Is it possible to celebrate our differences without resorting to racism? Peter John Moses believes we can and definitely should.
Look at the daily news headlines or follow the trending topics on social media and you’ll come across racism – whether it’s direct, a report or a comment, racism and bigotry in the 21st century is alive and well.
I don’t know if I should be afraid or laugh at our naivety in believing that we as humans have evolved to where, as many liberal minds would say: ‘I do not see colour and I am not defined by labels’.
Let’s face a truth many people want to forget or ignore: Human beings do not all look or act the same. We are one species but of different flavours and that’s just fine. That is the way we were made and the way it is supposed to be. We were never supposed to be uniform in looks or in nature. We were never supposed to believe in the same things and act in the same manner.
The problem is not that we are different; the problem is that we don’t love and celebrate our differences.
Instead, we use these differences as a way of spreading fear and hatred toward fellow human beings. We create walls between us based on the differences of skin colour, language and culture. We always seem to take an aggressive approach to those that do not share our views or look like us.
The divides today are nothing new. It has been with us since the earliest recorded histories, but never has it felt as overwhelming as it does today. Maybe it is the advent of social media and the immediate nature of today’s news gathering. Maybe it is just that we have not evolved into the compassionate and enlightened beings we thought ourselves to be.
We are led by weak-willed and small minded groups of people and it seems we follow along the destructive paths they lead us without asking ourselves why. How do we constantly allow ourselves to be pulled into power struggles of the small percentage at the top of society?
I think we have lost hope since those days. We have forgotten our strengths as people and focused too much on our weaknesses. We allowed the fear-mongers to determine the narrative, not only in Africa but in the world.
Violence is never the answer and yet we are constantly encouraged to fight. But who are we fighting with? The corrupt and greedy – those that reinforce injustices? It seems increasingly clear that we are fighting with each other on prejudices, not proof. And violence in our ocmmunities solves nothing. I was raised with violence all around me. I’ve seen men stabbed and shot; I saw women get beaten to a bloody pulp. Those experiences benefited no one involved, least of all the observer. We must decide, each of us must decide, what we are.
We cheer our young people when they put on a military uniforms and march off to some war in some place they’ve never before even heard of. We salute flags and sing anthems that divide us even more. We punch before we talk, we argue before we debate. How is any of this helping to bring about peace and progress?
I was moved by former president Thabo Mbeki and his ‘I am an African’ speech. He gave it at the passing of South Africa’s new constitution in 1996. It was a moment of hopeful clarity but also of brutal honesty, where he outlined what it meant to be a child of Africa. He made sure to include all colours, all races and all beliefs in his description and definition of what it meant to be an African.
I believe we have it in us to turn the tide. We have it in us to do what we know is the right thing. What is needed in this world is not hate but love. What is needed is not indifference but courage to stand up for what is right. What we know deep in our soul is right.
During one of her final appearances as the first lady of America Michelle Obama said ‘When they go low, we go high.’ This is good advice that not many follow.
We can’t argue with the bigots and racists among us at their level. We have to strive to educate and inform them from a higher level so that we can uplift them. Don’t push them down, you may just lose your balance and fall.
As Pope Francis said when addressing a delegation from the Jewish Simon Wiesenthal Centre in 2013: ‘The problem of intolerance should be dealt with as a whole: every time a minority is persecuted and marginalised because of his religious beliefs or ethnicity, the good of the whole society is in danger.’
He added ‘Let us join forces to promote a culture of encounter, respect, understanding and mutual forgiveness.’
These are the types of leaders we need to take heed of – those that promote unity, not division. We need to listen to more positive messages and stop listening to the negative ones. Stop spreading hateful rumours and allowing people within your circle to say untrue things. Just because you hear it around the braai does not mean that it is harmless.
Our silence is seen as our approval. It makes us complicit. I refuse to remain silent or sit on the side lines when there are people out there dying every day. I refuse to allow the small group of evil doers out in the world to continue their hateful existence among us unchecked.
Our children deserve better from us. Our children deserve adults who are brave and who are compassionate. They deserve to know that we tried our best to make this world better for them.
We need to come out of our homes, out from behind cellular phone screens and computers. We need to be active in changing the way the world is going. We can’t wait for leadership, we have to become leaders. We need to show compassion in order to get compassion. We need to give respect in order to be respected.
We need to spread love because the world needs more of it. We can celebrate differences without reinforcing racism. We need to treat all human beings like we would want to be treated. Only we hold the keys to a brighter future. Only we can make this world what it was always meant to be. SA.