Commentary By D.R, Miller: My thick lip and broad nose confession for Pope Francis on his Latin America trip.
New Era: Since March 2013, your election was a very important change in the Roman Catholic Church. As the first Latin American, and Jesuit, it reconfirms the need for the church to re-focus on the poor. Many did not expect a sea change in the world overnight. Some have tried and failed, and other philosophies are taken over by political ideology and not the mere fact that people comes first.
However, given the scandal on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that many have called a cover up for decades, where lives have been destroyed, a breath of fresh air is now upon us. Today, many of us who have embraced the faith from our parents’ teaching as a child are now on the sidelines, but recently we are rethinking our departure. Even some non-believers admire the church’s new platform of openness for dialog.
Our Commitment: The essence of Christianity remains an invitation to others, especially the least fortunate among us, the poor. Even looking back at Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, there was a call for unity. I understood that sometimes, geopolitical events force the church to walk a fine line on issues that range from greed, global warming, tolerance, and disparities between the haves vs. have-nots.
Centuries ago, people feeling atrocities simply due to religious beliefs is alive today. However, the church has tremendous influence on these issues. We also cannot discount that race has always been part of the church from anti-Semitism, racial injustice, sexuality, and other ideologies that divide people, but the church remains strong.
The choice this time is to visit Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay. It is not simply to recalibrate the Catholic faith alone. It still enjoys over 40 percent of its members from the region, which is about 430 million throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Being a native of the region and the head of the Catholic faith is always an added bonus. Sixty-nine percent of adults in Latin America identified as Catholic, according to a survey published in November. Many political leaders would be on their knees praying for these numbers today in a much divided world.
The Confession: What has transpired in Dominican Republic court ruling, threatening the deportation of over 200,000 people of Haitian descent is not simply an immigration issue of illegals or criminal elements, or overcrowding. It is ethnic cleansing, and one where thick lips and broad nose from the African Diaspora is at its core. Since Haiti’s independence in 1804, to Haiti’s invasion of the Spanish rule in trying to unify and to end slavery has not created harmony.
Quietly, missing from these visits is a dialog for racial harmony. We realize that the region is suffering from poverty and criminal elements that threaten social and economic stability. The exploitation and marginalization of many blacks continue, not limited to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay. However, I must keep this confession short, as others are waiting with their own stories.
The Catholic faith taught us that all are equal, and we reconfirm that during communion when all drink from the same cup. This three-second feeling of inclusion often only lasts from the pulpit back to our seats.
Even when blacks were part of major economic development in Panama, scholars have noted that West Indian migrants were discriminated against because they were English-speaking and Protestant. It was not much different from the US Jim Crow era; where they were paid less and oppressed. These new focus on one’s features is a reality that has been on the table for centuries
The Hidden Passage: Latin America and the overall Caribbean region, where the Catholic votes are almost guaranteed, needs a mass of social stratification. The polarization and marginalization of many cannot be ignored. As Dr Henry Hates noted, between 1502 and 1866, 11.2 million Africans survived the dreadful Middle Passage and landed as slaves in the New World. Those vessels of slaves, many are still trying to find an anchor.
Not too far from Dominican coast lines, blacks in Cuba [peizas negras] — black spices, as they were once called — despitethe abolition of slaveryin1820, Cuba benefited from up until 1873 according to historians.
The normalization of US and Cuba relations from 50 years ago, many have now seen images of an inclusive society between blacks and white Cubans. Havana looks like a melting pot. However, beneath these images, blacks are still being marginalized to slum areas, as they once were confined to sugar plantations from the documented shipment of slaves. Scholars have noted that the Afro-Cubans and others throughout Latin America are often relegated to the service economy where they are part of the vast fruit and vegetables street vendors, street dancers, artists, medicine women, and other things.
What has been going on is not a new paradigm shift. Many historians have traced this back to the 16th century to other places where black [La Negrita] inclusion from Costa Rica to Venezuela remains a struggle and especially where these Latin American countries regards themselves as white.
The irony is that, when many migrate from these privileged classes they enjoy in their native land, some find themselves doing jobs not even blacks would do. This does not make them any different, but it has a systematic racial tone, and it shows that marginalization cannot be diminished with an opportunity.
We cannot change our features to blend in, and when our roles are defined, such as reported, in Peru, where pallbearers’ jobs are precisely for blacks not because of their well-dressed tux, and pageantry in making sure one has a wonderful funeral, but simply the colour of their skin.
The Recessional Hymn: Many of us are still looking for our grandparents who fled to other regions in the Caribbean such as Jamaica, Trinidad, Haiti, Bermuda, Antigua, Barbados and other places several decades ago not because of a revolution or political turmoil, but the colour of one’s skin. Afro-Caribbean influence and contribution has been significant to the region’s culture and economic growth, but sometimes overlooked and forgotten.
Racial homogeneity has created political stability, high rate of literacy, and overall economic growth in some of these Latin countries. After these hymns have been sung, religious leaders should use this moment to continue to mobilize social-economic, and justice issues, and a conversation that many believers is far more than the size of lips or pigmentation. They should be judged by their contribution to the society in creating a peaceful and successful union for all.
Addressing poverty and the environment is always important. However, concerning the plight of many blacks, they cannot only be celebrated on a football, baseball, and other professional sports field, and the community that produced these rare stars, continues to deteriorate because of their lips, and colour.
Amen: In the end despite being marginalized, the Catholic values are intact regardless of lip size. Millions of followers remain committed on even conservative values such as marriage between a man and a woman, and anti-abortion, and abstinence before marriage. However, the equality the robe must reach beyond the Sunday scripture of breaking bread together, but only some are being fed. The next stop could use an address on the ignorance of the thick lips, and broad nose.
See you at the 7.am Mass next week, same colour, thick lips and hips
Looking in: During the month of June 2015, media outlets across world were extremely busy. Many stories and images ranged from terrorist attacks in France, Kuwait and in Tunisia, where over 30 British nationals were killed, to Greece's financial crisis threat to the global financial system, and Puerto Rico’s struggles to pay a reported 72 billion in debt.
The Confederate Flag debate was reactivated after nine African Americans were gunned down at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South; evangelicals struggled with the new era of same sex marriage after the US Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, and even how fast Jamaica track star, Usain Bolt, will run this year.
These evolving news stories are important, and related to our global socio-economic and justice issues but, for me, it was a four-minute video.
Her Story: I watched in horror an undercover operation where a 13-year-old schoolgirl was being sold by her uncle for cash in Kingston, Jamaica, to a Caucasian male who posed as a tourist. Although he was arrested, it opens the dam on this hidden world, where several of these beaches often ignores the erosions. Even more problematic was the re-victimization attitude by some as if this was a pre-written script. “She could have ran out of the situation or nothing happened to her.” There was more outrage on social media on the US Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage.
Sexual exploitation and human trafficking is not debatable. These events often have a negative psychological consequence long-term. An emotion complexity diminishes her assertiveness to gain back courage, confidence, resilience, and beauty.
Sadly, she is not alone, nor is it an isolated incident. Last year I wrote that Boko Haram is not just a Nigerian problem. Although in the Caribbean region, the Boko mentality has not marched into a classroom, wielded a weapon, and demanded 250 girls and left for the hills. A niece, an aunt, sister, and cousin are being taken one at a time while families are left hopeless with little and no support.
The characteristics study of commercial sexual exploitation identified that most of these victims are aged 12-18, and over 90 percent are female. The risk factors that can lead to exploitation are running away, poverty, homelessness, drugs, and/or alcohol use and, having friends in prostitution, or being gay, bisexual, transgender, and isolated.
Today I wonder if an Anosognosia condition is taking place along these shores. How often are young students between 14-17 lured into dark tinted vehicles parked few blocks from these schools by older men? Statutory rape seems like the norm as onlookers contemplate safety, pride, lack of support and resources. Many are left wondering if she accepted the invitation to negotiate between tuition bill, and a meal, knowing how uncomfortable, worrisome, and irritable the image is.
What if the local enforcement simply required most of these 100 percent black tinted car windows be removed?
The silence. It seems the region has become an exotic spot for the wrong reason, thriving off the secret world of sex tourism, both imported and exported when it should be taking seriously its responsibility to protect these young girls.
The perception that all visitors arrive only for relaxation and the good vibes these islands offer is a farfetched idea. This incident only highlights that sexual exploitation of young girls is a major problem and, for the right price, you have an abundance of sellers and buyers
Sexual trafficking of minors is not only a South East Asia problem. Customers no longer have to visit Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, or even Western Europe such as Bulgaria, where sexual trafficking remains a major problem. These pimps are down the road, up the hill, across the street, and upstairs being run by someone you know, trust and respect. A family member, guardian, schoolteacher, and even a member of the law enforcement community who is sworn to protect.
An estimated 800,000 women and children are trafficked each year across international borders. Studies show that over 90 percent work for pimps. An epidemic requires mandatory reporting of victims. It ensures public awareness for families who are at high risk. Coordination and sharing of information among professionals who are advocates for these victims is key to solving these problems.
Cultural traits, taboos, societal norms, and expectations about sexual behaviour that forces silence have to be debunked. The media has to cover these victims such as a young child lifeless who has been murdered. We cannot continue to be detached because of our location. Sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors along these shores must be met with swift penalties to send a statement.
Wherever you have sexual trafficking, child labour is also a major issue.
Economics and Laws: (Reuters) 2015, over 1,100 arrested in a nationwide sweep for allegedly praying on kids according to the US Justice Department. They each use the internet to lure youths and then traffic them in to commercial sex. Among the people arrested in Texas were former employees of the Boys and Girls club, and soldiers.
For some of us, sexual crime against young people is the worst crime against humanity. It is an organized crime business, where profits are high and risks are low. It is an estimated $16-billion a-year operation in Latin America, and rising according to the International Organization on Migration. (BBC News) 2012, about 37 arrested in Oxford in what they believed was part of organized crime selling young girls for sex.
If a country has legal prostitution, it is less likely to have more severe punishment. In poor and developing nations, disparities between the haves vs have-nots, and lack of political courage make it a difficult prosecute despite violations of both national and international laws.
Every affected person, regardless if one explicitly put herself in a vulnerable situation, needs to be protected. They are victims, and it is important as risk measures for general recidivism as one would target an offender with higher risk probability of re-offending. For the safety of that girl and many others at risk, tools are vital to prohibit visitors from an open door system that allows teenagers to visit their hotels rooms, and be traded as if they are a commodity on the stock exchange.
I also understand when morality debates livelihood, especially in service-orientated economies. Sometime it mutes suspected behaviour. Child sex tourism is a crime of opportunity. A victim's immigration status can create an unwillingness to come forward.
Need for Scan: The conceptual understanding of who visits these shores has to become important. Operating a global island does not mean that one should ignore local community issues. Targeting pimps has to become an urgency. When people in power remain silent, and a nation entertains this demand, it only allows more exploitation, as these perpetrators operate on the belief that it is okay, with little or no consequences
The Caribbean has several other problems and lack of resources provides a perfect gateway such as reported drug trafficking. Holding elected officials and law enforcement officers who are sworn to protect accountable is not debatable. Equally important, communities have to speak up, even in situations where one find shame from norms and an unwillingness come forward in fear of personal ramifications.
What if these islands who were once under colonial rule view this as “slavery in disguise”, perhaps the muted attitude will change.
We cannot blame it on globalization alone as studies have shown that people are free move around the world.
Take a stand: In the next few weeks, many from the region will be on the world stage at the IAAF World Championship games. It is time a few sponsors highlight an exploited child. People must assemble not only for entrainment such as when Jamaica’s Kaci Fannell lost the 2015 Miss Universe pageant, and for carnival events. Soon many politicians will be wearing their political party colours to become the next leader; one wonders who will wear at least one exploited victim on their clothing and how many will remain mute on this missing outrage.
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