdown by the Libyan Coast Guard, many of these refugees have been trapped in Libya and, as a result, have been ensnared in the Libyan slave trade. These human beings, who wanted nothing more than to escape hardship, are now being auctioned off like cattle by the very people they entrusted to help them.
The slave trade in Libya has become so commonplace that these people are now being sold to do grueling work and be beaten by their “masters” for as little as $400. Have we reverted to those unimaginably horrible days when blacks counted for only three-fifths of a person?
Perhaps the most jarring thing about all of this is that this is black-on-black crime. Politics and war have convoluted the minds of Libyans so intensely that they can easily excuse their own people suffering abuse and being turned into commodities. And the alternative is no better – migrants have been raped, robbed, and murdered while trying to get to Europe.
We must abandon a wholly misguided notion that has endured in our world for far too long – that black bodies are something to be sold and abused. Black people are human beings whose lives matter just as much as anyone else’s, despite what history would suggest. We have seen this time and time again – black people working to better their lives, only to get shut down and have their worth belittled.
Where is the public outcry? The fact that these stories are only just now coming to light after months of this abhorrent practice makes one thing clear: Though the physical shackles are no longer in use, black people in this world are still chained by the public’s general mindset that black lives are not worth their time, their interest, their concern.
Despite America’s divided history, the time has come for us to work together to help these innocent people. This is a human rights issue, not a partisan one. Libya has claimed that it is not responsible for dealing with the influx of immigrants discriminating against their black brothers and sisters, so it is essential that we intervene to help unchain people of color once and for all — lest we have blood on our hands. No one is free until everyone is.
Ben Crump is a nationally known civil rights attorney and advocate, and is the founder and principal of Ben Crump Law, www.bencrump.com.