Children of God in the Devil’s cabbage

The New York Times recently published an article about the employment of minors as young as seven in North Carolina tobacco fields. Given the notorious health risks of recreational tobacco use, it should come as no surprise that pubescent teens and prepubescent children are easily sickened by prolonged exposure to uncured tobacco. This work isn’t just arduous; it’s often acutely toxic, especially for young people.

A number of growers and growers’ representatives damn their own case by arguing that barring children from the tobacco fields would deny them work experience and a chance to develop a work ethic. This is a logically and morally indefensible thing to say about what is probably the single most noxious and toxic crop under commercial production in the United States, including marijuana. It’s nasty stuff, and it’s additionally of exclusively recreational value. Tobacco is of no use whatsoever for food, clothing, or shelter. This means that growers cannot credibly blackmail officials into increasing work visa quotas or allowing the continued employment of illegal immigrants or minors in the fields with threats of food insecurity. If growers of any crop should be uncompromisingly held to strict labor standards, it should be tobacco growers.

The trouble in the tobacco fields goes wider and deeper than the special noxiousness of the tobacco plant. Nicotine poisoning is merely the outermost layer of a much more pedestrian story of bad working conditions in the fields. Field hands, including minors, weren’t just ordered to work in the rain, which increases workers’ exposure by stirring up nicotine from the leaves. They were also denied ready access to drinking water, put to work in fields without portable toilets, and put under the supervision of sexually predatory crew bosses.

These are serious threats to workplace safety and public health. The water thing should be self-explanatory, insofar as people can die of dehydration and heat exposure without it and an hour-long wait for colleagues to return from a water cooler at the other end of the plantation might turn out to be too long. Failure to provide toilets is a less acute problem, but it still involves more than a violation of employees’ sense of modesty. These arrangements aren’t like two or three ranch hands shitting in the scrub while working cattle on the Wyoming range; they involve dozens of employees working in heavily settled areas. The growers and contractors are begging for the contamination of local streams with fecal coliform bacteria. This ain’t Lonesome Dove.

The employment of sexually predatory crew bosses points to a deeper problem with the proliferation of a non-English-speaking foreign peasantry across the United States. Although it’s related to the failure to provide toilets and drinking water, both of which are exacerbated by the timidity of the workforce for which they are not provided, it goes beyond routine employer negligence or thoughtlessness in an environment of rural squalor. There are some gnarly rough-and-tumble crackers in the Carolinas (of both traditional races; see Thomas Sowell), hardcore vigilantes who would kill a man or order him to leave town forthwith for sexually preying upon their sisters or wives. But this impulse has historically been subordinated to class bigotries, which have often been construed, rightly or wrongly, as racial bigotries. Hence, there were many instances of black men in the South being lynched for seducing or trying to seduce white women, but few instances (none that I’m aware of offhand) of white men being punished in any fashion for raping their slaves.

Sexual predation upon female farm workers involves the same dynamic with a different set of players. It is not, by the way, a distinctly Southern problem; some of the most notorious sites of sexual extortion and assault are in California. It’s really a Latin American crime problem festering in a Latin American underworld in the United States thanks to the negligence and callousness of local American overclasses. These crew bosses are sexually assaulting subordinates and extorting quid pro quo sex from them in exchange for crew spots because they’re soft targets. They’re desperate and speak little or no English. If this class of victims routinely disabled them with pepper spray or knives, or maybe even if they routinely called the police or filed suit, the crime wave would subside on short order. Conversely, if these predatory crew bosses came across a population of easily cowed and desperate tweaker women, they might well develop an unexpected taste for the white meat.

The crimes in question are much less serious, but these guys sexually abuse field hands from their own countries for the same reasons that Robert Pickton abducted and murdered drug-addled streetwalkers, often women from Indian reserves, who were working the low track. Just like Pickton, these guys choose victims who are unlikely to complain and unlikely to be believed if they do complain. They’re opportunists of the lowest order.

The opportunity, of course, is provided by negligent, and therefore culpable, growers. This is exactly what can be expected to happen to a local population that has, for lack of a better term, been othered. The First Nations streetwalkers Pickton murdered were generally regarded by the police as doubly other, to the point that the one Vancouver constable who raised an alarm about their disappearance was dismissed by colleagues and commanders as a crank. On this side of Avenue 0, Latin American peasants who don’t speak English are considered really damn other, and very few gringos who claim to give a shit about the wetbacks really do. And now we have growers across the country who insist that they’re being forced to hire foreigners, often illegal immigrants, with whom they are simply unable to communicate. The only people many of these growers have to bridge the language gap are their crew bosses, and if there’s a sexual assault problem on the farm, the crew bosses usually are the problem. Spanish-English interpretation on these properties has been left in the wandering hands of men who can rape in any of the local languages.

Good ol’ boy-campesino relations are not in an awfully good state in the modern South. Fred Reed often worries that the black-brown schism will get really ugly because the browns have a work ethic and the blacks don’t. He may well be right; the managerial and planter classes are doing everything in their power to replace black employees with Latinos. But they’re doing the same thing to the white working classes, and person-to-person relations between blacks and whites in the South tend to be pretty cordial. The South’s overclasses, then, are working towards an historic schism within Whitey, possibly one unparalleled since Bacon’s Rebellion. They have no assurances that they’ll be able to keep the po’ white trash on their side when the other guy they have on their side is Speedy Gonzalez. They’re likely to start getting backsass from the Confederate battle flag crowd along the lines of, “Y’all fired us and hired a bunch of wetbacks who don’t speak a lick of English, and now y’all expect me to take their side? Y’all realize I played football with D’Antonius and his great-grandma Miss Mabel was one of the sweetest old ladies in the county? I dunno who the fuck these wetbacks are, but I know D’Antonius, and I knew Miss Mabel, and y’all ain’t never gonna have class like Miss Mabel.”

This sounds like a bad remake of Footloose with an even worse country soundtrack, but it could happen. It’s possible to piss off the wrong white guy by firing the wrong black guy, and no cracker banner hanging from the trailer porch will eliminate the risk. And yes, I’m referring specifically to the cracker-ass ends of the South. These are places where the local white people don’t like black people in the abstract but really like dozens of specific black people in the concrete, and their black neighbors repay the favor.

Meanwhile, there’s been some nasty communal tension around Atlanta between native-born blacks and African immigrants. It’s a case of Opposing Viewpoints: America: Why are you not taking advantage of the incredible opportunities provided by this land in which you were born? vs. America: Fuck you Uncle Tom take your black ass back to Africa. This is an uncharitable assessment of black racial politics in the United States, the lowest forms of which are completely antisocial and of no ultimate benefit to anyone. But the purveyors of these politics were not the first ones to screw the pooch; that was done centuries ago, by lazy white people in the Virginia Tidewater. They established the atrocious race relations of this country; underclass blacks merely inherit it. There’s something really unseemly and hypocritical about up-by-the-bootstraps agitprop coming from the descendants of white slaveholders, as it often does. It’s like watching a group of incels turned perverts taking turns with a camel, and then hearing one of them shout, “Hey, Mahmoud, could you keep it in your pants for once? I need a turn!” In theory, these whip-wielders with soft hands love the virtue of work, just as many sexually repressed Arabs theoretically love the virtue of not fucking camels, but if you’re a white American complaining that black people don’t work enough, you really need to go back to the zoo.

Don’t blame me for the camelfucking metaphors. I got them from Dinesh D’Souza, who was told by an Arab opponent to same-sex marriage that “men do shameful things with their camels in the desert, but should we allow them to marry their camels?” D’Sousa also found Arabs to tell him that the classic mukhabarat tortures, like beating prisoners on the soles of the feet, are totally cool, but that the Americans crossed the line by resorting to sexual humiliation. Our problem in the Middle East was that we did not use the traditional and culturally appropriate forms of secret police torture. For various reasons that are as disgusting as they are instructive about the state of American politics, D’Souza is widely regarded as a public intellectual.

Enough of that rat bastard. Southern political alliances, broadly defined, may go in some really weird directions if immigration trends are maintained, and they may get ugly. We may see Whitey splitting into two diametrically opposed factions, a moneyed one allying itself with the immigrants and a larger, poorer one allying itself with Cliven Bundy’s good friend the Negro, while a truly pan-African diaspora, one actually from Africa, joins forces with Uncle Tomas to panda-bear Yanqui.

I don’t expect it to be pretty, but I do expect it to be multicultural.

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