When I was 7 or 8 years old, I asked my mom about something I’d been hearing about in the news — apartheid.
I asked her what it meant, why everyone was talking about it, and most of all, why it was such a big deal.
She said, “Oh, it’s not that big of a deal; really, it’s not as bad as they say. It’s just a bunch of liberals making it a bigger deal than it should be, as usual. They’re just sticking their noses in other people’s business, again.”
These words played as a loop in my mind, over and over, as I read the works of Robert (Bob) Massie. Both A Song in the Night and particularly, Loosing the Bonds describe not only the ugly reality of racism in the United States and apartheid in South Africa, but the reasons why ultraconservatives, like my mom, attempt to minimize its reality.
Even before I broke with the ultraconservative movement, in part, as a result of Massie’s writing, I could see the fallacy of this worldview.
As a fellow expendable, with a diagnosis of asthma and Asperger Syndrome, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against because of something that is part of you. It’s a discrimination I have faced my whole life long before my diagnoses.
But even before I was diagnosed, found myself able to connect on a deep, personal level with stories of discrimination, both in Massie’s life story, and in the accounts of racism, slavery, and later, apartheid.
I was thinking of Massie’s account of apartheid while working on a review for the Netflix film, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. I scrawled the following question in my notebook: what are the sources of poverty in Africa?
In a moment, I began to answer my own question –
Exploitation of both natural and man-made resources and people by outsiders, typically, but not limited to, Western powers, even today; continued racism, both within and outside the continent; environmental destruction and degradation; totalitarianism at the peaks of government and business, handpicked winners and losers with no accountability; no local government structure; legalized discrimination against classes and people seen as undesirable by the powers that be; little to no investment the most basic infrastructure, education or healthcare; and, an non-existent safety net for the poor and impoverished.
In essence, a real world example of ultraconservatism.
As a Christian, I have been taught that all humans, no matter their skin color, national origin or religion, were susceptible to illusions of superiority, selfishness and exploitation of their fellow humans. Everything I had read, from the Bible, to history and novels, confirmed this reality.
But the ultraconservatives are the exception. They would have you believe colonialism was the holy mission of every Western Christian. It was their duty to teach, to educate, to “save” the uncivilized, unwashed (typically brown-skinned) savages. In fact, all this was done in “service” to the ignorant, godless masses.
They don’t want to see the legacy of colonialism, or the ideas of racial and cultural superiority that go along with it. Nor do they want to face the consequences of a legacy they helped to create. A legacy that continues to stain the African continent, and our relations to her people as Americans.
I’s easier to minimize and justify their actions than face suffering of real flesh and blood humans as a result of their policies. And it’s easier to gas light anyone who would show them the truth.
Many say that today, we are in a fight for the heart and soul of this nation. When we open our eyes to the legacy of ultraconservative policies a half a world away, we are faced with the seriousness of the task before us.