Until we find concrete and genuine ways to take into account cultural differences and the institutional power relations that inform that reality in Canada, Black History Month, like multiculturalism, will continue to be sidelined and watered down to satisfy Canada's mythical narrative of togetherness, racial justice and equality.
Change is never easy and it often creates discord, but when people come together for the good of humanity and the Earth, we can accomplish great things. Those are the lessons from Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and all those who refuse to give up in the face of adversity when the cause they pursue is just and necessary.
There is no discussion of the fact that part of the reason Mandela was sent to prison was because he was responsible for bombing a power plant. Though we seem to like to imagine that Mandela brought change to South Africa with nothing but wise words and a kind, grandfatherly smile, the truth is very different. Mandela fought for his freedom, tooth and nail.
The South African Reconciliation Barometer, a survey of racial and social attitudes, consistently finds a deeply divided nation. Less than 40 per cent of South Africans socialize with people of another race, while only 22 per cent of white South Africans and a fifth of black South Africans live in racially integrated neighbourhoods.
When I moved to Canada from South Africa I thought living in this country had opportunities that people in other places could only dream of. However now I know it's not without its own problems. In my years here, I've been told three times to "go back home," was informed by a major national daily newspaper they couldn't hire me because I didn't have Canadian experience and was rudely told by a well-known tire company employee that "In this country, we pay taxes." I have used lessons from Madiba to fight injustice. My stories pale in to insignificance compared to what others experienced in our own backyard.
For most South Africans, that long walk to freedom Mandela wrote about is on a much longer, stonier and more dangerous road than they ever expected. And it's taking far more time than their well wishers around the world ever predicted. Considering what's happening to his dream of a new, democratic and rainbow nation, maybe it's best that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has gone.
The other night I was in Regent Park, near downtown Toronto, at the Nelson Mandela Park Public School observing a small candlelight vigil. I was also was there with my family and my incredible wife, who was born and grew up in Apartheid South Africa before moving to this beautiful country of Canada when she was 12.
I was born in South Africa, under apartheid -- a white child with every privilege. It was the year 1969, five years after Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. In my first year at Queen's University, in 1990, Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison. My classmates were euphoric about what this would mean for South Africa. My optimism was more cautious.
If ever proof were needed that one person can change the world, Nelson Mandela was that proof. His unwavering commitment to peace, tolerance, justice, and equality embodied those very concepts. Mandela inspired a movement, transformed a country, and reshaped our understanding of what the world could be. With the leadership of his External Affairs Minister Joe Clark and the influence of Canada's UN Ambassador Stephen Lewis, Prime Minister Mulroney diverged from his Conservative cousins in the U.K. and U.S. and stood strong against apartheid -- heeding the call of Mandela. Canada's stance in those days continues to be a source of pride for all of us.
The Archbishop is a South African social rights activist. He rose to worldwide prominence in the 1980s as a staunch opponent of his country's policy of apartheid. He was also the first black South African Archbishop of Cape Town. His irrepressible spirit is particularly awe-inspiring when you consider the South Africa from which he emerged.