I KNOW HOW TO READ
That probably seems fairly obvious. I am an adult. I am a school teacher. Obviously, I can read. But the larger truth is that the reason I can read has everything to do with where I was born. I am a female who had the unbelievable good fortune to be born in North America. I was born into a country and a culture that sees fit that both men and women can be educated. This is something that I am unendingly grateful for; had I been born elsewhere, I would be the same willful, canterkous me, but without access or support for my endlessly curious mind. I cannot imagine a life without books.
Right now I am reading Trevor Noah's book Born a Crime. It is unbelievably fascinating, and well-written. I already like Trevor Noah. I find him thoughtful and insightful, but reading his book makes him even more impressive. It is hard to think that someone who is walking this earth the same time as me, lived in a world where his very existence was against the law, simply because his mother was black, and his father white.
One of my all-time favorite books is by a white South African, Alan Paton. Cry, the Beloved Country was written in 1954 and was Paton's attempt to show that the systematic destruction of the family unit would be the destruction of the nation of South Africa. It is a beautiful and lyrical novel translated from Africaans to English. His story is a narrative created to express his idea. Noah's book is the true story of his life, and as powerful as the prose of Cry, the Beloved Country is, it has nowhere near the impact of the story of Trevor Noah's mother, pushing him out of a moving car, and jumping out behind him with his younger brother in her arms. Paton created poetry about the sorrow of South Africa, but Noah shares that sorrow with the readers.
One of the most profound sections to me, involved an incident in which he and his dance crew, showed up to compete at a dance competition. Trevor Noah and his friends were tremendously popular DJs and dancers, and their star dancer was unbeatable. Everywhere they showed up people would chant the dancer's name with hands raised in the air. The shocking part of the story of course, was that the star dancer's name was Hitler.
As you read the chapter involving Hitler, the dancer. Initially there is no explanation of this name, and your brain is split between two things: 1. The story of the dance competition and 2. Why on earth would someone name their child Hitler? Earlier in the book, Trevor Noah had explained that his mother had broken tradition when she named him Trevor. Names generally carried great meaning and significance and were chosen carefully. If you wanted to your child to be strong, you would give him or her a name that meant strong. Trevor Noah's mother, wanted him to have a life unbound by expectations or the weight of tradition and so she gave him a name with no meaning or connection to their family. He was free to be himself.
This early discussion about the importance of names, causes you to jolt at this young man, who was a talented dancer, but carried the name Hitler with him. The explanation when it came, sort of hits your right in the chest. Many people in South Africa carry two names -- their African name which is selected with great thought and deep tradition and then your English name. English names are chosen generally from what has been taught in history, but here's the cruel double whammy of apartheid; the concious decision to prevent solid education of the black citizens of South Africa results in children being named Hitler. Trevor Noah tells the story of his own grandfather mistakenly believing that Hitler was a type of tank used by the Germans during World War II. Just as American slave owners prevented their slaves from receiving an education, so the system of apartheid prevented the citizens of South Africa from learning about the world around them. Hitler was just someone from history; another powerful white man.
And so, the fact that I can read, and learn about the world around me, is no small thing. I often that that right now, somewhere else on this globe, there is a young girl, who longs for nothing more than to go to school and learn. It is her deepest and most precious wish. It is difficult to think that someone YOUNGER than me, has survived horrible racial segregation, and racially motivated deprivation of mind, and body.
I am so grateful that my family is here together in our apartment filled with laughter, love, ice cream and that tonight, my children will fall asleep with books in their hands, reading long after I sent them to bed.