Intolerant Because…

One of my good friends recommended a book to me. Then he nagged and nagged, and finally, I gave in just to stop the nagging. The moment I began reading the book I could not put it down. I read and read, page after page, chapter after chapter experiencing all sorts of emotions, such as pain, anger, frustration and finally, I felt that I had experienced an awakening. I had been asleep for so long or had only been a little awake, but now my eyes were wide open and I was seeing the world as I should have been. I felt kind of like a person who had had lenses placed before their eyes at an optician’s office and at that moment they realized just how much they could not see. Cliché, yes? Nonetheless, King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild is good a read.

After my awakening, I became a preacher of the Gospel according to Hochschild and have joined my friend’s crusade of getting every single African to read that book. The book that tells tales of ancient (arguably current) Congo and the horrors that were committed in that country in the name of bringing civilization to an ‘uncivilized’ country. It is a book that tells the story of a black child being put in a cage as a tourist attraction, stories of slavery, both mentally and physically, and much more.

What a tough history to come to terms with! That history, which is full of pain and anguish is not unique to the Congo, rather it is one that the whole world has dealt with in one way or another. South Korean history films will attempt to show an avid fan what it meant living in an age where society being divided into classes was a major thing. Nobles and slaves were worlds apart from each other and could have no kind of interaction whatsoever. For example, it was so serious that a slave looking into the eyes of a noble was a crime and a noble showing kindness to a slave was an abomination that brought shame to the nobility.

A few kilometres away from Seoul lies Mumbai, the capital of a country that still struggles with discrimination issues that were manifested through the caste system. The system is argued to be a form of social stratification that helps create order in society. The caste system determines every aspect of one’s life, from the kind of work that they can do (from the highest to lowest rank – first we have priests and teachers, then warriors and rulers, then farmers, traders and merchants, then labourers and finally, street sweepers and latrine cleaners) to whom they are allowed to marry. To better understand the system, a reading of an article on the BBC website ‘What is India’s caste system?’ is recommended. Meanwhile, the recent election of former Governor Ram Nath Kovind, a member of India’s lowest caste as President of India is a huge indication of a successful attempt at rising above the caste system. The country has tried to run from the caste-race equation, stating that the system has nothing to do with colour, but the reality on the ground tells a different tale.

Today’s world is rocked with the struggle of embracing the beauty in differences, such as difference in race, tribe, religion, sex, ideas, and points of view. To expand, why would a person of lighter pigmentation look down on another blessed with more melanin? The difference between the former and the latter is that the former is more susceptible to sun burn than the latter. Straight hair versus kinky hair: does it really matter that one’s hair crunches up when exposed to water and the other does not? Does it? Is it really that big of a deal that this one’s language or tongue is different from another’s?

Why is it so difficult to agree to disagree and accept that some people will believe in the existence of a divine deity and others will not? Or that some will call God ‘Allah,’ while others will call him ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah’ and so on? Does a woman choice not to show her hair to the world warrant the direction of so much hate towards her? Whatever happened to freedom of choice? Is the fact that one’s ideas differ from another’s a reason to create storms and burn bridges? The answer, in essence, appears to be that people are intolerant because they do not see themselves in each and every single person that walks this earth.

History does awaken feelings of resentment for one reason or the other, however, it does make blood boil for one reason or the other. But, in it lie great lessons. As human beings, we must refuse to go back to those times. We must move on to greater and more tolerant times. We must grow and accept that a world with no differences is a Utopian and boring one and, as such we must refuse to resent those that are not similar to us in whatever way, be it physical or mental.

Thus, as one of the greats called on us to do, we must emancipate ourselves from mental slavery and rise above.

Hawa Gaya