Don’t resort to slavery excuse

Published: Wednesday | May 29, 2013


President Barack Obama receives an honorary degree from Robert Davidson (partly hidden), chair of the Board of Trustees, during the Morehouse College 129th commencement ceremony on May 19. – AP


Ramesh Sujanani

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By Ramesh Sujanani

From India to the Dominican Republic, encircling the globe, more people are in slavery today than at any time in history.

This fact is generally not known. This is because modern-day slavery does not fit our familiar images of shackles, whips, and auctions. Contemporary forms of human bondage include such practices as forced labour, servile marriage, debt bondage, child labour, and forced sex.

Modern slaves can be prostitutes, jockeys, or cane cutters. They might plant crops, build roads, or clear forests. Though the vast majority are no longer sold at public auction, today’s slaves are often no better off than their more familiar predecessors. One clear instance is the human trafficking in girls and women; indeed, in many cases, their lives are more brutal and hazardous.

Often we tend to regard our roots as being entrapped by the period of slavery, and the infamous transatlantic voyages, and believe that those days influence our future. They have been shown to be the basis of racism; that from a consideration of slavery come human prejudices, one culture against another, and its continued development is a cause of social upheaval.


So what is the solution? Times have changed; the thought of compensation brings little satisfaction, if ever reparations are made. The architects of African slavery are long gone, and we cannot blame today’s leaders for yesterday’s misdeeds. There are few solutions remaining.

Visiting the United States very recently, I heard Barack Obama’s speech to the graduates of Morehouse College, an esteemed black university. It seemed that the president had an idea to account for this imbalance. He told the graduates to seize the power of their example as college graduates and use it to improve people’s lives.

He added: “Which brings me to a second point: Just as Morehouse has taught you to expect more of yourselves, inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves. We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. And I have to say, growing up; I made quite a few myself.

“Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there’s no longer any room for excuses.

“I understand there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: ‘Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.’ Well, we’ve got no time for excuses. Not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they have not. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there.

“It’s just that in today’s interconnected, hypercompetitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil – many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did – all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned.

“Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured – and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.”

My opinion is he gave the right answers. There is no benefit in regret. One simply has to buckle down and get the job done.

Ramesh Sujanani is a businessman. Email feedback to and


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