Book Review: Chicago’s Black Traffic In White Girls

Chicago’s Black Traffic In White Girls, by Jean Turner-Zimmerman

For a short and feisty pamphlet written about the problem of sex trafficking [1] in Chicago in the early 1990’s, this book has a surprising amount of relevance to today.  It is impossible to read a document like this, which blends racial/ethnic politics (including more than its fair share of anti-Semitic rhetoric, all the more ironic given the name of the author), a strong tint of moralizing, and a highly pointed discussion of urban corruption relating to immigration.  To add to the interest in this piece, it was written by a shelter dedicated to helping young women escape prostitution and live a moral and upright existence, even in the face of pressures of poverty, given that the stories in here do not sound particularly enjoyable for anyone, and indeed carry with them the sad tale of self-destruction that are all too common when one reads about problems in sexuality and addiction in general.  This is not a long book, but it is the sort of book that could likely still be written about many of our large cities today, even if the help given to such young women (and young men, although they are not discussed in the book) is a little less conspicuous today than it was in the early 20th century.

The book is structured in a very simple way.  There is an introductory statement designed to drum up support and then the writer discusses the problem of sex trafficking in Chicago in the most heated way possible.  Then at the close of the book the author makes an appeal for support and there are some advertisements for a woman’s shelter with photographs showing the conditions and the young women helped.  There are at least a few wider comments that can be made about the contents, given the rhetoric is deliberately overheated.  For one, the general corruption of Chicago, something already evident more than a century ago, makes someone who comes up from that corrupt political machine more than a little bit untrustworthy by context.  Additionally, one sees that the material was written for a patriotic but not particularly moralistic audience, with brief mentions about police and political corruption, and the plight of good American girls being seduced into the sex trade for Jewish and Chinese pimps and madams being front and center, repeated over and over again.  There are sob stories about Jewish immigrant girls lured to their moral and physical destruction as well.  This book is by no means a pleasant read, but it one that has lasting value and worth, not least because sex trafficking remains a massive problem around the world.

Indeed, this piece is most interesting with regards to its language and the context of that language.  Given the moral fervor about slavery, during this age prostitution or forced concubinage was widely called white slavery to set it in contrast with the black slavery that had long been a scourge in America.  Those who hated the thought of black slavery, after all, should not tolerate white slavery in the least.  The widespread absence of harems and odalisques in our present world, though, makes slavery a less common touchpoint when it comes to moral evils like prostitution.  We are more interested in viewing it as a particularly dark form of commerce in (wo)men’s souls, although we are still likely to associate with women specifically, given the lingering compassion we have for the value of female innocence.  And so we call it sex trafficking, to compare it with other unpleasant forms of trade like the traffic in illegal drugs.  Whatever we choose to call it nowadays, it remains a corrupting social evil by which people are lured to participate as customers or vendors or product, with its corruption felt by all.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/04/07/astandsborn/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/04/13/and-if-she-is-a-door-we-will-enclose-her-with-boards-of-cedar/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/03/09/book-review-highway-to-hell/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/11/13/an-abuse-of-power/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/11/22/book-review-super-freakonomics/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/06/05/the-whores-of-northern-malaysia/

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About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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