Slavery, Class Privilege, and the Denial of Moral Absolutes


by John Ellis

This past week, The Atlantic published a fascinating story titled, “My Family’s Slave.” In his piece, Filipino-American writer Alex Tizon recounts the tale of Eudocia Tomas Pulido (called “Lola”), his family’s live-in “maid” who was never paid, wasn’t allowed to see her family, worked from before sun-up to past sun-down, and who didn’t have her own bedroom most of the time. In the article, Tizon remembers seeing Lola sleeping against piles of laundry.

I had already planned on sharing The Atlantic cover-story in my next “Weekend Reading” article, and I encourage you to take the time the read “My Family’s Slave.”

Alex Tizon, who died this past spring, writing what amounts to a horrific confession, of sorts, managed to be interesting, appalling, amusing, frustrating, heartwarming, and chilling all in the same story. On the strength of his writing skills and the nature of the story, “My Family’s Slave” has gone viral, and has prompted much outrage. In this piece, it’s some of that outrage that I’m interested in commenting on.

Some are upset that Tizon told Eudocia Tomas Pulido’s story. Those people believe that he didn’t have the right, and violated her privacy. Well, maybe. While I don’t believe that the people upset over this are fully justified in their anger, I do empathize with their point. On a much smaller scale, I’ve struggled with the same thing. Unless I receive permission from the individual, I rarely name the subjects in my published anecdotes.

However, while I empathize, I don’t believe that people are justified in their anger over Tizon’s telling of another person’s story. That’s what writers do. And writers can do that because God has given humans the wonderful ability to empathize.[1]

Of course, identity politics has so separated us from each other, so isolated us within existentially constructed prisons of hyper-individuality built by walls of an ever growing grid of power structures and oppression, it’s no wonder that people are upset at Tizon’s “kidnapping” of another person’s story. For them, it’s not so much the telling of the story, it’s that they believe that Tizon cannot empathize with Lola and, hence, is unable to fairly “name” her, if you will. According to identity politics, Tizon is so locked in his own myopic identity and, worse, part of the oppressive power structure that any expressions about Lola amount to a mangled theft of another person’s identity.[2] In other words, writers can’t write. That’s part of the absurd chaos that identity politics has wrought.

Connected, and possibly more important, many Filipinos are upset at the judging of their culture by those who aren’t a part of their culture. The Huffington Post or HuffPo or HuffPost or whatever they’ve decided to call themselves this week published a response to “My Family’s Slave” in which a group of Filipino writers share their reactions and responses to the brouhaha generated by Tizon’s article. The Huffpost’s article is titled, “3 Filipino-American Journalists Discuss ‘My Family’s Slave’ and Who Gets To Judge It.”

The main body of the article consists of a conversation between the three journalists; a conversation that took place over the course of three days. Throughout the conversation, it’s clear that the three are struggling to sync up their current Western norms/mores with their desire to defend their cultural heritage.

The conversation reveals that many Filipinos do not understand the uproar created by “My Family’s Slave.” Leaning on identity politics, the three writers argue that those who aren’t from the culture have no right to cast judgment much less offer opinions on the practice within the Filipino society of keeping “slaves.” And, I used quotation marks around “slaves” because throughout the conversation, the Filipino-American writers did so, too, as if to point out that what Lola experienced wasn’t really slavery. Except, it was.

And that’s the rub. I don’t have to be a Filipino to know that what Tizon’s family did was wrong – morally wrong. They treated another human being who was created in the Image of God as something less than human. That’s never ok, no matter the cultural norms.

Any anthropology that denies that humans are fundamentally connected because we are all made in the Image of God is an anthropology that’s going to lead to the fracturing of society and the inability to communicate. Which is what progressivism really wants, after all. Full rebellion against God requires rebellion against His created order, including the ability for humans to effectively communicate and have relationships across a variety of social constructs and cultures.

The barriers between Image Bearers erected by identity politics ultimately lead to the denial of moral absolutes. One barrier is that one human has no right to tell another human that their social construct is wrong. Of course, to be fair, there is a hierarchy to identities. For all the talk of privilege, imagine if I, or another white American writer, wrote an article about my ancestors’ slaves that wasn’t wholly condemnatory.[3] Now, imagine that after the initial uproar my imaginary article would rightfully create the National Review published a conversation between three white writers complaining about how those who are judging my family don’t have a right to do so because they are from a different culture (identity set).

The Sovereign Creator of the universe has declared that some things are wrong. That means, like it or not, that some activities and ways of doing things within societies are objectively wrong. Leaning on the concept of social constructs and identity politics does not remove the guilt before the holy and just God of the universe. All humans, crossing all ethnicities and social constructs, are going to one day be called to account. And all humans are guilty of violating God’s law. Standing before His throne and using identity politics as your defense, as in, “Well, God, you didn’t grow up in the South during the early nineteenth century, so you have no right to judge my owning of slaves” is not going to end well.

Thankfully, God knew that His people would never be able to fully obey His law, so He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to live a life of perfect obedience that we can’t, die on the cross for the punishment of the sins of his people, and then be raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, vindicating his claim to be the son of God and conquering death and sin. Those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus as their only hope in life and death are adopted into God’s family and will spend eternity enjoying God’s blessings. Those who continue to cling to the excuse of identity politics and social constructs will be rightfully judged by God as sinful and be justly sentenced to an eternity of punishment.

Christians need to actively and vocally push back on the lie of the devil named identity politics. With it, people are being deceived about their sinfulness and their need to change their identity through the placing of their identity in Christ through faith. Our social constructs do not determine right or wrong. God does. The backlash to “My Family’s Slave” demonstrates the ongoing rebellion against God and His natural order, a natural order which includes the moral absolute that it’s wrong to enslave fellow humans no matter your cultural norms.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] This is what actors do. While all humans who are not sociopaths have the ability to empathize, some are better able to communicate that empathy through storytelling. I’ve long asserted that acting talent really boils down to a robust imagination and the ability to express empathy honestly. This is why actors who have never experienced the horrors of war can realistically portray a scared soldier. Identity politics claims otherwise, of course.

[2] Not to mention that the story is technically from Tizon’s point of view, to begin with. He wasn’t telling her story; he told his story about her. He has every right to do that, with the moral caveat that he tell it honestly and justly.

[3] To the best of my knowledge, my ancestors did not own slaves. My family comes from sharecroppers. If any of my ancestors did own slaves, I repudiate them and their actions in the strongest of terms.


One thought on “Slavery, Class Privilege, and the Denial of Moral Absolutes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s