Nelson Who?

No Apartheid

In terms of popular culture, I find myself more and more “out of the loop” these days — a fact that hit me full in the face in the aftermath of Paul Walker’s death. Mainly because I had no idea who Paul Walker was. No idea whatsoever.

As people are wont to feel when they hear about the death of a younger person, particularly when that person has suffered an accidental and untimely death, I felt sorry. While I couldn’t muster the energy to participate in the mass mourning or the Facebook condolences for someone I’d never even heard of, I was not unsympathetic to the void his death would create for his family and his friends.

There was another death that made the news this week, a death which certainly didn’t stun the world given that Nelson Mandela was 96 years old and had been in failing health for a number of years. Still, I would argue that the death of Mr. Mandela, while not wholly unexpected, has left a much larger void than that of Mr. Walker.

It didn’t bother me in the least that I had no knowledge of who Mr. Walker was. I don’t feel as if I missed out on something as a result of not having seen even one of the installments of “The Fast and the Furious”.

I was, however, flabbergasted by the number of young people for whom the opposite was true. They were familiar with Mr. Walker, but not with Mr. Mandela. (Luckily my child wasn’t one of them!) Most of them could not tell me what “Apartheid” was, either.

It isn’t lost on me that these kids were born at a time when Apartheid was a matter of history. I also understand that Nelson Mandela lived half a world away. (For the record, my very limited poll data indicates that they have no knowledge of who Mahatma Gandhi was, where he lived, or what his contributions to civilization were either.) But, still.

It saddens me more than a little bit that there exists a whole generation for whom the life of someone so important remains unknown, but that they could not only reference the work of a minor celebrity, but mourn his passing — that their connection to a man who starred in what I assume are car chase movies was, to them, far more tangible than their connection to a man who changed not only the history of his country, but the history of the world.

My suggestion to anyone who I came upon this past week who admitted to not knowing what Mr. Mandela’s contribution to society had been, was that they use his passing and the media attention that has surrounded it, to learn a few things about him, about Apartheid, about the way in which he lived his life, about how he changed the lives of others. I can only hope that they did so.

In the meantime, I’m going to go ahead and find out who this Paul Walker character was. Perhaps I, too, will learn something today.

17 thoughts on “Nelson Who?

  1. Like you, I didn’t know who Paul Walker was either until he died. Death leaves a void no matter who it is who passes, yet I agree it is worth noting how few young people actually know who Nelson Mandela was. Perhaps the timing of the movie about Mandela’s life will be incentive for many to venture out and see who this man was and his contribution to humanity.


  2. Ned's Blog says:

    If only Nelson Mandela had made a cameo in one of the Fast/Furious movies…


    • javaj240 says:

      Yes. That surely would have done it!

      There are things that can be chalked up to the “generation gap” — that’s a handy excuse and one I use all the time when I’m confronted with not knowing this or that about whathisface or whosiwhatsis — but not knowing who Nelson Mandela was (or confusing him with the actor who played him in a movie) borders on the criminal. And don’t even get me started on Gandhi.


  3. Paula says:

    That anonymous comment was me I don’t know why my name didn’t come up


    • javaj240 says:

      I knew it was you as a result of your reference to “Beth”, LOL! I don’t know why it didn’t come up, either. You’ve commented before as “Paula”.


  4. I didn’t know who Paul Walker was, either, but he sure was a cutie!


  5. Frightening indeed. My boys knew exactly who he was. I feel lucky that my kids go to schools where learning history is paramount.


    • javaj240 says:

      History curricula varies by State. In my State I know certain things are covered. I don’t know if it’s a matter of what kids were supposed to have learned in school as much as what of that information they managed to retain. They are far more inundated with useless information on a daily basis that I think it’s difficult to process everything. And, I think that far too often we rely on schools to do all the teaching that our kids are exposed to — that’s just not fair to the schools or our children. There is simply too much information out there and not nearly enough time in a school day to cover everything. Though, I would argue that something as important as Civil Rights — here or elsewhere — should be covered everywhere 🙂


  6. Anonymous says:

    I didn’t know who Walker was either but was deeply moved by Mandela’s legacy. He was the first person I marched for in my college years. Beth reminded me that I had posters up of him in my room, I don’t recall that but Beth has a better memory than me. I only know to this day I am moved by his life and the fight he fought. My own Irish ancestors were imprisoned for acts of terrorism like Mandela for trying to get England out of Ireland pre IRA however, Mandela’s plight runs deeper than that. The way we treated Africans and ripped them from their homeland and the segregation and racism that occurs to this day and then England and Dutch segregating Africans in their own home country. It’s just inhuman. I can’t stop being amazed at how much evil and hatred the human race is able to justify. And yet, he forgave and tried to take a more peaceful way to justice.


    • javaj240 says:

      I have always been most impressed by how he embraced and personified “non-violence”, how he preached AND lived forgiveness, and how he chose to stay and change his country for the better. Amazing.


  7. Rick says:

    I didn’t know who Paul Walker was, but my stepdaughter was devastated. After some research, I found out that he was in a few movies I have seen.


    • javaj240 says:

      While I admonished folks to find out more about Nelson Mandela, I still haven’t found out anything myself about Paul Walker. The odds that I’ve seen a movie in which he appeared are, however, slim to none, as, as my teenager says, I only watch “old people movies”, LOL!


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