Category Archives: Society
America is often referred to as the land of opportunity for anyone wishing to start a new life far away from home. Since the days of Amerigo Vespucci, the territory we now call the United States has been a primary destination for world travelers. In recent years, legislation regarding immigration has been an important topic which provokes fierce debate. Every country has its issues with immigration and none has a perfect regarding the same. However America has been the place where millions of immigrants have made a new home. The late John F. Kennedy, formerly the Thirty-Fifth President of the United States, left us with many writings, interviews and speeches before his untimely death in Dallas, Texas. His sharp wit, uncanny foresight and fierce independence catapulted him to the top of the list of Americans whose names live on forever. As the descendants of Irish settlers from Ireland escaping the potato famine, his family came to America in search of a new life. Their journey was long and their assimilation into a new society rough, with prejudice and xenophobia forming substantial obstacles to peace and happiness. Their plight was never forgotten and is told again in this short but engaging book that clarifies his position that America truly is a nation of immigrants.
Today it is hard for many of us to comprehend that the America as we know it is less than three hundred years old. In fact, my hometown of New York City did not come into existence until 1898. The stories of Ellis Island are legend in American history with tales of immigrants from places such as Ireland, Italy, Germany at The Netherlands. But as Kennedy beautifully explains, America owes its diversity to immigrants from all over. He starts off by giving a brief history of the creation of America before going into the influx of newcomers and their cultures and traditions that they introduced to the American experience. As I read the book, I thought to myself that although it was written in 1958 and published posthumously in 1964 after his death, his words are still relevant today. Currently, America finds itself in the midst of a bitter political climate. Immigration remains a hotly contested topic with the lives of millions of people living in the United States at stake. But as we move forward and consider how to approach immigration, it is wise for us to reminder JFK’s words that immigrants are responsible for the building of our country.
One of the tragedies of America’s development, pointed out by Kennedy in the book, is the backlash and discrimination faced by newly arrived immigrants. Every group of people has had to face discrimination fueled by bigotry and xenophobia. Regrettably, those who engage in such acts easily forget that all of our ancestors come from foreign land. Furthermore, the disenfranchisement of the Native Americans, Aborigines and struggle of the African and Hispanic-American and dark periods and a stain on the American conscience. The more I read his words and listen to his speeches, the more I am concerned that they are more important today. And his death on November 22, 1963, is still one of America’s darkest moments. My father who will turn sixty-five this year, still recalls with vivid detail, the day that Kennedy died. And as I listen to him talk, I can feel and see the sense of loss that engulfs him.
St. Augustine remarked that “the world is a book, those who do not travel read only a page”. Truer words have rarely been spoken. For some of us, it is not merely travel, but a completely new change in life requiring moving from the place known as home to a new land thousands of miles away. Those of us who have always lived in once place may find it difficult to appreciate the struggle many face as they try to make a new life in the United States. But as we go about our daily routines and encounter those who are different, it is imperative that we remember this deeply moving compendium and its words by the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
This gem for which I have written a review came as a recommendation by a close intimate in Argentina. And although short in its duration, the book contains powerful messages about our concepts of love, sex, race, class and justice. The story is of Ndi Sibiya, a young man from a town called Mzimba in the continent of Africa, who is condemned to death after being convicted of the rape of an English woman in the “whites only” section at the local beach. At the beginning, Sibiya informs that he is to die but at first we do not know the exact crime he has been charged with. As the pieces of the puzzle come together, we learn that each day for the past several weeks, he has had a wordless encounter with an English woman who sun bathes naked on the beach. She initially caught him watching her but did not report him and according to Sibiya, continues to show him her body. One day the tension proves to be too much and the two engage each other intimately. Sibiya is arrested and charged with violation of the Immorality Act and rape, both of which carry the death penalty.
The details of the encounters with the girl who is known as Veronica Slater, are relayed by Sibiya to his assigned therapist, Dr. Emile Dufre, originally from Switzerland. The doctor probes at Sibiya repeatedly asking questions about his childhood and any experiences that might have led to him being unable to control his sexual urges. The doctor is supported in his endeavor by the commander of the jail, C. Van Rooyen who sees the natives as nothing more than “savages”. Sibiya is represented by max Siegfried Muller, whose efforts in his client’s defense serve as one of the few logical parts of the subsequent trial. In the book, Sibiya remarks that the end often lies in the beginning. He began by telling us that he’s condemned to death and there is no last minute appeal to speak of. His conviction and sentence to death combine with the actions of the court, Rooyne and Dufre to reveal the barbaric nature of the system of Apartheid in South Africa and the irrational fear of “miscegenation” and defilement of white women. The English colonizers and their presence is eerily similar to the Belgium occupation of the Congo which resulted in the tragic death of Patrice Lumumba in 1961. The system of oppression reinforced by a belief of racial superiority, established a society in which the impossibility of reason becomes a domineering factor forming what could be for some, a hell on earth.
The novel makes an even bigger statement regarding the tragic history of the continent of Africa, the land ravaged by colonization. The beliefs, customs and traditions of the native populations were often ridiculed and in some case forbidden breeding a climate of mistrust by the local residents against their Anglo rulers. Suppression of pride, strength and in this case physical attraction, became facets of daily life and hallmarks of a system based on nefarious ideology.
White Veronica Slater is a fictional character, her actions in the novel have been played out over time repeatedly. Her actions and the rage the reader feels are the disastrous effects of a society constructed on racial division. Sibiya points out that there are no winners in the book, he accepts his fate and acknowledges his actions. His background and uncanny stoicism in the faith of death directly refute the perverse notion of unrestrained sexual aggression and violence by black males, myths that have been used to instill fear and suspicion. The judge, spectators and prosecution form a bloodthirsty commission encompassing the widespread rage at the very idea that such indignation could occur. Similar to lynchings of Black Americans in the southeastern United States, the quest for vengeance nearly erupts in the courtroom. The unfounded and perpetuated myths formed a nexus of a mob mentality determined to get their pound of flesh at all costs, even at the expense of a young man who is most likely innocent of his crime. These ideas are still being refuted today, almost thirty years since Nkosi wrote this masterpiece.
The system of apartheid is now gone but the remnants remain and still affect South African society. Africa continues to go through a rejuvenation, transforming itself from the continent populated by third-world nations to a land of economical and technical development. Sadly, the issues we examine in the book are still believed by many today. But if we are to continue to break down the walls that divide us and refute the myths that continue desecrate our values, then it necessary that we embrace stories such as Sibiya’s so that we can truly move forward, living in harmony and embracing each other like mating birds.
On November 15, 1998, Kwame Ture died at the age of 57 in Conakry, Guinea following a long bout with prostate cancer. Ture was formerly known as civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael. Carmichael, a native of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, became a leading icon of the American civil rights movement as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. His writings and speeches on equality, integration and the advancement of minorities are some of the most passionate ever recorded and are widely read and studied by students of the movement and revolutionary ideology.
This collection of writings takes us back in time during a turbulent time in American history that some believed would result in the downfall of the United States. For others, their belief in the government would be permanently altered following the assassinations of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. And even today, the 1960s ranks among the most dangerous and feared decades in modern American history.
The United States has changed dramatically in recent years, but not too far in the past, the political, social and economic landscape of this nation was vastly different. There are those today that believe nothing has changed, but instead, things are more carefully masked. However, I do believe that if Stokely were alive today, he would be proud to see the many steps forward that have been taken and optimistic about the work that lies ahead. As we do move forward in building a better nation, it pays for us to revisit his writings as they touch the very core of the American soul. Stokely forces us to confront our basic human nature and re-examine everything we thought we knew about racial discrimination, war, poverty, capitalism and politics. And like a master surgeon, he methodically dissects each subject putting it into a completely different perspective that some of us have never considered.
Perhaps one of the biggest tragedies of the civil rights movement, is that much of the outstanding literature published during the time is scarcely revisited and on the brink of being lost to future generations. The voices of Che, Malcolm, Fidel, Fanon and Chairman Mao are relics for the youths of today. However, it’s often said that in order to know where you’re going, it’s important to know where you come from. Stokely does his part in helping us figure out both.
When George Orwell wrote this classic in 1949, I do not believe that he knew then that his book would become the standard for the concept of the totalitarian police state. The book became so popular that not only is it read by students across the nation but it was adapted for the silver screen in 1984 by Michael Radford. The film was released on March 22, 1985 and starred John Hurt and the late Richard Burton. Orwell’s masterpiece about the watchful eyes of the government has stood the test of time and is often cited during discussions about the invasion of privacy and control of society by the government.
Winston is our main character and it is around his life and experiences that the book is centered. A love interest appears in the appearance of Julia and the book’s antagonist is the terrifying O’Brien. The lives of Winston and Julia under the watchful eye of the government paints a portrait of the world that many fear will one day come into existence. O’ Brien is an agent of the state and a true believer in the ideology of the total control of a once “loose” society. His determination and fanatical loyalty to his beliefs highlight the extreme elements among us that we embrace with precaution today. The “ring of steel” in London and the increasing amount of surveillance cameras throughout major metropolitan cities are exactly the types of societal controls O’Brien would have loved to implement. The genius of the book is that we don’t know exactly who the master controller is for there is no one person that assumes the title. Rather, it is a cohesive system of observation and persecution that reminds the citizens of the loss of their rights, freedoms and privacy. As technology advances and the control of society is increased, we can look back to Orwell’s timeless literary work as a premonition of what was to come.