Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Silencing while Assaulting

Dennis, our guide to Soweto.

Not saying I know it to be true, but the image of a potential Supreme Court justice as a youth muzzling a woman while sexually assaulting her serves as a powerful metaphor for how men have too often treated women. That men do the same when legislating and adjudicating women’s reproductive choices cannot be denied.

I would not want to be judged by my own careless acts as a youth, but by what I have become since. So the question for me is if this nominee has sufficiently matured to keep his hands off a woman’s uterus when it comes to her choice to bear or not bear a child. I am not pro-abortion, I am pro-choice.

Last week I attended a book launch for Connie Tuttle’s fa-bu-lous memoir, A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet. In a blurb for the book, I described it as a book full of “extraordinary stories extraordinarily well told.” One of those stories, and one she read for the launch, is about her attending a presbytery meeting that was to vote on the ordination of lesbians and gay men and thus, the possibility of her own ordination. To be silenced, to be disallowed from speaking in her own defense because she was neither an ordained elder or minister, was and is what countless LGBT Christians endured and still endure in too many religious communities.

Three weeks ago Wade and I visited Soweto, where I learned that one of the breaking points of apartheid was when the South African government in the mid-1970s insisted all citizens of color had to learn and speak Afrikaans, a language only spoken in South Africa. It was to silence protest and prevent their mobility to other countries. Non-violent student protests to this led to massacres of innocent children and youth. The world took notice and imposed sanctions.

I was describing Soweto to a young person when I realized she had never heard of “townships.” I grew up reading about them in my high school current events publications, and I was horrified to think that blacks and other nonwhites lived in what the government called “townships,” and could only leave them when going to and from work, expected by authorities to show their passes on demand.

Soweto is short for “southwest township.” Our guide, Dennis, grew up in Soweto, and he referred to townships as “concentration camps.” He picked us up at our Hilton (!!—Wade had points to cover the hotel) in Sandton, the very upscale financial district of Johannesburg, for a personal tour and history lesson. On the drive to Soweto, he taught us more about South African history then I ever learned in any history class.

As we got close to Soweto, he pointed out huge earth ridges that had been constructed long ago to prevent its residents from seeing the skyline of Johannesburg in the distance. He said he was 22 years old before he ever saw a skyscraper!

Shacks in Soweto.

What surprised Wade and me was the contrast between shanty town homes (that the government is gradually replacing with better housing) and plainly middle- and upper-class homes, usually reflecting the architecture of the countries from which their residents came. Dennis explained that as apartheid came to an end and Nelson Mandela was released from prison and eventually came to power, many nonwhite South Africans returned and built homes that reflected the education, businesses and professions they had been able to pursue elsewhere.
Middle class Soweto homes.

Dennis told us that, upon hearing the plight of those in the townships, who were not allowed education, Scandinavian churches had built churches and schools, smuggling promising students out of the country for higher education. It was in front of one of those schools that a massacre of students occurred. There is a museum nearby named for the first child who fell, caught in a photograph that incensed the world:

Soweto boasts the only street in the world whose residents included two Nobel Peace Prize laureates: Nelson Mandela, whose modest brick house is now a museum, and Bishop Desmond Tutu, an occasional and modest residence for the Anglican churchman who chaired South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The street where Mandela and Tutu resided.

From prison in 1977, Nelson Mandela wrote to his wife, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, these words, which are now on a plaque at the museum:

In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education…but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being: humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow men—qualities within the reach of every human soul.

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Text and photos copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

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