Published on December 10th, 2013 | by Richard Black0
Nelson Mandela May he Rest in Peace and How to Raise a Child
As some of you may know Nelson Mandela passed away this past Thursday at the age of 95. For those of you living in a bunker somewhere in North Dakota without access to radio, internet or television on a regular basis this may come as something of a spoiler. Sorry, I should have mentioned that earlier.
I don’t know much about Mandela’s life. I remember when he was released from prison (I was thirteen at the time) and when he was elected to head the government of South Africa. I remember when his wife was brought up on charges of corruption and that in his early days he was charged with treason for advocating armed resistance to the government in response to the atrocities committed by the state.
Other than those memories my knowledge of the man and South Africa is woefully inadequate and largely shaped by the movies District 9 and Lethal Weapon 2.
While there was quite a lot of coverage concerning Mandela’s life, one incident in particular struck me. It occurred with when the members the government took a moment of silence and bowed their heads to pay homage to this great man. On a podium stood the current head of state, another man stood by his side. Both men were black.
Next to them was a third figure, presumably an important individual, who was white. He appeared to be in his fifties or sixties which puts his birth right around during the nastiness that occurred in the 1950’s and 1960’s in South Africa.
I wondered how this man came to be in the current government given the color of his skin. Granted he may have been an opportunist who saw that the times were changing and through his lot in with the ANC. Then again maybe he wasn’t. To be honest his reasons for joining the government were peripheral to my thoughts.
Seeing him I gave no small amount of thought to the person I would have been had I been born in South Africa during the 1960’s and white.
Of course I like to think that I would have sided with the oppressed. My parents have always been adamantly opposed to racism or sexism in any form tacit, implicit, institutionalized or other. In that scenario I believe I would have sided with Mandela and the ANC.
But what if my parents had raised me otherwise? In all likelihood they would have been one of the privileged few who chose to ignore the plight of the bulk of the country, take direct advantage from their status or both.
In that scenario I’m not so certain that I would have chosen to throw my lot in with the oppressed. I’ve always been a pain in the ass within any structured system but my rebellious side has tended more towards jackassery than any other, more noble, cause. I crave routine and stability and generally arrange my life in order to placate those neuroses.
Without my parents’ guidance I would almost certainly have been opposed to Mandela and his movement, a tepid adversary but an adversary nonetheless. From my basic understanding of psychology and sociology would tend to support this rather depressing conclusion.
Those in power tend to serve their own needs before those of others and maintain the status quo. There are always outliers, people who break from the norm, but they are few and far between and that is why we celebrate them.
More than anything else this exercise taught me that the sins of the father are passed down to the sins of the son, or daughter in my case. The sense of right and wrong that I and my wife instill in my daughter will go a long way to shaping her worldview and, more importantly, the decisions she takes in her life.
It’s a weighty charge to raise a child, almost terrifying sometimes. Fortunately for you few readers I’m not up to the task of discussing the intricacies of societal norms, peers, genetics, other influences on a child’s behavior, much less the influence that one man or woman can have upon a group or a nation.
Suffice it to say that I’m doing my best, at least, most of the time to raise Darcy with empathy and compassion and steel.
I hope you are as well.