chapter  4
24 Pages

Lucrative Vulnerability

ByJane Anna Gordon

Contemporary “abolitionists” have drawn the ire of multiple critics. Many historicists claim that slavery is not the same phenomenon across time and space; some Marxists insist that the specificity of enslavement is to have one’s labor made immobile while it is movement that marks much contemporary forced labor and that many “waged” people are not substantively better off than those without any pay; some Black Studies scholars argue that slavery should refer only to racialized slavery and that any other usage plays in loose and politically dangerous metaphors; and some left-wing feminists see the language of trafficking as an effort to resuscitate a white patriarchal state that seeks to re-domesticate women involved in unprecedented global movement and outlaw all sex work. In response, I suggest that human institutions, including their most inhumane versions, change with political economic and global circumstances; and so while there are essential differences, many core features of the racialized enslavement of the transatlantic now continue in global ways that we can only understand if we look at a much longer history of enslavement as practiced in rural and urban environments and in ones that did not only center the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, while agreeing that many of the most visible interventions into “trafficking” have been worthy of criticism from a critical race and progressive feminist standpoint, a response that is not narrowly punitive and moralistic is one that turns on developing public and institutional responses to recent economic developments that have made vulnerability highly lucrative. Doing this demands breaking from an anti-statism that would resist any initiatives that seek to recognize and protect a broader range of forms of labor.