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“I wish everyone would stop talking about him like he was a drug dealer and a gangbanger. As if that makes it okay that he was killed.”

In the book, “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas (Harper Collins, 2017 New York Times best seller), righteous indignation swells in the main character Starr over the killing of her teenage friend Kahlil at the hand of the police. His death blanketly affirmed by unfair labels and justifications of systematic racism: a drug dealer and gang-banger, and in “doing things by the book,” or “the way they’ve always been done.” It’s this fire that both sparks Starr’s finding her voice and energizes her to work for change in the world.

That’s the same fuel in the engine at WMFB, our faithful ol’ friend: righteous indignation. Because, like Kahlil, our friends deserve better.  They deserve the dignity of a few essential questions, instead of a callous label: prostitute. Questions like: What else is going on here? What unseen factors have been at work to coerce this person into this situation or action?  With complacent categorization and judgement, these women (and some men) have been historically boxed up and pushed away from the center of society, robbed of their dignity, and pushed out into the dark – where the gnashing teeth and the weeping reign, where injustice is okay.

Like our friend Majo.* Young, desperate and searching for work in the developing world, she found a newspaper advertisement as a cook. But when she arrived at the place, she was coerced into sex work and trapped there for years.

Like our friend Sarah.*  She was trafficked from a neighboring country as a young woman and also forced to prostitute for years.

Like our friend Wanda.*  Orphaned and sent to live with her aunt and uncle as a teenager. Raped by her cousin, resulting in a pregnancy. When the family meant to care for her finds out she’s pregnant, they beat her, and kicked her out. She loses the baby. Her survival? Prostituting. For years.

These friends have survived decades of rape, pregnancies, abortions, violence. They were robbed of their chance at an education and equal opportunity to make it in their world. The list goes on. And what has society given them for these experiences, for all this suffering that came about while we chose to look away? That callous label: prostitute.

As if that makes it okay.

It’s not okay. No one deserves to be labeled, defined by an ill-fated decision. It is not okay to carelessly categorize and box up, to draw illegitimate conclusions around someone’s fate and then walk away. Words like drug dealer and prostitute seem to wield that power. Labels, among others, that have served as a historical license of sort, to…well, forego the age-old rule, don’t judge a [wo]man until you’ve walked a mile in [her] shoes.

Let’s take it to the next level. Accepting a label effectively makes someone “other” than ourselves. What if, instead, we recognize our common fragility and humanity? Realizing that, in the words of WNBA star and activist Maya Moore, “Maybe I was one decision, one family away from being that person. And I’m really not that much different than this person over here…” I did not get to choose into what country I was born, into which neighborhood, demographic.  “… I have been blessed with so much…so I’ve got to say something, do something…”

Because systematic injustices and our own complacency are not okay. When we open our ears beyond a label, we discover that folks like Kahlil and Majo, Sarah and Wanda are speaking. For themselves. They’ve been sounding the alarm. Isn’t it past time we all woke?

To learn more about the roots of prostitution, we recommend this VIDEO.

*names changed for privacy

Reflection by Laura Straniero, WMFB U.S. Advocate

Originally posted here on our blog:
Word Made Flesh Bolivia
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