Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Desmond Tutu Speaks

In this video selection Riz Khan looks back at an interview he did with Anglican Archbishop Tutu in November 2006.

This is a longish interview but if you have 18:29 minutes it is worth the ride through a remarkable worldview and commitment to universal humanity.

Tutu was the chairperson of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and in this interview he reflects on the need to confront past injustices with open candor.

He touches on many issues but two stand out for me. The first is his recount of a conversation with Bill Clinton on the need for a TRC in the US. He mentions that African Americans and Native Americans could use such a forum to express the hurt they carry and the loss they endure.

The second is his forthright statement about the multifaceted character of God. This is a powerful commentary that shuns the notion that God is only a Christian God.

God for Tutu is an inclusive God and not a God of selfish division.

What I find most compelling about Tutu is the manner in which he speaks truth to power and does not hide his intentions. But at the same time he is not unkind in condemnation of those he singles out for rebuke.

Listen closely when he tells Riz Khan that he is happy that the former oppressors in South Africa have been freed from the need to oppress. What he is also saying is that the struggle for Black freedom ended up freeing whites too.

I respect this view, though I do not entirely embrace the power it expresses in redemptive forgiveness.


Kellogg said...


I have not had a chance to thank you for putting this blog up. Having you as a professor has changed my life, and your ability to speak to people of all races, and nationalities, without being high handed, is much needed in dealing with the complex issues surrounding race, racism, and the white power contruct. Your a gift to all people, and I wish you all the best!


Ridwan said...

Kellogg your words mean the world to me. I am honoured brother and sincerely hope that in this small world we will bump into each other again.

You know you are always welcome to visit and stay with me in SAfrica.

Keep me posted on your important work my brother. I am proud of you!

Peace and struggle,

Ed Carson said...

So Ridwan, let's see, according to you, whites need to be freed? Of what? What about black tribalism? Shouldn't blacks be freed of their own tribal mentality? Isn't that what the whites tried to do but miserably failed?

Ridwan said...

No Ed. Please read the post again, and watch the interview, before you start your mud slinging, again.

There is nothing "according to" me in the statement that Tutu made about whites being freed from the need to oppress.

And the comment he made pertains to the apartheid government and not to white South Africans in general.

I respect his view on the matter even if I find it overly generous to the former regime and its henchmen/women.

It would be commendable if you desist on making generalized statements about Blacks and tribalism.

I am Black and belong to no tribe and even where the race-laden term is used it is hardly a marker of backwardness.

Do you and yours belong to a tribe? Or are tribes backward social associations of the Black kind?

It is still a shame than anyone in 2007 can believe that whites anywhere in South Africa (or elsewhere) sought to detribalize, or civilize, Black people.

Ed I must be frank with you, I still can't find too much room to listen to the kind of white denialism that you offer here.

Nontheless, thanks for looking in on me. I trust you are well.


Ed Carson said...

Hi Ridwan,

I was talking about what you think is the case, since you stated that you do not entirely embrace that view.

Also, are blacks really free? Free of what? White rule? Ok, that much is true, but would a free society be a killing society?

If not for White rule, there would be no South Africa. There would be tribes engaged in a perpetual fight for territory and cattle. That's the reality of Africa. Tribalism has got no place in the 21st century.

I don't belong to a tribe. I respect and love all those who do not condone or justify crime because the perpetrators are of the same skin colour. During apartheid Whites were expected to support the system for the same reason, and many Whites refused to do so for the same reason that blacks SHOULD (but don't) refuse to condone, aid and abet black crime.

Take care,

Ridwan said...

Hello Ed.

I respect Tutu's view as stated but have my misgivings about the notion of forgiveness as a political and state (civil) issue.

Still, I certainly believe that there is place for those who would find solace and strength in the notion of forgiveness.

I disagree that what is now South Africa was beset by tribal rivalry in any terms that excuse or diffuse the massacres that ensued under white settlerism.

Violence and violent rivalries is a human condition not a racial pathology.

Nationalism in Europe in fact led us to at leat two world wars in much the same way that the Great Lakes region imploded under violent rivalry.

There is simply no such thing as inferior or superior people under any measure. The range of being human exhibits the full compliment of our strengths, our weaknesses, and our existential frailty.

Ed I know you have read my position on crime here in South Africa.

Allow me to remind you that I never excuse crime and I do not know of any folks who do.

There would be something absolutely pathological for any human being to condone crime.

I have written here about the need to formulate better policies that implement crime fighting strategies that are holistic and democratically accountable.

Crime is a scourge on the face of all South Africans, and all who live there irrespective of their race, class, or immigration status.

But I do not racialize crime as a war directed at whites. Even as I am aware that whites are not immune from crime.

Crime affects us all. And it is something that tarnishes the transition to democracy.

If we are to prosper further, the crime situation will need all South Africans to demand and to engage changes.

Be reasonable Ed, the average person who is Black or whatever color in South Africa wants to live in relative security.

There is simply no reality where Blacks in general are "aiding and abetting" crime, particularly a racialized crime where whites are singled out for victimization.

And we have argued about this before.

But I wonder if a national indaba on crime, kind of like a TRC forum, would not be helpful.

It could be an important opportunity to guage more effectively the scope of the problem via testimonies and mandated investigations, etc.

Just a thought.

U take care too.


Lindsay said...

I believe Ed, you need to be freed from your stubborn ignorance. wake up and smell your white supremacist thought then do us all a favor and rid yourself of these false ideas. Just a suggestion. Thank you though for giving me the opportunity to read Ridwan's responses to your comments. They make me happy.

Ed Carson said...

Hi Ridwan,

Thanks for taking the time to discuss with me. I have been thinking these past few days about it all, and while it would be dishonest of me to say that I have changed my mind on most of what I've said thus far, I feel that something is bothering me, and I can't put my finger on it.

A (white) South African who is critical of my views on race suggested a few hours ago that I watch American History X, and I immediately picked it up and watched it. I relate a lot to it, and in particular Derek (although I am no neo-Nazi and have never been involved in such activities or killed anyone). So I wanted to ask if you've got any opinions on it (in case you've seen it) ? I know that a lot of people are critical of Hollywood's portrayal (stereotyping, etc.), but in terms of subject matter, what do you think of it ?

I think that I see myself in the 'old' Derek, and maybe even in the 'new' Derek; except that transformation is not as easy as it sounds. Letting go of the pain, anger and hatred is too difficult, but aside from that, it's also the fact that it might cut you off from the only world that you knew, and not get you fully accepted in the new one you are trying to become part of.. Also, it's hard to let go of racism. It's not as if you can one day say, I take back all that I've said and believed in. It's hard to explain it, really, and I'm not sure if you'd understand it, as your experiences are different from mine. But there's always the feeling that in abandoning racism you would somehow be letting go of the past and moving on, and some of us are stuck in the past because we have left our loved ones in it. I've seen some pretty horrible things (without going into any details as it is not something I like to dwell on), and I think that most black (and white) South Africans have not seen what I've seen or been where I've been. Note that I said most and not all, as I do not claim that my experiences are one of a kind, and do not wish to undermine what others might have lived through. I can only present my own world view and try to explain what it is that has made me adopt it.

I have a question here for you and anyone else who is reading this, do you really think that by pushing people like me away (not saying you are doing that; just speaking in general terms) you would be making a difference in terms of awareness on racism and the fight against it ? A lot of anti-racist activists (and 'regular' people who do not condone racism -- not sure if you make any distinction between the two) have told me that they do not wish to talk to me because of my views. Why? How can people change if they haven't got anyone to listen to them and engage them in dialogue that would show them the fault lines in their reasoning? Yes, some racists do not even wish to talk, but many of us are not like that, and some of us are even desperately looking for a way out, but just don't know how to do it. And I think that the movie was also getting at that. But I don't see this being implemented. Why? Is it that difficult to distinguish between redeemable and irredeemable racists? Those of us who want to talk about it do so for a reason; it's not an attempt to convince you that we are right and you are wrong.. When I first commented here, I did not think that you would change your mind and did not post with the hope of achieving such an outcome. Does any of this make sense?

Take care,

Ridwan said...

Hello Ed:

I have not seen the movie but know that it was making the rounds a few years ago.

Perhaps if anyone else has seen the movie they may be kind enough to answer or comment on what you have raised.

I am all for dialogue and engagement over conflict (violence) and hatred.

I relate to what you are saying from the 'other side' in that in the past I have not wanted to engage and often react strongly to push folks away.

But, where folks want to exchange ideas there is productive ground for engagement.

I expect that people may want to ask you questions and prod here and there to guage a better frame of what you intend.

And this is needed here and elsewhere as long as we keep it respectful across the board.

We come from a conflicted past Ed. You and I and millions others harbour pain and trauma that just won't go away.

We need to confront our fears and embrace changes even where they are difficult to bear.

There is no place for victimization on any side in this process.

I think that is what Tutu was saying and why I thought it powerful.

Everyone needs to be 'freed' from the opression that consumed us and still defines so much of who we are (in Tutu's terms).

There is no place for racism at any level. For anyone.

The guiding principle is our universal humanity.

And I am not just being idealistic. I am being realistic.

We can't survive anywhere unless we set aside what is destroying our humanity (it won't be easy).

You and yours belong back in that soil you love so much.

I know I do Ed. That is why I left the US after 23 years and returned there in 2004.

And now I am going back after a work stint here.

I am proud and looking forward to the challenges.

But like you, I harbour fears too. South Africa was not an easy country for anyone to survive.

We all carry scars.

But we must choose to live and do so boldy with hope.

Best wishes man,