God, I do like people who speak sense, plain and simple, so it was a pleasure to listen to Professor Jack Lambert on Drivetime on Thursday ramming home the fact that wearing masks will stop the spread of the virus. In fact, together with basic hygiene and social distancing, this is a key to stopping the disease. If these measures were exercised by all, society and our economy could open up to a greater degree than at present. Look at it in a way that discipline equals freedom. I would go so far as to challenge those that do not obey these simple rules because they endanger us all.
Now to a matter that has been exercising my mind of late – Race. A few years ago we had dinner in Boston with friends, a mixed race couple, and I was very shocked to hear that they felt frightened sometimes when they were out and about because they were a mixed couple. In this instance the husband was black and the wife was white. I had deluded myself into thinking that this wouldn’t happen in modern day America. Just in case you think such a thing wouldn’t happen in Ireland, think again. News reached me on Thursday of a person in the Galway area being on the receiving end of some unpleasant racial abuse. I have an awful feeling such behaviour is a daily occurrence somewhere in our Republic. This demeans us all and it is dangerous.
In 1969 I went to South Africa. Apartheid was still in force, the experience was transformative. It was so unforgiving, the idea of separating people because of the colour of their skin. To actually have seen it in practice stays with me to this day. I broke the law, worked in a Mission and adored a Zulu girl called Thuli. Then in 1970 I went to Harvard. Somehow the America of then was different to Trump’s America where racial tensions have boiled to the surface – an America where a policeman shot Jacob Blake, a 23 year old black man 7 times in the back. No wonder then that Jacob’s father went on CNN and proclaimed that there were 2 justice systems in America, one white and one black. This is terrible stuff and Trump is stoking it, trying to make law and order an issue, trying to frighten middle class voters into voting for Republicans because they will defend their towns and their cities. This is where Joe Biden has to be careful, to be seen as opposed to all of those who are rioting and causing mayhem, to seek to heal where Trump seeks to divide.
However, back to race. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed what one set of human beings could do to another on the basis of the colour of their skin. Yet it has always occurred to me, a white man, that 3 of my greatest heroes are Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, who were from different tribes. My other hero, Churchill, led a nation at war.