It’s no secret that America has a pretty ugly history when it comes to racism. However, many American citizens do what they can to forget that chapter of American history, treating slavery as a mostly abstract occurrence from another time. According to racial justice activist Naomi Tutu, who spoke at Bloomsburg University on March 12, we must acknowledge the hard truths of the past in order to completely move forward from them.
Tutu, daughter of Apartheid-era activist Desmond Tutu, grew up in South Africa under Apartheid rule. Apartheid, a brutal system of racial segregation and dehumanization, took place in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. Having experienced the atrocities of Apartheid first-hand, Tutu became active in the fight for racial and gender equality worldwide.
Tutu’s lecture began with the story of Apartheid’s aftermath. Leading South America’s recovery was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The organization was split into three branches: The Amnesty Committee, which collected and considered amnesty applications from Apartheid oppressors; The Human Rights Committee, which investigated the crimes against humanity that were committed during Apartheid; and the Reparations Committee, which helped to restore South Africa and improve the communities with help from voluntary reparations from the offenders.
In order to be granted amnesty, applicants needed to be honest, and show political motivation for committing their crimes. This decision was, in Tutu’s opinion, a bit light on those who murdered and tortured others for 46 years. While she dismissed the idea of jailing each offender, Tutu expressed that she would have liked to see offenders sentenced to community service to aid in South Africa’s rebuilding.
Since the termination of Apartheid, Tutu has spent time investigating what it is that could make a person torture, kill, and dehumanize other humans, seemingly without remorse. Was there something wrong with the enforcers of Apartheid? Was there something inherently different about those who did such horrific things to their fellow South Africans? Tutu argued that while many would consider Apartheid supporters to be bad people, the capability to become so inhuman lies in all of us.
Because societal pressures had such a profound impact on those in South Africa, Tutu stated that in order to move past Apartheid, forgiveness was necessary. She explained the extraordinary level of forgiveness that was shown by the South Africans in a collective effort to restore South Africa and improve the country for all its citizens. While she admitted that racial tension still exists in her native country, Tutu said that South African citizens have made a remarkable amount of progress.
After telling the fascinating story of South Africa’s recovery from Apartheid, Tutu applied the forgiveness concepts to our own nation. As previously stated, attempts are made by Americans to cover up or forget the slavery era in this country. As pointed out by Tutu, the goal of many American history classes is to encourage national pride. This would be difficult if the appropriate amount of attention was given to the uglier parts of our past. Tutu stressed that the only way to fully heal the wounds of racism is to acknowledge the pasts of both the oppressors and the oppressed. She added that although these truths make many feel uncomfortable, this is necessary to maximize the progress we make.
Tutu finished by stating that just as we could each end up an oppressor, we can also learn to celebrate our humanity. By looking at both sides of racial conflicts and understanding the truth from both perspectives, we can overcome our racially divided past and move forward into a more equal future. On behalf of Bloomsburg University students and faculty, we would like to thank Naomi Tutu for sharing such a powerful message with us.