Education and Civil Rights

Featuring Mary Burton.

Mary Burton is a lifetime civil rights activist. Living in South Africa since 1961, former president of the white women’s resistance organization, the Black Sash, she fought alongside Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and other civil rights pioneers in abolishing apartheid, often at her own personal risk. Join us as Mary reflects on the world today, thinking before acting, and how her own life taught her that the surprising key to change is the attitude of those who enjoy privilege.

(Music by lesfm from Pixabay)

Episode notes:

  • She did not know until arriving in South Africa that apartheid existed and as she learned the details she started to be anxious about it.
  • What made her move from compassion to action was knowing of an organization called Black Sash, so called because they were mourning the loss of civil rights. She was inspired by the passion, the knowledge, and the dedication of these women who campaigned so bravely, went out of their comfort zone, mostly middle-aged white women.
  • White people were protected, it was not easy for white people to be affected in their actions by police. Later on, as things escalated, local people could go to jail, foreigners could be deported, many working women were threatened with losing their jobs and/or their businesses suffered.
  • They were under surveillance but they were not suffering as the majority of the population was.

The injustice of being privileged was a burden to carry.

  • The memories we carry of those who died is terrible, but at least we were able to build a new democracy, what should have been a new democracy, and at the beginning it was.

We may have gotten rid of racial laws but we haven’t gotten rid of the divisions that exist in our society.

  • We cannot go on with a situation in the world where a narrow band of wealthy people control their countries and the world’s economies and a huge mass of people in many other countries live lives of desperate poverty.
  • There is a kind of collusion between wealthy people, those who control the economy and governments. They tend to be conservative in economic terms, they don’t want to see a redistribution of the wealth of the countries and of the world in general.
  • Why do we have systems of education that, for some people, open all kinds of opportunity, whilst others get the education that would never allow them to progress beyond what their parents progressed, if at all?
  • A more equal system of life is beneficial for everybody. We need to convey that it’s convenient for those who are wealthy to be less wealthy and live at peace so as not to increase the divide any further.
  • Communicating that message seems to be very difficult.
  • Will this world pandemic help us think differently? Because of isolation, we have had time to think, reflect, and look at other people’s ideas about how to achieve redistribution.

The color of somebody’s skin is not the thing, the problem is that it represents something else, it represents a threat, for somebody who was white skinned or privileged, it represents all that they fear, change and the loss of their lives.

  • If those persons had different colored hair or eyes they would not give them excuses to make that racial differentiation.
  • Campaigns like Black Lives Matter have made an impact and, in that respect, the world is changing.
  • We can only accelerate that by living closely together and understanding each other.
  • When I talk to school learners they often say Yes, I know that that is true but my parents say to me get a good education and get out of the country or get into a world where you will benefit. They have to struggle with that parental pressure to succeed in the world as it is, not to change the world for better.
  • Apartheid epitomized difference, turning human beings into objects.
  • I would not have been brave enough to be active by myself it was a group of people who inspired me. I believe it is possible for human beings to build a better world.
  • Charity perpetuates the situation rather than curing it. We need peaceful but active intervention.
  • It is to the benefit of everybody to live in a just society where people have an equal chance.

The South African example shows that it is not possible to have reconciliation without justice.

  • What we have learned is that you have to go back to the beginning, we have to start all over again.
  • We can’t wait because, if we don’t act now, everything will be destroyed, we are launching a campaign to defend democracy in South Africa.
  • We have to find ways to even the balance between the rich and the poor.
  • A world tax, it is actually a worldwide problem, what about a global tax, not charity, not an intervention of the kind that usually benefits the given country.
  • An economist who met Mandela said there is a big difference between thinking and doing and Mandela had 27 years to think before acting.

We need to teach our young people that yes, you need to act, and you often need an emotional input to act but it is the thinking that comes before hand and preparing yourself for action.

  • There are many places in the world were to raise your voice and take action is very dangerous. But there are also many places where people have the safety and the ability to make change happen. The responsibility is extra great.

I wish for South Africa that we could take some serious steps towards removing inequality and poverty and take them immediately so that there could be visible instant change.

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