Article One: On History – What is Our Collective History (Takaki) in America?
Question #3: What is the relationship between values and beliefs; as it relates to the midterm topic?
by Daniel Ko
Beliefs are assumptions or opinions we hold to be true. When we use our beliefs to make decisions, we are assuming that the historical context of the past, which led to the belief, will also apply in the future (in the same manner that prior knowledge/assumptions about something affects a person’s frame of reference). Values are not based on information from the past and they are not contextual; rather they are strong convictions about what is right or wrong. Values are universal. Thus, values transcend contexts because they are based on what is important to us: They arise from the experience of simply being human.
The lenses of both values and beliefs play interconnected and interchanging roles in the submission and relocation of Native Americans in American history. Values and beliefs are both integral parts of identifying what is held in high esteem in a given culture, and everything that the Native Americans represented went against what the English valued and believed in. In “The Tempest”, Takaki asserts how our beliefs are largely shaped by social and historical context, and how these beliefs in turn continue to shape society’s impression of other cultures. In “The Tempest”, the author makes a specific comparison and connection between the character Caliban in the Shakespearean play entitled The Tempest (which the chapter is titled after) and the Native Americans of the New World. When the play was first previewed in New England, “theatergoers were told that Caliban was a ‘devil, a born devil’ and that he belonged to a ‘vile race’” (Takaki, 2008, p. 37). In the play Caliban is portrayed as a savage being that lacks intellectual capacity or any qualities of being able to become “civilized”. The connection here is that the observation of Caliban and the Native Americans was shaped by people’s beliefs; Native Americans were thought to be “savages”, which is a term that also demonstrates how little the English valued those who were uncivilized in their eyes. Seeing as how the English valued God, land, and glory, the Native Americans simply had no place in the new world – ultimately, “Indians as Indians would not be allowed to remain within the borders of civilized society” (Takaki, 2008, p. 47). In this context, values and beliefs are inductive of one another. The English’s beliefs about savages and those who they thought to be beneath themselves led them to de-value the Natives. With this mindset, the English believed themselves to be righteous in forcing out the natives from their own lands. The Native Americans were essentially dehumanized and became the personification of “the Devil and everything the Puritans feared – the body, sexuality, laziness, sin, and the loss of self-control. They had no place in a ‘new England.’” (Takaki, 2008, p. 43). Thus, the English justified their mass slaughter of the natives because in their minds it was not only their right, but their duty to eradicate anything that they felt was beneath themselves.
This mindset is repeated throughout history as it is the same mindset used by those who buy or sell slaves. Human trafficking is essentially modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Objectification of a group of people is the first step in subjugating them to an agenda. Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 4 talks about how women in advertisements are objectified, and how objectification is the first step to justifying violent acts towards a group of people. With this mindset, people essentially become property. When people become property, they become disposable. The English had absolutely no regard for the Native Americans’ livelihood; they simply acted out of their own best interests. Seeing as how the Native Americans had something of value to them (land), the English sought to manipulate the natives into giving them the land with promises of reservations. If this tactic did not work, then they simply took it from them. In the same manner, victims of human trafficking are manipulated into sexual slavery or labor. Most commonly, victims are promised a good job, education, or citizenship in a foreign country or offered a false marriage proposal that is turned into bondage. Many victims are sold into the sex trade by parents, husbands, and significant others, whereas others are unwillingly and forcibly kidnapped by traffickers (Deshpande, 2013).
In “Fleeing ‘The Tyrant’s’ Heel'”, Takaki further demonstrates to the audience how the English’s values and beliefs came into play in the subjugation of ethnic minorities. In this chapter, Takaki mentions how a million and a half Irish fled to the United States during the Great Famine and were considered savages – even by other immigrants. Like the Native Americans, the Irish became the victims of a hostile environment that looked down upon their very existence; the “Irish were stereotyped as ‘a race of savages,’ at the same level of intelligence as blacks” (Takaki, 2008, p. 141). “Negroes, Indians, Mexicans, Irish, and the like” were grouped together into a lower category, the only reasoning being that they were all being condemned for their alleged negative traits (Takaki, 2008, p. 141). Like these ethnic minorities, victims of human trafficking are grouped into a “lower category” and are condemned and exploited for their negative traits. As mentioned before, victims become slaves due to some sort of a financial obligation towards someone else, or perhaps because they were abandoned by their families. Traffickers take it upon themselves to recruit potential victims who are either economically or socially vulnerable, so that manipulation and exploitation of these victims will come more easily to them (McNally, 2015).
On the topic of human trafficking, Takaki would likely say that traffickers’ values and beliefs have been shaped in a manner that has allowed them to believe that people can own other people. Much like the English in Takaki’s A Different Mirror, human traffickers have values and beliefs that they adhere to and use those values and beliefs to justify their actions. The English valued God, civility, and land – for those reasons, they believed themselves to be justified in the removal of all Native American presence from the land. Likewise, human traffickers value money over everything else, and use that as a means of justifying their coercion of people into slavery. No matter how immoral the nature of the crime, people will always find a way to justify it so long as it adheres to their values and/or beliefs.
Blue Campaign. (n.d.). Retrieved August 04, 2016, from https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/what-human-trafficking
Deshpande, N. A., & Nour, N. M. (2013). Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls. Retrieved August 04, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3651545/
McNally, T. (2015, January 12). There Are More Slaves Today Than at Any Time in Human History. Retrieved August 04, 2016, from http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/there-are-more-slaves-today-any-time-human-history