“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013)
Nelson Mandela was a super hero to me, a man whose extraordinary personal sacrifice changed the politics of his own South Africa which inspired dreams for peace and democracy around the world. Facing the death penalty for sabotage at his trial in April, 1964 Mandela spoke these words:
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
He was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released in 1990 by President F. W. de Klerk who then negotiated with Mandela’s party to end apartheid in South Africa. Twenty-seven years of his life with no personal freedom, and Nelson Mandela became a symbol of freedom for his nation and the rest of the world. In 1993 Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work to end the oppression of apartheid in their country. Mandela became the first black president of South Africa in 1994.
This past weekend the news of another racially motivated massacre of ten Black people in the United States took place in Buffalo, New York, at a grocery store in a zip code the alleged 18 year old shooter stated in his manifesto he believed had the highest percentage of black people close enough to where he lived. According to Dustin Jones of NPR today the teenager said “the influx of immigrants, more specifically people of color, will lead to the extinction of the white race…decrease in white birth rates equates to a genocide.” This young man was not born hating, but somewhere along the way he was vulnerable to evil influences similar to those that enabled a 21-year-old white man to murder nine Black people while they held a prayer meeting in the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina in June, 2015.
Meanwhile almost 5,000 miles from Buffalo, New York across the Atlantic Ocean, a 21-year-old Russian soldier was put on trial last week in Kyiv for allegedly killing a 62-year-old unarmed Ukrainian civilian riding his bicycle on a road in the Sumy region when the soldiers suspected the man of telephoning their location to Ukrainian defenders. Russians and Ukrainians may share the same color skin but radically different ideas about their governments – the ideals of democracy the Ukrainians believe in are very much like Mandela above who was prepared to die for his hope in a “democratic society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”
I am at a loss to understand the ongoing mass shootings in my country, an experiment in democracy that has failed to deliver on its promise of harmony and equal opportunities for all. Not only has the nation failed in providing fundamental rights to all but also is currently in the process of a sitting Supreme Court actually reversing some of the precious fundamental rights that were guaranteed for the past 50 years. What’s that I hear? Oh, never mind. It’s only the cries of 166 million females in the US as we await the decision of 6 men and 3 women called the Supremes who will determine whether the government controls our bodies or we do.
If Mandela can be our north star, then we have the capability of teaching love to our children as surely as we teach them to hate the persons of different colors, different political beliefs any “other” from ourselves and our families. Portions of the human race are surely broken when we teach teenagers and twenty-somethings as children to hate enough to kill with weapons we refuse to prohibit.
But that’s a topic for another day.
Stay safe, stay sane, and please stay tuned.