Facebook is alight with people saying that they are opposed to citizens of South Carolina displaying a Confederate flag. In response to one of these posts I noted that “It takes a lot of courage to advocate tearing down the flag of an army that was defeated 150 years ago.” In response to a post from a software developer who is frantically removing the flags from a catalog shopping site: “When Confederate flags are outlawed, only outlaws will have Confederate flags.”
Obviously the flags, whatever their symbolism might have been in the old days, will have to go now that they are associated with the Charleston church shooting. But reflecting back on Walter Scott (previous posting), it occurred to me that South Carolina will be getting rid of this symbol of slavery (“no longer available at Walmart”) while keeping its system of actual slavery in place.
What is the definition of “slavery” today? According to antislavery.org, “Someone is in slavery if they are: forced to work – through mental or physical threat; … physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.”
As in most states, South Carolina maintains a population of people who are “forced to work.” These are the losers of custody and child support lawsuits and/or alimony lawsuits. If they do not keep working and earning whatever a judge has decided they are capable of earning so that they can pay whatever a judge ordered them to pay, they are subject to the penalties listed on this South Carolina Department of Social Services site. These include “license revocation,” which would seem to fit the antislavery.org definition component of “restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement” and “passport denial,” which also fits. Penalties also include imprisonment, to which Walter Scott was subjected three times.
Who is the owner, entitled to receive the fruits of a slave’s labor, of a modern-day South Carolina slave? In some cases it is the successful child support plaintiff (child support revenue is potentially unlimited in South Carolina, but in practice it may be tough to get more than a tax-free $600,000 per year (chapter) from a single child). However, in other cases it is the government (mostly federal) that is the slave owner because whatever money can be extracted from the slave is kept by the government as a reimbursement for various welfare benefits to which the person who won custody is entitled via the “single parent with no job or low income” status.
[South Carolina law is written in a gender-neutral manner, and theoretically the opportunity to profit from possession of children is theoretically available to both men and women. However, 100 percent of the people collecting child support surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau in March 2014 in South Carolina were women.]
Thus South Carolina will soon be rid of the visible symbols of slavery while having plenty of actual slaves moving in and out of its prison system and courtrooms. (How many exactly? MSNBC says that “Two surveys of county jails in the South Carolina conducted in the last decade found that at least one out of every eight incarcerated people were there because they had been held in contempt of court for not paying child support. “)
[A friend pointed out that the slavery of Walter Scott in 2015 was different from slavery circa 1815. I think it is fair to disagree about what to call someone who, if he can’t work for whatever reason, must go to prison. But I don’t think that it is accurate to call him “free”.]