Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Campus Event: Nontombi Naomi Tutu on "Our Shared Humanity"

This event is part of the campus Convocation Series. Nontombi Naomi Tutu, race and gender justice activist and daughter of Bishop Desmond Tutu, spoke on campus January 20, 2014 for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration. The following are my notes from the event. Any comments I make are in parenthesis:

  • Lecture title: "Our shared humanity: creating understanding through the principles of Martin Luther King, Jr." 
  •  For her, Berea College was a place where she found voice as well as friends for life. Ms. Tutu is a Berea College alumnus. 
  • Dr. King is not just an American hero, but a hero around the world in places like South Africa, which was suffering Apartheid in Dr. King's time. 
  • African proverb: "In time of floods, the wise build bridges. Fools build walls." Ms. Tutu learned many lessons via proverbs. In times of challenge and crisis, reach out and find allies in solidarity. 
    • Dr. King was a man who built bridges. 
    • Dr. King refused to see someone simply as an oppressor. Every human to him had the potential to be good and respectful. When he encountered the opposite of that belief, he did not let it make him bitter. 
  • Ms. Tutu tells a story of Dr. King and his brother-in-law driving at night after an event. As they drove, the brother, who was driving, noticed no other drivers would dim their high beams as they came on the opposite side of the road. The brother grew frustrated and said he would not dim his lights for the next guy who did not do so as well. Dr. King urged him to remain considerate and said, "we need someone to see in the road, even if it is not you."
  • Like Dr. King, Nelson Mandela also refused to dehumanize others. This is hard to do to others when you are the one being oppressed. 
    • There is empowerment in being the one to reach out and build bridges. 
  •   Ms. Tutu tells her story of being stopped at a roadside checkpoint in South Africa. She saw the humanity of the white guard in the five minutes or so of the moment, simply by making small talk the man whose job it was to check her car. 
    • She thus urges us, on this day, to see others as human beings. See others as someone like us, at core, human beings like us.
  • Be like children, but be careful with this proposition. Children DO see differences, and they query those differences. But they see difference as an opportunity to see the world and learn about the world, to see options, a chance to see a different way of doing things. 
    • It is NOT about having a color-blind society. Want a world that does recognize humanity, uniqueness, what each person brings to the table that no one else brings. THAT is the shared dream of humanity.  We come to each community with special gifts, challenges, stories, questions. 
    • In recognizing others, we build the bridges that will get us through crisis. 
    • What God might say: "after all the work I did to make you diverse, you dare say you are all the same?" 
    • We are called to be those who in time of flood build bridges of relations and care. We are called to recognize our shared humanity, to celebrate it.
From the Q&A time:

  •  What was most challenging to Ms. Tutu during the Apartheid regime? To accept her humanity and that of white South Africans. To learn it did not mean one had to dehumanize them. 
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa means that the Apartheid history cannot be denied or made to disappear. Yes, there was some imbalance, some favoring of the oppressors. In the end, we need to concentrate on how to bring more people into the economic system. Rural development may be one way. 
  • On being asked where South Africa would be had there not been a Nelson Mandela: Nelson Mandela was a singular human being who showed a path of reconciliation. However, he was not alone. Recognizing this does not take away from Mandela's role. 
  •  On giving love and receiving hate: Allow others to tell their stories. Strive to not just decide you know someone else's story. Hear other perspectives. 
    • A sample failure: in the talks of welfare reform in the United States, not involving or even listening to people who are actually on welfare. Society and legislators just decided they "know" those people's stories. 
    • Allow ourselves to suspend "the stories" we "know" about the others. Let them, allow them to tell their stories, listen and learn. 

No comments: