“Your mother didn’t tell you the truth”

These are the words to an Apartheid-era South African song (“War and Crime”) about why bigotry exists. I used to ask myself: why do people do all sorts of horrible hateful things solely because their victims belong to some group, whether it is a racial, sexual, religious, or other minority? Though I have a lot of answers now, I don’t think this song will ever cease to touch me so deeply.

This line stands out: “your mother didn’t tell you the truth, cause my father didn’t tell me the truth.” Something about this brings tears to my eyes.

Lucky Dube, the artist singing the song, has a haunting innocence about his contemplation of discrimination. As I analyze why I am so affected by these lyrics, I begin to think: it takes a lot of audacity to go up to someone who might hate you for what you look like and say to them softly, “your mother didn’t tell you the truth.”

Later on in the song, he says “I am not saying this because I am a coward.” As in, a coward would poke fun at your mother and call her an idiot, and that is not why I am saying this very deep, very heavy allegation: “your mother didn’t tell you the truth.”

When the next line comes forth (“cause my father didn’t tell me the truth…”), Lucky Dube puts himself in the same situation as the likely hostile person he is trying to reach out to – saying “my father also passed some bad ideas on to me, my friend.” He is saying that we are all trying to overcome together. This approach taps into my soul, where I see humanity as one. Undivided by labels, identities, ethnicities, races, or anything else.

The truth of the matter of course is so much more complicated; I would be the last person to advocate that getting together and singing kumbaya is going to make injustices go away. I’ve spent years and years trying to unravel why people get wronged, why injustices happen – both on a political and on a personal level – and I fully believe that this dialogue and the answers to these questions have a mandatory importance. You’ve got to be able to de-construct what it is that needs to be changed – and why it hasn’t yet changed.

But so often, in the hurly-burly of debate, gentler, less-well-steeled perspectives get lost. It becomes about who has to fight the most, as opposed to how much we suffer as a community from these inequalities. Any family that teaches their children that “those people” are no good is instilling fear into those children – and that fear will not benefit them. It can only hurt their ability to clearly understand the world around them, once they are grown up. And they will then “not tell the truth” to those that come after them.

I find this important to talk about because so often, both activists and people in deeply personal circumstances get caught up in objectives – worthy objectives – to the point where they lose sight of what they are fighting for; whether that fight is right to continue; if that fight is hurting anybody; whom the fight is actually benefiting; how the fight should change – sometimes into something less resembling a fight…

Songs like this put me back in touch with where it all starts. The intimacy of speaking about deep-rooted, deep-seated emotions that are often a lot more complex than just statistics can show. I do believe, if you are going to get people to challenge the bigotry they’ve learned over their lifetime – you must take aim here, and not just politically.

Here is the song, “War and Crime” by Lucky Dube, with lyrics below:

Lucky Dube – War and Crime

Everywhere in the world
People are fighting for freedom
Nobody knows what is right
Nobody knows what is wrong
The black man say it’s the white man
The white man say it’s the black man
Indians say it’s the coloureds
Coloureds say it’s everyone
Your mother didn’t tell you the truth
Cause my father didn’t tell me the truth
Nobody knows what is wrong
And what is right
How long is this going to last
Cause we’ve come so far so fast

When it started, you and I were not there so
Why don’t we
Bury down apartheid
Fight down war and crime
Racial discrimination
Tribal discrimination

You and I were not there when it started
We don’t know where it’s coming from
And where it’s going
So why don’t we

I am not saying this
Because I’m a coward
But I’m thinking of the lives
That we lose every time we fight
Killing innocent people
Women and children yeah
Who doesn’t know about the government
Who doesn’t know about the wars
Your mother didn’t tell you the truth
Cause my father didn’t tell me the truth
Yeah

Black man say it’s the white man
White man say it’s the black man
Indians say it’s the coloureds
Coloureds say it’s everyone

When it started we were not there
We know where we come from
But we don’t know where we’re going
So why don’t we

Bury down apartheid
Fight down war and crime
Racial discrimination
Tribal discrimination

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This entry was posted in Beliefs and worldview, Poetry, song, and other art, Video clips and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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