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Saturday, December 7, 2013

THE African-American woman walked into a boutique store in Zurich, Switzerland. After glancing at the handbags displayed, she asked the store clerk if she could see one particular handbag (worth $38,000); but the clerk told her to look for other handbags, as she could not afford to buy the one that interested her.

The woman who walked without her usual entourage, was Oprah Winfrey, and she narrated her experience to Larry King, citing the incident as an example of racism.

When we thought that racial discrimination has long been blurred out since Abraham Lincoln fought for the abolition of slavery and Nelson Mandela heralded the dismantling of apartheid policies when he became president of South Africa; it remains alive like a snake hidden in the grass.

Abraham Lincoln had many challenges during his term as president of the United States of America. In Steven Spielberg’s film, “Lincoln,” the focus was on the president’s determination to both assure the keep the Union and emancipate the slaves, primarily the African-Americans.

It took a genius and tactician to get these emotional issues approved before a hostile Congress. Though he was assassinated for his efforts, Lincoln remains to be among the greatest leaders not just of the US, but also of the world.

In another century, Nelson Mandela fought for the end of the segregation of the black people of South Africa from the white rulers. Apartheid had no place in modern society, but the ruling few held on to their privileged, yet unpopular status.

An imprisoned Mandela became the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement that resonated to other nations in the world. Unlike Lincoln, he saw through the dismantling of an oppressive regime and experienced the equality of people of opposite colors. South Africa has not been a perfect society as Mandela may have envisioned, but the foundation of the principles he fought for remains in place.

While Lincoln and Mandela are prominent in resolving the black-and-white divide, there have been others who fought and died for the cause, and many others guarding its preservation.

The world today relishes on the equal opportunities given to peoples of whatever color, in government, in business, in academe and more popularly in sports and entertainment.

Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters are spoken in the same breath as Jerry West, Michael Phelps, Jack Nicklaus and Billy Jean King. Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith are as popular as Elvis Presley, Ed Sullivan and Tom Cruise.

Be that as it may, while the distinction between black and white peoples has disappeared through the years, the issue of inequality remains, maybe less on the color of the skin, but in terms of wealth, ethnicity and nationality, among others.

Lincoln and Mandela stood up for their principles, and they should serve as models for us who fight against the demons of discrimination that oppress people in many parts of the world today.

(This is a condensed version of the main feature I wrote in the October 2013 issue of CORD Magazine. Click: http://issuu.com/magazinecord/docs/cord_b_w)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 07, 2013.


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