Criminalizing Hard Work Done "By Hand"

Society recoils from hard work when toil is presented in a racially charged manner.

reported from the road in Ozark Mountain country.


My kids Posed "Toiling" Cameroon 1985
Hard work was good.  Working with your hands was nothing to be ashamed of in Arkansas and Missouri, where I spent every summer.
But the Western Press increasingly presents anything done "by hand" in the developing world as being an unsafe and sad "state of affairs".  See again the coverage of "fair trade" by Victoria's Secret, headlined "Children Toil With Bare Hands in Burkina Fields."
In the Ozark Mountains, toil was something to enjoy, something to be proud of.   But during the attack on fair trade cotton, "Toil + Manure + 13 years old labor" was a damning equation for Victoria's Secret.  Manure to a farmer is non-toxic fertilizer, but to an American reporter, seems simply odorous.
In Burkina Faso, girls marry at 13.  Most girls that age are lucky to be in school, even part time.   If they are not lucky enough to be in school, there is a short list of careers for them.  If a girl is an orphan or foster child, the choice of careers is shorter and the choices more perilous.  One of two girl students of mine at 9th Grade of CES Ngaoundal in Cameroon, the privileged daughter of the Sous-Prefet, died in childbirth the night before I was to hand out her grading card (she failed my English class).

And I toiled a little bit at 13 in the Ozarks... if anything, I regret not toiling more than I did.   We were raised to work until we wanted to cry. Toiling was honorable and recognized by God.

Ozark Dueling Stereotypes
Does "love of hard work" make an excuse for child labor?  Fair Trade groups must explore the topic and have a very good answer for a case like Clarisse's.  It is another grey market area.  Who does a poor farmer pay to haul manure (if not an orphan) in a nation where only 30% of children go to school, when the competitors use harsh chemical fertilizers?   This is not enough to convict Victoria's of a Dirty Little Secret.  This is a "black and white" case in only one sense:  The photos are of black people picking white cotton in Burkina Faso, and Victoria's Secret and Bloomberg News sell black and white goods to rich white people.

Child labor is a sensitive subject, and in defending appropriate hand technology, we must be conscious of the slippery slope.  But if toiling with organics in fields is a crime, then I guess I grew up an abused child, and was taught wrong by church-going folk who said it was good for my future, but also good for my soul.  If we wish for West Africa to be fat unemployed moms watching flat TV in trailer homes, while OEMs run tractors with nitrogen to meet our throwaway fashion appetite, then we wish for a world without the crime of fair trade.  Even Refurbishers in the USA, like the honorable TechSoup, have fallen for the line of "toxic" to portray every video card upgrade.   Why is repair more "toxic" when black hands do it?  Why is refilling an ink cartridge a happy merit badge for reuse in the USA, but toxic exploitation of brown fingers?



Toiling,—rejoicing,—sorrowing,
  Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
  Each evening sees it close;  40
Something attempted, something done,
  Has earned a night's repose.


The future of this debate is about nothing less than creation of a welfare state in Africa, something the USA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs tragically succeeded at with native Americans.  Our government, in a swath of white guilt, took a group of peoples who had virtually no concept of charity, and over 4 generations, rewarded those who took handouts and punished those too proud to wait in line to be given freebies by the Great White Fathers rapist bureaucrats.   Europeans winning the war against native Americans was indeed sad, but people have been defeated in wars by superior numbers, tactics, and technology throughout history.   What was novel was the concubinization of a warrior culture which embraced toil and suffering and laughter in the face of danger, and Catching their grandchildren with cheap drugs and handouts... All Free Today.


The Crime of Toiling by Hand, as described by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I think the Village Blacksmith would smile from heaven at those who risk their shiny consciences and reputations in the battle for fair trade, reuse, and sustainability in Africa.



Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 1807–1882
59. The Village Blacksmith
UNDER a spreading chestnut tree
  The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
  With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms         5
  Are strong as iron bands.
  
His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
  His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
  He earns whate'er he can,  10
And looks the whole world in the face,
  For he owes not any man.
  
Week in, week out, from morn till night,
  You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge  15
  With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
  When the evening sun is low.
  
And children coming home from school
  Look in at the open door;  20
They love to see the flaming forge,
  And hear the bellows roar,
And watch the burning sparks that fly
  Like chaff from a threshing-floor.
  
He goes on Sunday to the church,  25
  And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
  He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
  And it makes his heart rejoice.  30
  
It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
  Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
  How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes  35
  A tear out of his eyes.
  
Toiling,—rejoicing,—sorrowing,
  Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
  Each evening sees it close;  40
Something attempted, something done,
  Has earned a night's repose.
  
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
  For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life  45
  Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
  Each burning deed and thought!

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