Sunday, 2 October 2011
Has our generation dropped the baton?
There is a scene in Katori Hall's new play on broadway about Martin Luther King Jr which sees Angela Basset's character deliver a monologue to Samuel L Jackson's portrayal of the legendary Civil Rights activist. I cannot recall ever feeling so blown away by someone's delivery on stage nor have I ever been left feeling such sadness and elation by their words. The premise behind the scene 'the baton passes on' is the depiction of how the world has progressed since and because of Martin Luther King Jr's incredible work. In the end, The Mountaintop left me pondering whether our generation who are the supposed leaders of today, the would-be grandchildren of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, have in fact picked the baton from those great personalities of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
A week ago, Wangari Maathai, an incredible woman, environmentalist, women's rights activist and Nobel Peace prize winner died and as I read about the incredible work she'd done and found myself more and more in awe of this larger-than-life yet unbelievably humble personality, I couldn't help but feel that her kind are a dying breed. There seems to be a lack of the sense of urgency that people who became adults in the post independence era had. I would even go as far as to say we lack inspiration in today's world. Our call to action is linked to either commercialism or selfishness. We seem to be driven by a desire to better ourselves and our nuclear family but not to sacrifice for the greater good. The media which we consume with reckless abandon teaches us to focus less on the 'We' and more on the 'Me' likewise the 'new' religions reinforce this notion of self-centeredness where people are encouraged to pray for their own success which often times is translated to acquisition of money and the material goods they crave so much.
I've heard the argument many times that there is no longer a need for carrying on or passing on the baton; as though the work of these great men and women were done - some would say we've achieved what they wanted us to achieve. I beg to differ. There is as urgent a need for action as there ever was. While the struggle is no longer for Civil Rights for African-Americans, Self-determination for countries in Africa and the Caribbean, who can honestly argue that there is no longer suffering or injustice in our world. Can we honestly attest to every person having the basic human rights which we take for granted? Or that we are happy with those who govern us, whether democratically elected by us or hand-picked by some government sitting thousands of miles away and determining our country's future? Can we put our hands on hearts and say that we're doing a great job taking care of our planet? Are we really content with our lot in life or just overcome by apathy?
I recognise these are loaded questions and perhaps the picture I paint seems more gloomy than the reality you perceive. I oftentimes hear people talk about how much things have improved, how much more fortunate we are than our parents and this may be true for some of us but we represent but a small percentage of the earth's population. As long as the majority of the earth's population still struggles for access to basic things like food, education, for their freedom, there can't be any room for complacency. After call, should we not be our brothers' keepers?
I don't pretend to know the answer to so many of the problems we face today - like why Palestine is an occupied territory in the 21st century, why millions of Americans live below the poverty line, why sexual violence is still used as a tool of war against the unarmed and vulnerable, and children still denied the right to education or perhaps and most importantly why so few share so much wealth while so many go without. Nonetheless I think a debate is necessary and as urgent as it was in the 1960s or 70s, we need to recognise that unless those around us are comfortable and happy in themselves and well taken care of, our comfort zone remains extremely precarious. However small our action, it's important for us to pick up the baton for the sake of our children and grandchildren in an effort to create a better world where noone is left out. In the words of the late Wangari Maathai, we can all aim to be like the hummingbird.