Understanding How Long Ago History Really Was

Yesterday I saw Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. I really enjoyed it and thought both Idris Elba’s and Naomi Harris’s performances were brilliant.

The thing when watching biopics like this and The Butler is that it becomes even clearer to me that these horrible things like apartheid and segregation really only ended a few decades ago.

Growing up learning about slavery and segregation and the Civil Rights movement, it all seemed so long ago. When I was a child I (no doubt like many children) really couldn’t grasp where things fitted in the time before I was born. For instance when I was about six years old I asked my grandfather if he could remember the dinosaurs – funnily enough he couldn’t but that’s how my mind worked. Well the dinosaurs were around a long time ago and my granddads old, he must be able to remember them or at least got told stories about them when he was a child – that was my thinking anyway.

After studying African American Literature at University last year, I began to properly understand how things have only recently begun to change in the world. While slavery may have been abolished in America in 1865, segregation didn’t end till 1964. My dad was eleven years old in 1964 and can remember hearing about what was happening in America on the news and watching the TV from his home in Wales. I think that’s when I start to realise what these dates mean, when the year is in some relation to me so I can understand the time scale. For instance the Berlin Wall came down on 9th November 1989, less than two years before I was born. Me growing up, the Berlin Wall had never been there so I always thought that part of history was over many years before I was born. So to discover that the Berlin Wall had only came down two years before I was born (again I discovered this from a film, The Way Back) really surprised me.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it surprises me how recent the world has started to change and how people are only just beginning to become equal. I’ve grown up in an area that is predominantly white but – whether it’s down to my parents or just down to my own personality – I have never felt any fear or hatred towards anyone who has different colour skin to my own, or is different to me in anyway. I do find it mind-boggling that the world did hate and fear those who are different – and in some places still do. I can’t quite fit my head around humanity’s capacity for such evil and hatred and it continues to astound me how recent some monumental changes are. When to me those changes should have happened hundreds of years ago, or in an ideal world there never should have been segregation or racism in the first place.

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