America is at a crossroads. While the left decries the shortcomings of the Founding Fathers for owning slaves, many of the products we buy today are coming from slave labor. That is why after teaching American history for 20 years, I can see how slavery happened—it happened because people made a choice of money over mankind, and that choice is still being made today.
Several years ago, I saw a documentary about the enslavement of the Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province of China. An ethnic minority, the Uighurs face a plight somewhere between the Holocaust and American slavery. Victims of rape, torture, and forced organ harvesting, a conservative estimate of 1 million Uighurs live in forced labor camps producing textile goods and other items for export, including solar panels. In fact, the Xinjiang province is also home to China’s lithium deposit, a mineral necessary for renewable energy. This forced labor and availability of natural resources enables the production of cheap goods, which Americans, and people all around the world, enjoy.
After watching the documentary, I boycotted products made in China. That decision quickly revealed to me and my family just how much America relies on China for our everyday goods. I started having to take more trips to stores and picking up a lot of products only to put them back. But last Christmas, I needed a last-minute gift and found something that fit the bill and even though I saw that it was “Made in China,” I chose to justify my purchase because I needed it. But standing in the checkout line, I noticed another line, “Xinjiang” on the barcode shipping sticker. I had a choice to make. Knowing the Xinjiang province was where the Uighur Muslims were living in slave conditions, it was as if a line was drawn in the sand, and I had to choose: would I live by my convictions or cave to convenience and low cost? My next thought was “This is how it happened. This is how America justified slavery.” Cheap, convenient goods.
Justifying slavery didn’t only happen in the Antebellum South, however. While the raw cotton was harvested by slaves in the South, it was Europe, the industrial North, and the laws of the day that perpetuated slavery with the demand for cheap textile goods. And today, it’s no different. In June 2022, President Joe Biden announced an end to a moratorium on the solar panels coming from China, allowing cheap panels into the country to offset the high cost of solar energy.
Anthony Blinken and John Kerry have both acknowledged the genocide of the Uighur Muslims and yet are willing to overlook the millions of people living in slave conditions. And that’s not the only example; China controls almost 90% of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s cobalt, using child and slave labor to get the cobalt needed to power electric vehicles and our electronics. So, the Biden Administration has signaled that it is acceptable to enslave people to power the Green New Deal it so emphatically supports.
The Biden administration has made a cost-benefit analysis, and so does the American consumer. The cost is 1 million Uighurs and millions of Congolese people to benefit an environmental plan that will do nothing to help the world—and everything to plunge billions into poverty. History will not look lightly upon our leaders, just like we don’t look lightly upon the United States’ and Europe’s decision to overlook cheap cotton, abuse, and dehumanization in their production of textiles.
Today, there are still 25 million people enslaved around the world. So, standing at the crossroads of slavery’s past and slavery’s present, we have to ask ourselves, who is to be judged? The Founding Fathers who, though flawed, ascribed to an ideal they hoped America would live up to—or us for having the benefit of history 250 years later?