Living in a Parallel Universe

February 19, 2009

The details are not that important (names, dates, etc.), but let me set the stage. We had dinner with some South African folks last week–honest, caring, decent folk. Ages between 30 and 40. White. They grew up on the tail end of apartheid as the system was beginning to come unravelled crushing under the weight of the domestic strife and the international outcry that it created. Somehow we got to talking about their childhood, and all four people said that they did not know what apartheid was growing up. Not only did they choose not to think about it, they had no idea what the concept was and how it played itself out. My jaw almost hit the floor.

My teenage and early college years were often spent reading and hearing about the injustice of the apartheid regime on almost a daily basis. News reports about violence in the townships, multinational corporations divesting themselves and sanctions were regular news stories. At the Amnesty International “A Conspiracy of Hope” Concert in Giants Stadium that I attended, the show ended with the crowd chanting “Biko” along with Peter Gabriel. How could someone who grew up in South Africa during that same time not even know anything about it?

Here are the two quotes that really stuck with me. One of the guys was describing his working a job with a Zulu guy, and they used to drive together to their job site. One day, the Zulu guy asked him what he thought about apartheid. He replied that he had no idea what the guy was talking about.

The other guy in the group said, “why did we not ask more questions when we were growing up”?

Why not indeed.

The question that this raises with me is, what blindspots do American’s have about their own world that are obvious to everyone else around that we don’t see. Might be a good topic for discussion.

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