The topic of apartheid came up recently.
It was a talk that left me incredibly angry and sad. But, it resulted in hope. Let me explain.
For me, apartheid is personal. Race was a topic during my coming-of-age. A white girlfriend’s mother didn’t want her daughter dating me, an Asian. Two guys in a parking lot called me a “gook” and threatened to beat me up. I could go on.
For my children, racism has come up, too. One day, an old man saw them and muttered loudly, “They train those little Orientals for war from a young age.” My wife is white and my children are half-Asian. I guess that was good enough for that man.
For me, apartheid was evil. Millions of non-whites were forced to leave their homes in order to be resettled in desolate areas, away from whites. They couldn’t leave those areas without a special pass. And, many parents then had to travel for work in white areas and saw their children once or twice a year. When they protested, many were arrested, jailed indefinitely, beaten, raped or killed.
In that society, my mixed-race marriage would be illegal. I could live in an area set aside only for Asians and would be separated from my wife and children. If I protested that, I could be detained indefinitely and tortured. I would not have access to restaurants, public toilets, education and medical care set aside for whites.
To me, the crimes of apartheid were known and obvious for a long, long time. In 1950, the international community began speaking out against the system, two years after apartheid laws were passed (more here). Unarmed black protestors were shot in the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962 and then sentenced to life in prison. Academics started boycotting South Africa in the 1960s. In 1973, the United Nations even called apartheid a “crime against humanity.” The world tried to isolate the South African government.
To me, apartheid was wrong and clearly so. Pope John Paul II strongly denounced it. Many people confessed unspeakable crimes during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings (more here).
But, I always have hope and seek it. I remember the white South African friends who emigrated in protest of apartheid. I live in a wonderful country that has dismantled institutional racism. And, I’m grateful to the friends and relatives, who expressed incredible empathy, upon hearing of my distress. Thank you!
Last, I found an incredibly moving story. In a desperate part of South Africa, where parents were burying children who died from hunger after being evicted from their homes, a white Anglican priest gave hope to many (click here to see a two-minute video about it.)
Hope is everywhere. Sometimes we have to look very hard for it. But, it is always there.