Daughter of South African leader speaks about labels, diversity

Matthew Merchant

Matthew Merchant

There is an expression in South Africa that translates to the phrase “I see you.” It is an expression that Naomi Tutu believes reflects the attitudes of those wishing to change lives around the world through a global culture of human rights.

Nontombi Naomi Tutu, the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, spoke Wednesday night to a small audience of students and guests at the Cartwright Hall auditorium. The event was sponsored by the KSU Clinton Foundation, which “promotes the education of students regarding global issues,” according to its Facebook page.

“I come here as someone who was raised to believe that human rights are human rights,” Tutu said. “I come to this issue of human rights as someone who, as a young person, wondered whether the world truly believed that all human rights were human rights.”

Tutu spoke on a variety of issues related to the world culture of diversity and acceptance of other differences. The world, according to her, has been shaped and designed for people to see only differences and not the similarities that connect us as humans.

As a child in South Africa under the strict apartheid law, Tutu recalled hearing the expression “I see you” used around her even in the midst of social oppression. Apartheid, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, was “a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups” in South Africa.

“To say that someone is truly a person in our culture is to say that that is a person who recognizes and respects the humanity of others,” she explained about the expression. “It is someone who looks at another human being and the first thing that they see is another human being.”

She said that using the expression was not the same as simply saying hello to someone on the street, but “to say ‘I see you’ — I see you, and I see in you a fellow human being; I see you, and I see in you someone with a story that I might need to hear. I see you, and I see in you someone who might be very different from me … but at our base, I see in you a human being who probably has the same joys and fears and aspirations that I do as a human being.”

Encouraging the audience to recall when the last time they looked at someone and thought of them as something other than a label, whether it be annoying or funny or beautiful, Tutu said that “once we [label them], we have removed them at a certain level from being fully human.”

“I feel like that is a daily thing that we do,” junior international relations major Khanh Vu said. “We never recognize that we label people.”

“When you are tempted to make an assumption or a judgment, you need to stop and open up conversation,” graduate student Rachael Erickson said. “Ask them something about their views or their feelings and in some way hear their humanity and hear their story. That is how we connect.”

KSU Clinton Foundation President Erik Clarke said he hoped the audience would build on this attitude of being more aware of human rights in the global culture.

“As we believe and dream and work for a society of justice, of a world in which human rights are truly every human’s right,” Tutu said in her closing remarks. “We need to be those who feed that part in ourselves and each other that is the one that sees a human being in everyone we meet.”

Contact Matthew Merchant at [email protected].