Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Climbing down from my high horse...

Recently, I posted "Who are You Wearing?", a short entry featuring a photo of a Eva Gabor wearing a leopard coat. I went on to mention a BBC article that explores the plight of garment and textile workers in impoverished countries, and how their labor provides us with $5 T-shirts.

So, I took a short trip this weekend, and, while on that trip, had a moment to take some deep breaths, and thought..."Hey, wait a minute...who said that everyone who works to make high-priced goods is fairly compensated?" And a strange connection popped into my head.

Long ago, when I was a college student, a friend of mine wrote a truly incredible term paper on the danger of "truth". To illustrate his point, he looked at great leaders -- Martin Luther King, Gandhi, JFK, etc. He pointed out that these individuals were a threat to no one as long as they spoke for a specific segment of the population.

The bigger picture point of it all is that no person... not a woman, not a man, not a race, not an age, not a socio-economic status or geographical location, makes any person inferior to another. No one deserves less than fair wages for his/her labor, and anyone who contributes to a profit-making enterprise should share in the wealth that work helps to generate. So, while it is common to champion the cause of the underrepresented group of the "moment", the fact is, injustices are all around us, all the time.

In Wilmington, NC, where my in-laws live, the Bellamy Mansion is a beautifully restored Civil War-era estate, featuring the work of so many who were not yet allowed to fully participate in the economy. I bought a lovely book there, entitled "Stitched from the Soul" by Gladys-Marie Fry, documenting slave quilts of the Antebellum South. The author writes elequently of the stitches, the tears, and blood as "time markers" of the everyday events of their lives, stitched into the quilts. Denied the opportunity and often, the ability to write, the slaves stitched their journals into the quilts. Nowadays, locating the quilts themselves is problematic, but harder still, is locating the written data to document their origin.

So, it is easy to point at people in a far away country, and take up their cause, but what about the daily injustices all around us? Some slaves had quilting as an art form, a way to tell stories... I wonder about the stories, talents, outlets for artistic expression of the people who help to make our $5 T-shirts?


  1. I'm not sure I understand what you mean by JFK, MLK speaking for a specific group not being dangerous...
    You mean no one can speak for everyone?

    As to the whole pennies for wages in China thing...well, sometimes I can't help wondering what those laborers would be doing if they weren't making our t-shirts,jeans, etc... Would they have anything? And is it our place anyway to decide what's best for them? Yup, I buy cheap clothes. It's hard not to. Even the "expensive" brands aren't made here. And things that are are orders of magnitude more expensive. $300 jeans. I suppose the "right" thing to do would be to buy those, but only one pair instead of 4 pairs, then be sure to keep them up in good repair and make them last? I don't know. As I said, it's almost too big a problem to fathom.

  2. Most people don't realize that slavery is still very much alive in the world. There is little time to just "be" because we're all so busy trying to stay ahead of the mortgage, put food on the table, and clothe ourselves. We are slaves to someone else's monetary system. I am thankful that I'm not the one making the $5 t-shirt but that slave labor also devalues my own labor since most of the population wants a bargain. I could rant for days on this subject!

    Thanks for commenting on my 2nd hand Ralph. The silk is lovely and was such a pleasure to work with.

  3. This point is hard for me to express, and I don't think I adequately finished the point when I was writing... I mean that only a portion of the population listens when your mission is to empower a chosen group. As for MLK, JFK, etc., they all became much more influential, and maybe "dangerous", when their mission became one of universal justice and equality. When you really get to the truth of the matter, that's when things get scary.

    Yes, many of us have bought cheap clothing, or even expensive clothing, not realizing the problems to which we may be contributing. These are HUGE problems, and cannot be solved by looking at the country of origin labels in our clothing. This is why I now feel my earlier post was naively constructed.

    So what do we need to do about these things? I don't know.... But I do know that I am probably over-simplifying the problem by deciding not to buy a $5 T-shirt. The T-shirt is an easy symbol of greater societal ills.
    The fact that there are workers who are so desperate for wages that they are willing to work in such poor conditions is bigger than a $5 T-shirt... If they don't help to create it, what are their other options?

    After all, the problem of people living in places where there is no opportunity, is really about countries whose governments are preventing these people from living in environments which sustain life, right?