Saturday, February 23, 2019

How anti-racism becomes inadvertently racist

By Kuir ë Garang (Website Editor)

"If Canada is a racist society, then what moral conscience do we appeal do when we ask European-Canadians “not to be racist?” Are we appealing to the moral conscience of people who cannot change yet we keep on saying the same thing to them?: “Please don’t be racist!” We need to be clear as anti-racist writers because we are doing a great disservice to racialized people and to the Canadian public that needs to be enlightened about Canadian past and contemporary ills."

I grew up with race and racism in Sudan, and I now live with race and racism in Canada. I also came to Canada as a refugee student so I would be one of the people some scholars would call part of “the periphery of the periphery.” Yet, race, racism, and anti-racism continue to vex me, but not in the way you might think.

Essentially, no self-respecting scholar in any part of the world, in any field, can adorn an expert hubris and proclaim to know how to unequivocally define what race and racism are. Modernity gave them to us raw, yet postmodernism, with its pretentious egalitarian propensities, is either helpless when it comes to race and racism, or it adds to their complexities given how it reduces meanings to our use of language. So, scholars only give ad hoc definitions that make sense within their world.
However, this humbling reality will not prevent confident proclamations not for what race and racism mean but because of the tragedy this infamous duo has meted out on what Canada mind-bogglingly refer to as “visible minorities” or “people of color.” Race and racism feature in lived experience; so, for many, they don’t have to be defined.

In his essay, Distorted Mirror: Canada’s Racist Face, Cecil Foster, a Canadian renown novelist, scholar and journalist, proclaimed unequivocally that “Canada is a racist country and always has been. Nothing proves this point more than the hostility of the Canadian establishment to two things ethnic minority treasure dearly as signs that the nation is slowly accepting them.”

Foster’s statement means two things: that inclusion was happening means that a certain group of people has been excluded; and that such inclusion is slow yet detested. Given that Canada portrays itself as the epitome of western liberalism, inclusion, and freedom, Foster’s statement is demoralizing. As Canadians, we only expect such an un-Canadian behavior from our neighbors Down South!
However, it is our Canada! It is in this same land where our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, tweeted on January 28, 2017, that “those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” Yet, it the same Canada where Foster’s five-year-old son emotionally comes home from school crying for having been excluded from a birthday party by his kindergarten classmates because “he was black.”

Yeah, I know, savvy and critical readers might say, “but that was in 1991. Canada has improved.” Not so fast. In his 2010 book, Black Canadians: History, Experience, Social Conditions, Joseph Mensah of York University argued that “Many Canadians are reluctant to admit that racial oppression and inferiorization exist/persist in this country.” Mensah added that Canadians “have the tendency not only to ignore our racist past but also our contemporary racial incidence as aberrations” of a few bad Canadians.

So, when Hitesh Bhardwaj of Mississauga, Ontario, records a European-Canadian woman in 2017 saying, “I would like to see a white doctor. You're telling me there isn't one white doctor in this whole entire building?", Canadians become shocked. Perhaps we might dismiss this incidence, like the Canadians we are, as a case of “a few bad apples.”

However, “the few bad apples” theory gets really confusing and concerning when once hears everyday lived experience of the so-call “people of color.” As Robyn Maynard tells us in her 2017 book, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, a Kindergarten student in a school in Mississauga was handcuffed by the police with the permission of the school without parental presence or consent. Neither the school administrators nor the police officer, two agents of protection and care, thought it necessary to treat the youngster like they would treat any child. While the school and the officer would dismiss race or racism in this case, we can argue that the child was treated that way—like Foster’s son—"because he’s black.”

Yet, we can assert all these and none of us can say what race and racism are, really. While scholars say that race is an illusion, a fiction, or a social construct with no biological basis, most of these scholars will still say that racism exists. Joseph Mensah, like Ta-Nehisi Coats, in Between Me and the World, argues that race doesn’t exist but racism does exist. Well, scholars like Connell West would say that Race Matters.  

Since racism was derived from race, many readers might find this confusing and, in some cases, amusing. How can racism exist if there is no race? For these scholars, racism preceded the invention of race in the 19th century. The there-is-no-race-but-there-is-racism proposition is a postmodernist discourse so let’s leave it there. Well, we’ll come back to it.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Modern-Day Slavery, Human Trafficking and What You Need to Know

By Bandak Lul*

"A person might be forced to marry through physical, emotional, or financial duress (dowry, for example), deception by family members, the spouse, or others, or by the use of force, threats, or severe pressure."

Photo Courtesy of the author
In September 2018, INTERPOL ran a vivid story of modern-day slavery in Sudan. In that operation, one hundred victims of human trafficking and smuggled migrants were rescued from criminal networks involved in child labor and exploitation and forced begging in what INTERPOL dubbed “Operation Sawiyan. Many of the victims were coerced into intensive labor, including working in gold mines. Fourteen suspected traffickers were arrested, including twelve women and two men. The victims rescued during the operation, which included 85 minors, were of diverse nationalities, from Eritrea, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, and The Sudans (North and South).

And in February 2018, Reuters ran a story of South Sudanese children who were driven away by the civil war, family break-ups, abuse, polygamous practices and neglect onto the streets, into work. Many of these children spend days at one of Aweil’s brickmaking sites, carrying clay cubes up a hill to dry in the sun for less than one dollar a day. The work site is the size of two football fields. The site operator, a 28-year-old Aweilian, stated that the factors that contribute to many of the children working or living on the streets are the conflict and lack of food at home.

Finally, allegations surfaced in February 2018 of the United Nations peacekeeping police unit from Ghana stationed South Sudan having “transactional sex” with local women living in the protection of civilians site. Contributor, Sam Mednick, published the story in Devex media platform in March 2018 illustrating the persistence of continues sexual exploitation in South Sudan by the U.N. peacekeeping police unit, despite the U.N.’s “Zero tolerance” on sexual exploitation and abuse. Although the U.N. stated that the allegations against the 46-member peacekeeping police unit were isolated cases, and that there were no indications that the behavior of the unit is more widespread within the mission, several prostitutes in Juba said that many of their paying clients, “Johns”, live on U.N. bases. Sexual exploitation and abuse are also perpetrated by Aid agencies and staff members.

All three cases illustrate the reality of contemporary slavery, human trafficking. Many people have a limited understanding of the issue of human trafficking due to the hidden nature of this egregious crime. Human trafficking is a pervasive and important global problem. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), about 40.3 million men, women, and children are in forced labor, trafficked, forced marriage, held in debt bondage or work in slave-like conditions today. 

Victims of human trafficking find themselves in situations where they cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power. The U.S. Department of State defines the major forms of human trafficking as forced labor, bonded labor/debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and child sex exploitation. None of these forms of exploitation require the movement of the victim for them to be considered a victim. Movement is not necessary as any person who is recruited, harbored, provided, or obtained through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, forced labor, or commercial sex qualifies as a human trafficking victim.

Forced Labor: Involved when a person uses force or physical threats, psychological coercion, abuse of the legal process, deception, or other coercive means to compel someone to work.

Bonded Labor or Debt Bondage: Includes, but not limited to, traffickers or recruiters who unlawfully exploit an initial debt assumed, wittingly or unwittingly, as a term of employment.

Forced Child Labor: Some indicators of forced child labor include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member who requires the child to perform a work that financially benefits someone outside the child’s family and does not offer the child the option of leaving.

Domestic Servitude: Includes, but not limited to, work in a private residence that creates unique vulnerabilities for victims. In these situations, the domestic worker is not free to leave his/her employment and is abused and underpaid, if paid at all.

Child Soldiers: Involves the unlawful recruitment of children through force, fraud, or coercion to be exploited for their labor or to be abused as sex slaves in conflict areas. Such unlawful practices may be perpetrated by government forces, paramilitary organizations, or rebel groups.

Sexual Exploitation or Sex Trafficking: Includes women and men who have involuntarily entered a form of commercial sexual exploitation, or who have entered the sex industry voluntarily but cannot leave. It also includes all forms of commercial sexual exploitation involving children.

Child Sex Exploitation: The commercial sexual exploitation of children is trafficking, regardless of circumstances. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under the international rule of law. There can be no exceptions, no cultural or socioeconomic rationalizations that prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude. Terms such as “child sex worker” are unacceptable because they falsely sanitize the brutality of this exploitation.

Forced Marriage: Refers to a situation where persons, regardless of their age or gender, have been forced to marry without their consent. A person might be forced to marry through physical, emotional, or financial duress (dowry, for example), deception by family members, the spouse, or others, or the use of force, threats, or severe pressure.

How can we protect ourselves and our loved ones both in South Sudan and abroad?

We can start by educating and organizing vulnerable communities. Citizens of South Sudan need to be made aware of the menace and the risks involved in situations of human trafficking. Communities need to understand their rights and the risks of trafficking. By understanding their role in the fight against human trafficking, they will be able to organize anti-human trafficking coalitions. Stronger laws against human trafficking, law enforcement trainings, journalistic trainings. 

Legal protection and liberation by the government of South Sudan also need to be considered. Citizens, communities and anti-human trafficking organizations need to advocate for better laws and improved enforcement. The Government of South Sudan and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) need to train police and relevant government officials, as well as journalists so that they can better report on human trafficking. In addition, legal services should be provided to survivors so they can pursue restitution and agitate for prosecution of perpetrators.

If you are living abroad, in North America for instance, you can find more information on how to educate yourself and your community here

The Office of Sex Trafficking at Arizona State University aims to become a central source of research on domestic human trafficking which will inform the decisions made by those who contact victims and perpetrators of human trafficking including law enforcement and prosecutors, educators, medical services and social services.  

You can find training tools for:


*Bandak Lul is a refugee advocate and human rights activist. He’s a research project director at Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research. He may be reached at
Editors Note: The views expressed in the article belong to the author and do not reflect the views of THE PHILOSOPHICAL REFUGEE. For the veracity of the claims in the article, please contact the author.



As someone who grew up in war conditions and lived as a refugee for a long time, I'm sometimes considered by many people in the 'west' to be prone to (or have) low self-esteem, be poor or illiterate. Living as refugees or displaced persons, who depended on the good will of others put people in a situation where they don't think much about themselves. But that's not everyone though.

As I stood by our front desk at my place work talking about Race and Identity in relation to my book, Is 'Black' Really Beautiful?, the issue of why many African peoples in North America become so over-sensitive when racial issues come up! For many rational people, this owes its origin to slavery and racial segregation.

But one of my coworkers, a person of European descent, was surprised to realize that her 'black' friend, a very intelligent woman, easily becomes irritated by simple things she [friend] considers racist. The friend considers any mention of a watermelon racist; and complains a lot about 'white privilege.' This means that discrimination is considered something 'whites' don't face because of 'white privilege.' In any discussion between 'blacks' and 'whites', 'white privilege' issue comes up!