I am Black. So am I coloured?

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activities, remarked, “I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man… To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

When racial discrimination was rampant, a heart-stirring poem addressed to the Americans originated from the Oglala Lakota Tribe.

It read: “When I’m born I’m black, when I grow up I’m black, when I’m in the sun I’m black, when I’m sick I’m black, when I die I’m black, and you... when you’re born you're pink, when you grow up you’re white, when you’re cold you’re blue, when you’re sick you’re blue, when you die you’re green and you dare call me coloured.”

In the Lakota language ‘Oglala’ means ‘to scatter one’s own’. Humanity is still shackled by unholy divisions in the name of religion, caste and community, language and economic status. On these lines, territorial aggrandisements and violent conflicts are escalating.

A Catholic priest working at a college recalls an incident when there were floods in Trichy city in Tamil Nadu in 1977. Those living around the college, who had lost their houses, took refuge in the second and third floors of the college building. They were people from different castes, religions, and class structures. For the next few days, they shared the college building, shared the food packets distributed by the government. The floodwaters not only brought down the walls of their houses, but also the walls of their social structures. Unfortunately, when the floods receded, they went back to rebuild not only the walls of their houses, but also the walls of social segregation.

Racial discrimination and various other forms of injustice are so strong between people that even common suffering does not seem to wipe them out. Jesus was so troubled over discrimination in society of his time that he condemned it and chose the side of the oppressed and socially ostracised. He always took the side of  Samaritans, shepherds, tax collectors, women, the maimed and economically weak.

He washed the feet of his disciples not only to teach them humility and unselfish service, but also to urge them to break down walls of discrimination that threaten unity and peace. He said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For, I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him (John 13:12-20).

Our religious practices are a farce if we do not break down the walls that divide us. If we cannot contribute towards the uplift of the oppressed, we are in many ways responsible for the perpetration of oppression.

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