Helping to teach Sunday school at church this morning, we had an interesting discussion with some of the grade 3 – 5 kids in our class. They had been asked to write down the names of some “history makers” and explain what it was that made them such influential individuals. Not unexpectedly, Nelson Mandela’s name popped up quite a bit, and a couple of the kids were excited to share what they knew about him:
“He helped make South Africa a better country! And he made sure to end… what’s the name for that thing again?”
We gently prompted the kids that “that thing” was called apartheid.
One of the younger boys sitting next to me leaned across and asked, “What’s apartheid?”
I was reflecting on this with Herman on the way home from church, excitedly co
mmenting about how wonderful it was to live in the “New South Africa” where the kids don’t even know the meaning of the word Apartheid. The fact that the term for this terrible part of South Africa’s history has, just one generation later, seems to have slipped from the day-to-day vocabulary of young South Africans in no small feat. A lot has changed in this country, for the better, and I hope that this experience I had in the Sunday school was a reflection of that.
However, the more I thought about it during the day, the more I realised I must be careful to mistake the death of terminology with the passing away of its definition. Racism, whether state sponsored or not, is still very much alive and kicking in South Africa. As a transracial family living in this country, we have experienced this, first hand many times, in both subtle, and blatantly obvious, ways. Just because we no longer talk about Apartheid doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, in some form or another.
We cannot neglect educating our children about race, and all of the issues that go along with it, and simply expect that they will, all on their own, develop positive attitudes towards those of other social groups. In fact, some studies have shown that when parents (teachers? schools? churches?) remain silent about race, kids are still pretty good at developing racial biases without much help. It is a wonderful thing that children in South African society no longer have to suffer under the social, emotional and physical oppression that was Apartheid, but by not talking about it, might not the malignancies which still fester in many hearts simply begin to grow again? As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Flower Girl and I had an apartheid discussion the other day. It was hard. I struggled to put to words just how terrible it was that people with the colour skin of Herman and I (and Wombat) thought that people with her colour skin were not as valuable. To be honest, she didn’t seem all that bothered by the idea at this stage; but it is a discussion we will continue.
We are praying for South Africa; that the atrocity which was Apartheid might never happen again, but that it will not be forgotten, either.