The Ick List

Our Assistant Producer, Nadia Nasir, argues the case for adding something to her ‘Ick List’… read on to find out what exactly it is and why it makes her feel quite so ill…

In ancient Thebes, a king discovers a truth so horrifying that he blinds and exiles himself, prepared to suffer through the rest of his living days. This is the tragic ending of Oedipus The King, a play written by Sophocles and the kind of Grecian drama that no modern soap opera could ever hope to rival. Because the horrible truth King Oedipus discovers is the worst of the worst – it turns out he murdered his father and sired children with his own mother. Which, we can all agree, is totally, totally gross. 

You’re feeling it twist in your gut right now as you read this – because incest is just wrong. It’s icky; disgusting; very difficult to rationalize, even if it’s by accident. There’s some innate, human rule that saysNO in big bold letters to it. You probably get similar feelings about cannibalism. Your stomach turns and suddenly that burger for lunch doesn’t sound too appealing. (All that pink, ground-up meat… who knows what’s really lurking inside?) It’s easy to agree that incest and cannibalism are on the Ick List: they are things we humans find gross, barbaric, and just plain wrong – wrong enough to feel physically ill if we think about them for too long.

Well I’ve got another addition to the Ick List, something that should have been there since Oedipus’ time but has yet to make the cut. Because if you think sleeping with your mother is disgusting and eating the flesh of your fellow man is vomit-worthy, then you should feel just as appalled and horrified by slavery.

Slavery has had a colorful history, from the immense Egyptian pyramids to transatlantic slave ships to suffocating modern sweatshops. Slavery has built nations, filled coffers, gutted families, and even dictated how we view privilege and race today. We have rationalized it, normalized it, criticized it – even denounced it. But for whatever reason, slavery doesn’t stir up that gonna-puke feeling quite like our Ick List. It’s definitely “bad”; it’s “horrible,” even. An “atrocity,” sure. But why doesn’t it give us that same crawl-out-of-my-skin-oh-my-god-that’s-so-very-wrong reaction? Why is it so easy to frown, shake our heads, say, “It shouldn’t happen,” and then forget all about it?

Because let’s be honest – what’s more horrendous than forcing young men into mines, using children like cart mules, and raping women for personal gain?

What’s more pitiable than workers being starved, beaten, and left to die slowly of debilitating, chronic diseases?

What doesn’t twist your gut about knowing that the fact you can read this sentence is proof you have more choice and privilege in this moment than millions of enslaved workers will experience in a lifetime?

What could possibly be worse than depriving another human being of all control over his or her own life?

Compared to such an all-encompassing injustice like slavery, incest and cannibalism look like poor judgment and odd dieting, and the former was bad enough for King Oedipus to poke out his own eyes in penance. And he was arguably just a victim of a really lousy prophecy. A slave to fate.

We’re luckier than Oedipus. We are free.

We are free to choose what merits our unquestionable disgust and what should never be taken lightly. As people who have (or want to have) the right to surf the internet, turn on the lights, live in a house, work for a living, say what we think, love who we want, believe what we do and otherwise live on our own terms, we have a duty to those not as lucky. If we do not want to become slaves ourselves, we need to do our part and lift our voices where they cannot.

We have to spread the word in whatever way we can, take up the pen, and in big bold letters add slavery to the Ick List. 

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