It wasn’t until I was on the flight to London that I began to think about the day, over 30 years ago, that I joined a group of Stanford students to push for the University to divest from South Africa. The group was ultimately called Stanford Out of South Africa (SOSA) and we spent a few nights sleeping in the quad in front of the president’s office, getting berated by Joan Baez for not being radical enough, and trying to make a point, at a time when apartheid was starting to crumble under the weight of a changing world.
I wasn’t sure what types of emotions I would have entering a country with such an amazing history. My first feeling was just how wonderful it is to be surrounded by Africans, and seeing black people everywhere. However, as we passed shanty towns and mine workers as we drove through the countryside my sense of entitlement as an American also came through. Yet, the issues around race and inequality are practically universal.
As I discussed many of these issues with both white and black South Africans, one thing that seemed relevant to the discord seen in our country today is that we have never gone through a truth and reconciliation process. Our long history of slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination has led to an ongoing struggle…a complicated struggle that calls for more than color blindness. The ugly rhetoric enabled by the Trump campaign has left me, for possibly the first time in my life, pessimistic about the future of not only race relations, but also gender equality.
I’m half way through my trip to South Africa, and the U.S. election is looming. I can’t help but think about the ways in which both countries have struggled through years of one group trying to retain dominance over another. I’m certain the election will resolve nothing, there is much to be dealt with as we grapple with what the last few years have meant for people of color, women, immigrants and many other groups. Some truth and reconciliation couldn’t hurt…