Thursday, February 01, 2007

Facing Darkness

It's a question I am asked often enough that I have given it a lot of thought. How do you deal with these sorts of grim issues on a daily basis? I work on issues of race and racism in the United States and South Africa and on global terrorism. Heck, one of my PhD fields was Modern Europe with an emphasis on Germany in the 20th Century. It is not cheery stuff. Today I have already spent time and energy on a 1985 massacre in South Africa, the rise of apartheid after World War II and the state of Jim Crow in the 1940s. And that does not count teaching or blogging. I thought about this question after reading Guy Burger's Mail & Guardian article on two new books by South African journalists dealing with the darkness within men. The two books are Publish and Be Damned, by Chris Steyn-Barlow, whose work I do not know, and Dances with Devils by Jacques Pauw, whose work on apartheid's killers I very much do. Neither book is likely to be available in the United States any time soon, if at all, so I'll have to track them down through back channels or else the next time I am in South Africa. Pauw has spent a lot of time in recent years writing about apartheid killer Eugene de Kock, about whom I have also written a great deal.

I think the best way to phrase how I deal with what could be grim and depressing material is to keep in mind that in the end Jim Crow and apartheid succumbed. The good guys won, even if the process was oftentimes tragic. Global terrorism is a bit trickier, as this is a topic I deal with in medias res, but I think my understanding of other worlds in which terrorism and violence reigned helps me to develop a sense of clarity when dealing with ongoing atrocities. Plus, as a sort of palette cleanser, I write about sports.

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