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The Past The Present The Future

Tutu and Franklin: The Past

DR. FRANKLIN: This place is full of memories, and memories are so important, not merely for their sake but for our sake.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Uh-huh.

DR. FRANKLIN: What we are trying to understand about our present, and our future, depends on what we know about our past, and the kind of past that we have here, of the beginning of the Middle Passage, to the establishment of the slave institution in the United States and in the New World, generally, has much to do with the way we think about ourselves, the way we think about our institutions, indeed, the way we think about our country.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Well, I was just thinking, as you spoke, about memories, and how this place is so redolent of painful memories that many of us would probably not want to recall. Just how important memory is for human beings, and so also for human society. Because without memory, do you, do you have an identity?

I mean, if, if you forgot that you were John, and I called out, John, and you didn't respond because you had forgotten that you are John, how do you know you are John, if you have forgotten?

DR. FRANKLIN: That's such an apt illustration of what we are, what we're talking about. For if we don't remember who we are, where we came from--

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Yes.

DR. FRANKLIN: --and, indeed, what the painful vici--vicissitudes were that brought us to this point, we probably are not in a position to understand what--who we are.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Absolutely.

DR. FRANKLIN: And where we ought to be going from here.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: I suppose being the kind of creatures we are, we like to censor the past, and are selective, or want to be selective about the things that we remember, and, frequently, as you, a historian, would know, if you want to destroy a people, you destroy their memory, you destroy their history.

DR. FRANKLIN: Right.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: And it is so crucial for all of us, that we don't allow that to happen, we don't do it ourselves. Perhaps--

DR. FRANKLIN: And we don't let anyone else do it.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Yes. We don't let somebody else do it, yes, and if memories are unpleasant memories, which we--

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Want to push under the carpet.

DR. FRANKLIN: Yes. I know so many people who, who simply refuse--

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Yes.

DR. FRANKLIN: --to look at any part of their past, or any part of the total past that happens to be unpleasant, or painful.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Yes.

DR. FRANKLIN: Or unattractive. They, they want all the beautiful things, the pretty things, and, indeed, that's not the way life turns out to be--

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Yes.

DR. FRANKLIN: --so much of the time.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Yes.

DR. FRANKLIN: And if we're going to pick and choose, we'll live in a world of unreality.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Absolutely.

DR. FRANKLIN: Of, of--that, that really doesn't make any sense in terms of what the human experience is.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Well, and the, and the other thing is that we might think that we have control over our memories, and that we have shut them out, but they have this uncanny habit of being able to return to haunt us. I, I remember, fairly recently, visiting Dachau, the former concentration camp, and, and there, they, they have established a museum, and they, they have Santayana's haunting words written over the top.

DR. FRANKLIN: Yes; yes.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: You remember. "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." And, and often, and often in, in South Africa, you heard people say "Let bygones be bygones," and you say, unfortunately, they don't become bygones just because, by fiat, you declare them to be so, and, and I think, I mean, that we, we need to do all we can to help our children appropriate their history, appropriate the memory.

DR. FRANKLIN: One of the problems in the United States, today, is the refusal, on the part of our young people--

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Yes.

DR. FRANKLIN: --to, to remember--

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Yes.

DR. FRANKLIN: --or to want to remember, or to recognize the experiences of the past as being relevant,--

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: yes.

DR. FRANKLIN: --germane, important--

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Yes.

DR. FRANKLIN: --to the present and to the future. They simply don't want anything that's painful. They want to live in a painless society, a, a--where everything is pleasant, and everything is joyful, and the unfortunate thing about is--about that is that insisting on that, they're also insisting on a world of unreality, a world that doesn't exist, that didn't, didn't exist.

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