I am taking classes through a MOOC, Coursera.org, to be exact. I have become a liberal arts student, a lover of thinking, pondering, and evaluating with over 30,000 other students connected through the power of the internet.
This "semester" I am taking History of the Slave South and How to Change the World.
Initially, I thought these courses had nothing in common save the fact they were offered for free (or $49 for the Wesleyan one if one wants a 'verified' certificate) and were both from Ivy League Universities (University of Pennsylvania and Wesleyan). Then, as I often do, thinking about the connections, realized they are not so uncommon to each other.
One class, so far, is giving a deep and thorough of the origins of the slave trade and the fact that the first indentured servants in the Americas were white, male, young, unskilled, Englishmen who essentially sold their labor for passage from England to the Virginia colony. In 1618, the establishment of that place as an investment for the wealthy, landed gentry in England and the planter class in the Americas, set so many things in motion that we are still dealing with today. The first Africans did not come there until much later and not as chattel slaves, but in essentially the same conditions as their English counterparts. The had families, were able to work off their indenture, purchase land, and have servants (they were not called slaves) to work their property. They paid taxes, married, and had children.
This gave me pause on the connection and place we are in lecture in my other class.
Poverty is a ravaging thing, extreme poverty is impossible to phantom sitting here in my warm townhouse. Living on less than $2 per day is a reality for over half the people on the planet.
A challenge we have this week in class is to think about what we can do, not just to make ourselves feel good that we gave, but to make a real difference, to do better. We are also challenged to know that we don't have all the answers, that the local people in these underdeveloped, deep poverty countries, actually know what they need and how to make it work.
So how do the two come together?
In the United States, the pundits often put the face of poverty as a black or brown face. The reality is that there are more poor whites in this country that are needlessly suffering because of the mean-spirited actions of the 'landed gentry' of our century. That made me think about this place of my birth overall.
1662 was the year things changed when essentially, because of the question of Englishmen and African women and their offspring, note, not slaves, that the Virginia legislature codified a thing called race and instituted heridetary servitude. Up to that point, it was not uncommon to have mixed culture (English and African), especially since the balance was skewed with more young English males in indentured service than young English females.
This turned the tide of events drastically.
Fast forward to now, the past still reverberates.
The landed gentry were wanted to curry favor with the English crown and saw themselves as little monarchy. The servant class in the Americas was just like the servant class in England.
What changed and set the tone for the country was the colorization of service, slavery, and poverty. They, overnight, in the span of 50 years, were not allowed to be persons, husbands were not allowed to have voice with their own wives or children. The bodies of African women and their offspring became the perpetual property of Englishmen.
This is still the case today, in many of these poor developed countries, the bodies of women is where the extreme poverty is lived out. Close to half those in extreme poverty are children. Extreme poverty invites violence against women and enslavement of women for the basic necessities of life.
These things are connected and as I sit here pondering the lecture and my place in the world, I am pondering what I can do to make a difference.