Friday, December 6, 2013

On his Facebook page, my 16-year-old wrote, "R.I.P Nelson Mandela. You were one of the greatest civil rights activists the world has ever seen." This, I thought, was a fine thing for an American teenager to recognize. Yet in the kitchen, when I continued the conversation with him and happened to use the word apartheid, he looked at me, puzzled, and asked, "What is that?"

I suppose one could say: this is how much Mandela changed the world. He changed it so much that today's concerned, intelligent, American teenagers have never had to hear the word apartheid battered around on the evening news. On the other hand, I was appalled. In my son's lifetime, Mandela has only been a respected public figure. But in my lifetime he underwent an unthinkable transformation: from state-reviled prisoner to president of that very same nation. It's not that my son is ignorant of Mandela's particular brand of greatness. He just didn't hear that racist label splashed day after day among Iran Contra embarrassments and Michael Jackson hits. Of course he didn't. But even though I know this, time never stops being a surprise.


Maureen said...

I was listening last night to a BBC broadcast in which young (30 and under) South Africans were being interviewed about Mandela and their understanding of what he accomplished. Only a very few had any idea! This, even in his own country. It was sad but perhaps was not surprising.

Ruth said...

"But even though I know this, time never stops being a surprise." This so exactly sums up my feeling everyday when I realize that so much that I believe to be common knowledge isn't.

Carlene said...

I think it's both wonderful and sad that kids don't know...but yet, I also feel the same way when they don't blink at same sex marriage, interracial couples, and so on. We work so hard to eradicate the hate and the artificial differences...and yet we are taken aback when they just don't see them. It's a hard paradox.

On another note, has your son seen Invictus? He may like it a lot; I did, my students did, and it's really pretty powerful. Mandela personally requested Morgan Freeman to portray him in the film.

Ang said...

Last winter an uncle gave me a picture of myself and my sister with our great grandfather, born 1870ish. I touched and sat on the lap of a man born just after the American Civil War. Did I give this a second's thought at 16???? No! Was I fiercely opposed to the VietNam War and an expert on war and peace??? Yes!!! So glad Paul has his passions. The details will fill in over time.