I Am Slave. Dir. Gabriel Range. 2010. Film.
Maybe a war, maybe a battle, maybe routine looting. A village plundered. Residents murdered. Dwellings scorched. Spoils gained. Among the most coveted spoils of war, the feminine. Communities are spoiled to secure the feminine spoils of war. The feminine flesh, mind, and soul, all turned into chattel for the masculine’s profit. This time, a small, innocent doll of a princess, spoiled. A Muslim princess, plundered by Muslim vagabonds, enslaved by a Muslim master. A feminine slave in servitude to a feminine master, both Muslims.
The young spoil is trafficked from her land to a foreign land. Her land, where pigment shades the flesh, where the people are said to be enchained in uncivilized ignorance, tradition, and religion. The foreign land, where the skin lacks pigment, and the people are said to be free, civilized, and enlightened. Ironically, the freedom of the pigmentfree calls for the enslavement of the pigmentful to maintain its freedom. Civilization, development, and progress covet the toil and sweat of the pigmentful foreigners, made foreign in foreign lands, dispossessed of their own land, stripped of their history, culture, and dignity.
It was said, long ago, by the wise, victual them with your victuals; array them in your garb. Dare we dream of, or perhaps pray for, an egalitarian ethic here? It was said, long ago, by the sage—when someone might have dreamed of an end to servitude of men to men—that the pigmentfree shall claim no privilege over the pigmentful. No privilege. None. Pigment shall not be favored over pigment.
But when the feminine enslaves the feminine, both Muslim, the lighter pigment claims privilege over the pigmentful. At the outset, the pigmented slave is assigned duty. A single duty of the slave: “Clean….” A slave’s existence defined by cleaning up after the filth produced by the wealthy masters, who fail to and cannot clean up after themselves, whose worth of a slave is to waste her life in cleaning up the master’s waste.
But one must not suppose all cruelty here, for even in the heart of the master there flickers a flame of generosity: “I made you a little house in the courtyard.” There, “in the courtyard.” Not here, with us, where you do not belong, and the here that does not belong to you. But, there, away from us, where the slave never belonged, and the there that even now does not belong to the slave. There, “in the courtyard,” unfit for the master’s dog, is the slave’s “little house.” The master makes the slave’s house, but makes it, not by building it, not by investing in it, rather, by confining the slave’s solitude “in the courtyard,” outside the boundaries of the master’s palace, but still within the master’s domain. The slave is always within the domain of the master, obsessed with extending his domination over the domain of others, and, in the process, turning others into his domain. “A little house in the courtyard:” discarded bottles, a filthy pillow, rags turned into sheets, unpainted rusty floor, and darkness. The sole dwelling of a soul stripped of all dignity, all humanity, all freedom. The total worth of the slave in the master’s domain: “a little house in the courtyard.”
For this generosity, the master demands gratitude. “Say, thank you,” the master instructs. The slave obliges, faintly: “Thank you.” The master instructs the proper etiquette of gratitude: “Thank you master.” The slave obliges, reluctantly, helplessly: “Thank you master.” The farce of history: the master demanding deserving gratitude for enslavement.
The proper etiquettes of master-slave relation are lost on the master’s daughter, not yet schooled in the ways of mastery, yet untaught into the ways of racism. The young slave is invited to play by her potential master. Play: the domain of freedom, the lack of rules, the freedom obtained by freeing the individual from rules, obligations, routine, drudge, and monotony. In a moment of play a momentary joy bursts into the young slave’s heart. The slave plays hand-in-hand with the future master, both children, both Muslim, both joyous, both free, each from the other’s servitude, from etiquettes of lordship and slavery.
Play, freedom, joy. Play is equality. Only equals play together, hand-in-hand. Equality is freedom. Equals are free to play with each other. Equals play in freedom. Free play brings true joy of freedom. But the freedom of the young does not last long. Schooling must take place. The free must be schooled, by the master, in the ethic of servitude, obedience, compliance, efficiency, or what is the same, professional (pre)occupation.
“Get away from my daughter! You touched my daughter! How dare you touch my daughter!” The pure soul, painted in pigment, must be kept at a safe distance from the issue of the dark soul, painted fair. The pigmentful’s silhouette itself must be kept from the issue of the fairer flesh, lest the pigment spoil the purity of the fairer issue. A slave must not defile the purity of a potential master by the touch of her pigment. The slave’s touch can prove lethal for a potential master. For under the slave’s pigment beats the drum of freedom, an obsession for equality, and a penchant for equity. Above all, the slave’s touch can cast the spell of dignified humanity and the curse of human equality upon the potential master. The potential master must not be spoiled by such evils. The potential master must be kept from all association with the slaves. The slave must be schooled in the curriculum of lordship and slavery, but not by the pen, rather, by the whips of a garden hose. Lashed and wounded, the young slave is left to wash her own wounds, in her solitude, with gratitude of course, in the “little house in the courtyard.”
Then, another lesson. The possibility of freedom is offered to the slave. “If this is the way you behave, then go!…. Disrespectful child. You’re free. Go!” The slave is shoved onto the open street, free to be free. Yet, she returns back to her master, to servitude. Without protection, without friends, without family, without her kingdom, without her land, and without opportunity, the slave returns to her servitude. Lordship is maintained by depleting all options leading to freedom. Absent opportunity, absent community, absent friendship, not only the slave returns to her slavery, but even the free are forced into slavery. The master thus schools the slave.
All slavery requires schooling, both of the master and of the slave. The master must be taught to claim and usurp lordship as his birthright. The slave must be taught to count his blessings and be grateful for his enslavement, and for the generosity visited upon him by the master in return for “a little house in the courtyard.” The master schools the slave: “You’re helpless without me. Without me, you don’t exist.” The ultimate schooling of all servility, of all mastery, of all oppression. The slave must be taught to rest all her hopes in the master. Without the master, the slave is nothing. Nothing. Not free, not independent, not an individual, not human. In the hands of the master, the slave is reduced to a no-thing of use, owned, exploited, lashed, wounded, and discarded into the blessings of the “little house in the courtyard.”
But, sometimes, there is an end. There comes a time in the reign of lordship when the slave can no longer tolerate her slavery. The flame of freedom and the penchant for independence kindling in the heart of the slave must eventually reach an intensity that defies all strictures and boundaries of servitude. When the slave finds friends in the foreign land, when the slave learns to defy the security apparatus guarding the master’s domain, the slave gains her freedom. If the audacity of hope for freedom is the first, and survival the second, step toward freedom from enslavement, the last step is the slave’s courage to proclaim before the master, “No more!” With that proclamation the slave runs to her freedom.