“some people hear me and think that I’m in constant support of everything that Firestone does, Firestone thinks I’m one of their biggest critics. The truth is I’m practical and I don’t blame any outside person for the condition of Liberia.”
I was fidgeting some in my seat, staring at Dad  Brightspot as he quietly and deliberately explained his view of Liberia to me. The conversation had begun simply enough, although I don’t remember exactly what we were originally talking about. But our focus meandered a little and the conversation pivoted on firestone.
For my part, I’ve read – not a lot but some – about firestone’s history in Liberia. And from what I’ve gleaned, I’ve found them appalling. I remember thinking about the tires on my car and wondering if I were contributing to the exploitation I was reading about.
Dad had another perspective. Not exactly a glowing endorsement of the company that has been leasing land from Liberia for more than 80 years at a mere 6 cents an acre, but not an all encompassing condemnation either.
Our conversation meandered between what I’d read and what he experienced.
Dad stressed the lunacy of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. in his view, focusing solely on the shortcomings of firestone diminished the things the company has done. “sure there has been exploitation he said, but they are here. Other companies give us words of support, firestone provides actual jobs.”
I struggled with it, struggling with the idea that doing anything – even if it was exploitive and damaging – was still doing something. My actual father and I have had this conversation numerous times. Because I work internationally sometimes and pay attention to international work even when I’m stateside, I am often critical of the work. I try to balance between the instinct people have to pat non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the back simply because they are NGOs. Without considering what they do or the impact they have. Or from a capitalists perspective – looking at the things that we don’t do – can’t do – here in america so we do it elsewhere, away from prying eyes.
Dad Brightspot spoke to the idea of jobs. No matter how small the pay or bad the housing. No matter the absence of schools or medical care. He was looking at money coming into Liberia. He looked at the resources firestone provided (before the war) in the form of training and rubber tree clones. He sees opportunity even in the midst of everything else because, as he repeated tirelessly, at least they are here. Who else is here?

At first I thought our perspectives were opposing. I tried to listen. To really hear and understand what he was saying. And toward the end I realized that both perspectives are necessary. The globalized economy is a big bad capitalist machine and it does not care for cogs that are not part of the machinery. Firestone makes Liberia that necessary cog. And on the other side, I feel an obligation to hold firestone (and anyone else) accountable for how those cogs are treated-especially when I benefit.

Liberia can appreciate the opportunity but that doesn’t mean america, americans, can’t demand …more.

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1 Comment on Firestone: a Brightspot perspective

  1. Kyla says:

    Another example of something that can only be interpreted by looking at the gray areas.

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