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The reverend Naomi Tutu on privilege, civil rights and more

graphic illustration depicting Reverand Naomi Tutu (a Black female figure wearing an orange head scarf)
(Graphic illustration by Malia Berry | The Collegian)

The Colorado State University community received a visit from a prominent human rights activist to learn about identity and civil rights.

The Rev. Naomi Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, attended and spoke at a virtual seminar March 24. Tutu has lended her voice to many social justice causes. Tutu gave a 45-minute speech where she talked about identity, civil rights, intersectionality and Ubuntu philosophy. 

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The webinar started with introductions from Kathleen Fairfax, the vice provost for international affairs, Angie Penland, a representative from the First National Bank of Omaha, Nebraska, and CSU President Joyce McConnell.

Tutu started with a moment of silence for the victims of the Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, shootings.

She then talked about the importance of a “new normal,” where people can address the inequities in society that have been exposed by the pandemic.

Tutu went on to speak against the practice of “colorblindness” in talking about race. She argued that to be colorblind is to disregard important parts of one’s identity and diminishes the value of the differences between individuals.

“I am honored by the history that I come out of,” Tutu said. “I am so proud of the ancestors who struggled for me. I am hopeful for the future of my children, and I am happy to be a Black woman.”

She added that colorblindness, and ignorance of other differences, stops people from acknowledging their privilege. Tutu talked about the ways in which she is privileged, and said that one must recognize their privilege in the spaces they are in, giving the example of her Christianity, which is often regarded as the default religion in the United States.

“I know that I also walk in with a level of privilege that is simply because I am a Christian woman in this country that recognizes Christianity as the basic religion,” Tutu said. 

Tutu mentioned another speech she gave where she talked to white colleagues about how to combat racism, especially the “daily pinpricks” of it. She gave an example of being followed in a store by a white security guard and said that it would help if another white person were to draw attention to the issue.

“It is one small aspect of helping us, using privilege to begin to highlight the way in which others are marginalized, and to interrupt that marginalization,” Tutu said. 

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Tutu also mentioned the philosophy of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a term that comes from Zulu and other related languages in southern Africa and translates to “humanity.” In a more general sense, it refers to the interconnectedness of all humans and the philosophy of Ubuntu stresses community and caring.

The concept of Ubuntu had a large influence on the fight against apartheid and on the theology of Tutu’s father. 

Tutu tied the idea of Ubuntu to the story of Nelson Mandela.

“I love, in this context, the stories about President Mandela when he was in prison because when they talked to the prison guards about their experience with him, the prison guards say, ‘We met a man who recognized our humanity, and was interested in us as human beings, interested in our stories, interested in our families, interested in our hopes and our dreams,’” Tutu said.

There was enough time for Tutu to answer only one question at the end of her speech, submitted through the webinar’s Q&A function: “How do you encourage people to acknowledge the past and how it might influence a certain person’s condition or opportunities or life experiences?”

In response, Tutu talked about South Africans’ desire to identify with the figure of Mandela but not with the apartheid regime that preceded his presidency.

“If you’re going to claim Mandela, then you have to claim (Eugene) de Kock, because both of those stories are the stories of South Africa, both of those stories have led us to where we are now,” Tutu said, referring to de Kock being a commander of a government death squad who killed and intimidated anti-apartheid activists. “We have to do as Mandela said: You cannot pick which part of your history you are going to share (or) which part of your history you are going to learn from. You have to learn from all aspects of your story.”

Aidan Knaus can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @KnausAdian.

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