I will be honest. We have turned off our TV this week. (Mostly because I feel like the first five days of violence in America’s streets were enough to give my kids the understanding that things are not okay.) Secondly, it has allowed hubby and I to turn down the noise of the media and have serious and sincere discussions with our children about what’s going on and the ugly history behind it. The truth is we can’t turn off the ugliness in our world. There is no universal remote for peace, kindness, or equality. We can, however, turn up the discussion on what must change and tune into what will make our world a better place.
Currently, I am reading Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. I began reading this before George Floyd’s tragic death, but the book’s contents have rang painfully true for me in these times. Previously I’d read about the history behind the apartheid in South Africa and the impacts of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, but never did I give the circumstances of those who lived it much consideration. In my mind, it was as if a switch must have been flipped in South Africa, one day the apartheid ruled and the next day things were hunky dory. The problem with my thinking on that situation is as wrong and hurtful as those who are allowing generalizations and stereotypes to rule their reactions and beliefs about the protests and riots today. I am grateful Trevor Noah’s book provided me with the opportunity to grow in my understanding.
Noah does a terrific job of addressing his life experiences and the viewpoints of the South African apartheid in a candid and witty manner. I with that everyone would follow his lead and use this perspective to see the race situation for what it is and eliminate the handy rationalizations that allow the division of people’s to perpetuate.
In his book, Trevor Noah shares stories about finding ways to belong in a community that would never accept him and how he and his friends scraped by in the face of poverty, discrimination, and an unjust legal system. Noah and his crew sold bootleg music, DJ-ed parties, and kept a system of questionable sales and bartering afloat. When someone in his crew acquired a digital camera, Noah discovered that the merchandise they were hustling “wasn’t just stuff.” It came from somewhere. From someone.
“It’s such a strange thing, but in two years of hustling I never once thought of it as a crime. I honestly didn’t think it was bad. It’s just stuff people found. White people have insurance. Whatever rationalization was handy. In society, we do horrible things to one another because we don’t see the person it affects. We don’t see their face. We don’t see them as people. Which was the whole reason the hood was built in the first place, to keep the victims of apartheid out of sight and out of mind. Because if white people ever saw black people as human, they would see that slavery was unconscionable. We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others, because we don’t live with them. It would be a whole lot harder for an investment banker to rip off people with subprime mortgages if he actually had to live with the people he was ripping off. If we could see one another’s pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place” (Noah 221-222).
As we move forward in building relationships with others, we need to set those handy rationalizations to the side. We need to see the faces of those we encounter and know that everyone has suffered. While we can’t live in the homes of those who have been ravaged by distrust, bigotry, and bias, we can realize that those perceptions are not acceptable ways to treat or view others. Committing the crime of bias and racism is not okay. We need to know that those rationalizations for separation are not rational and the pain and hurt caused by them will never be worth the silence, violence, or pain that they create.
By: Melanie A. Peters
P.S. If someone could work on making that universal remote for peace, kindness, and equality, that would be great. Thanks in advance.
Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Speigel & Grau, 2019.