From South Africa to Syracuse

 

By Divya Murthy

Confronting the common struggles of racism, segregation and injustice

Audience members react to a short film series by an artist on one of the panels at Thursday’s symposium on race and justice. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng.

Audience members react to a short film series by an artist on one of the panels at Thursday’s symposium on race and justice. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng.

Two oceans became none as artists, journalists, writers, leaders, and activists from South Africa and Syracuse hosted discussions about segregation, injustice, arts, and society on Thursday night here at Syracuse.

“ ‘Out of anger comes controversy, out of controversy comes conversation, out of conversation comes action,’ ” said Ken Harper, the Director for the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement quoting Tupac Shakur in his opening remarks.

The symposium held three panels about the common struggles between Syracuse and South Africa, how the arts can help grapple with and resist injustice and the role the free press plays in a just and fair society.

Held in an effort to raise awareness about the past and confront present-day struggles rising from apartheid, segregation and racism, the discussions highlighted and brought to the table the similarities in the Syracuse and South Africa’s shared, yet distinct, histories.

The symposium featured panelists from various locations, including Syracuse and South Africa. Photo by Saniya More.

The symposium featured panelists from various locations, including Syracuse and South Africa. Photo by Saniya More.

“It is not ‘us versus them.’ It is ‘we’ and what are ‘we’ doing to move forward,” said Charisse L’Pree, assistant professor of communications at Newhouse, facilitating the panel discussion about common struggles between the two regions.

Asked about the ways the panelists would want Syracuse and South Africa’s histories and futures to be discussed, Zuko Gqadavama, a resource development coordinator at Inkulenko in South Africa, spoke about the need to differentiate between political gimmicks and lived realities in both regions.

“Instead of coming up with sustainable solutions that can assist the country moving forward, you have people in power using their so-called ideologies that don’t necessarily address the issues faced by the communities and masses,” Gqadavama said. Using development as a launchpad into relevance doesn’t get communities anywhere, he argued, it’s rather the change in perceptions that gets at the heart of success.

A student asks one of the panels a question. Photo by Saniya More.

A student asks one of the panels a question. Photo by Saniya More.

“We get caught up in changing the world without changing ourselves,” he said. “Using development to become relevant, that is selfishness.”

As the conversation veered toward grappling with injustice against marginalized communities, Michelle Shenandoah, member of the Oneida Indian Nation in New York and editor-in-chief of Rematriation Magazine, emphasized the need to be human and inclusive in talking about what stories get left behind. Syracuse University today stands on the grounds of Onondaga Nation territory and is 45 minutes away from Oneida Nation territory.

“History is the story we tell ourselves about the past to aid in understanding the present and the future,” said Michelle Shenandoah, member of the Oneida Indian Nation in New York and CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Rematriation Magazine. “Some stories are included and some are not.”

Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, the chapter director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, heartily agreed with Shenandoah’s point about teaching people to be human beings, adding that the community is at a pivotal hour and moment in the fight, likening it to catching a “midnight train.”

“It is essential that our voices have elevated to the point that we will not accept the realities of yesterday to be the realities of tomorrow, that we can imagine a better future, that it can be a more perfect union. The promise is close to us,” Abdul-Qadir said. “But it’s 11:45 and will you be on that train?”

A still from a film by Johannesburg-based artist  Gabrielle Goliath . Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng.

A still from a film by Johannesburg-based artist Gabrielle Goliath. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng.


Head editor Divya Murthy is a senior studying magazine at Syracuse University and a resident opponent of the pumpkin spice latte. She enjoys blogging about socks, sunsets and elevators and also helping writers cover stories of global cultural interest.