Trevor Noah and Jon Stewart

In case you missed it, South African comedian Trevor Noah appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Thursday night.  With the racial tensions rising in this country since the Ferguson and New York City grand jury decisions, as well as the ongoing Ebola outbreak, it certainly made for a hilarious, yet poignant, look at the U.S. and the continent of Africa.

Trevor Noah has been getting bigger and bigger in the US.  In 2013, he became the first South African stand-up comedian to appear on The Tonight Show, as well as The Late Show with David Letterman.  He is now joining The Daily Show as their newest correspondent!

One year anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela


One year ago today, Nelson Mandela passed away.  It is important that we keep the ideals of which he lived and fought for alive, and therefore it was very refreshing that when South Africa’s Mail & Guardian recently asked readers to describe what they think Mandela’s legacy is, the two words that people used the most were respect and freedom.


Across the world, people are paying tribute today to Mandela’s life and his commitment to freedom.  In South Africa today, to honor Mandela’s 67 years of public service, there were 3 minutes and 7 seconds of celebratory cheering and noise (car horns, vuvuzelas, bells, etc.), followed by 3 minutes of silence: a 6-minute and 7-second dedication to Mandela’s lifetime of public service.

Fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu called on South Africans to emulate Mandela’s example in a statement to mark the anniversary.

“Our obligation to Madiba is to continue to build the society he envisaged, to follow his example,” Tutu said.

Even President Obama spoke of the importance of remembering Mandela on the first anniversary of his passing.

“One year ago the world lost a leader whose struggle and sacrifices inspired us to stand up for our fundamental principles, whose example reminded us of the enduring need for compassion, understanding, and reconciliation, and whose vision saw the promise of a better world,” Obama said in a statement.

“As we pause today to remember the legacy of Madiba, I hope we can all take a moment to reflect on how Mandela’s life has inspired our own, and will impact the paths of generations to come — including the next generation of world leaders… On this day, and on every day, we honor his spirit and his memory.”

Generation Study Abroad

Some of the best learning experiences in my life have come during international experiences, where I have had the opportunity to study abroad.  From negotiating in a Kenyan market to playing soccer in China, from meeting new friends in Germany to ordering sushi in Japan, studying abroad has taught me lifelong skills like patience, curiosity, perspective, open-mindedness, and confidence.  These experiences have been more enriching and memorable learning opportunities than any classroom environment, and it is where I have really been able to learn about other cultures first hand.  From my first experience where I traveled with my high school Latin class to Italy for one week, I was hooked on what I could learn from these experiences, and I have sought them out ever since, continuing even today as a teacher.  I have also greatly encouraged my students to take part in study abroad experiences, as well, and have worked to help them see the importance of these experience and to make them aware that these experiences are available to them.

That is why I am really excited about the new initiative of the Institute of International Education (IIE) — Generation Study Abroad.  The goal of this initiative is to double the number of students (both high school and college) studying abroad by the end of the decade.  Students learn valuable skills from study abroad experiences, and it ensures that they are ready to succeed in the global economy.

International experience is one of the most important components of a 21st century education, yet less than 10% of U.S. students study abroad.  This is what General Study Abroad is looking to change.  Check out their website to learn more about this initiative and to find resources about the importance of studying abroad:

UntitledIf you are an educator, you can find resources for helping to make your students aware of the importance of these experiences and aware of the opportunities that are available to them.  Check out the Resources for Teachers part of the site, and teachers can even Take a Pledge to take action and get the word out to our students about these experiences.

I was more than willing to share my story of how I get the word out about studying abroad in my school, so under Teacher Stories you can see not just mine, but a number of other stories from teachers about how they inspire students to become global citizens.


Little Bighorn and Isandlwana: An Interesting Comparison

While walking around the Isandlwana battlefield in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, I was in awe at how the Zulu were able to defeat the British at the height of the British Empire. This was the British Empire of Queen Victoria that had around 500 million inhabitants (25% of the world’s population) under the Union Jack by the late 19th century. This was arguably the largest and most powerful empire in world history. Remember, “the sun never set on the British Empire.” So when this empire went to war with the Zulu Kingdom in 1879 at Isandlwana, it seemed that the Zulu would be easily defeated. What the British did not know, or failed to appreciate, was how powerful the Zulu Kingdom was, both militarily and politically. This is a great story of the resistance that black Africans put up to the colonization of their land by both the Afrikaners and the British in the 19th century. Contrary to the popular belief that the British and Afrikaners easily took over present-day South Africa due to their superior weaponry and superior military training, the Zulu Kingdom’s victory in this battle shows us a positive story of people triumphantly and courageously fighting for their homeland and their freedom. This battle was utilized throughout the anti-apartheid movement as evidence of earlier movements where people took up arms to stand up to their oppressors.

It was while walking around the grounds of this historic battlefield that I started to see many comparisons between this battle in 1879 with the Battle of Little Bighorn in the U.S. in 1876. These two battles share many similarities despite occurring in two different nations, and serve as a historical comparison of colonialism and nationalism in the 19th century.

Just three years separate these two battles that saw the mighty nations of Britain and America defeated by indigenous populations.

In 1876 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors annihilated Custer’s Seventh Cavalry on the Little Bighorn. Three years later and half a world away, a British force was wiped out by Zulu warriors at Isandlwana in South Africa. In both cases the total defeat of regular army troops by forces regarded as undisciplined barbarian tribesmen stunned an imperial nation. Both were attempts at seizing land from indigenous populations, and both ended in humiliating defeats for the aggressor.


By the early 19th century, the Zulu had carved out an empire by political will and brute force and became both feared and respected by all ethnic groups in South Africa. The existence of a powerful, respected, feared, and independent black empire in South Africa was a matter of great concern to the British. The British argued that the existence of a strong independent Zulu nation could cause wider conflict, fearing that it would cause other natives to rise up against white civilization in all of South Africa and interfere with British plans to use the natives as a cheap labor pool for their mines in the colony.

The need for cheap labor or challenges to white supremacy did not figure into the United States’ plans to grab the Black Hills.  For the Americans the reasons were much simpler; the railroad barons wanted to complete the Northern Pacific through Montana to the Pacific, and gold had been found in the Black Hills. Since the Sioux refused to cede the land through treaty, US President Ulysses Grant was persuaded to use military means. It was thought that this would open land to the railroads, settlers, and miners.

In 1876 Gen. Custer’s 7th Cavalry was savagely defeated during an unprovoked war to seize the Sioux hunting grounds. Three years later the redcoat troops of Queen Victoria launched an equally outrageous grab for Zulu lands in South Africa, and repeated Little Bighorn history at Isandlwana with their own humiliating destruction.

UntitledThe comparison of the battles of the Little Bighorn and Isandlwana shows the advantages of the Western armies over indigenous people.   The ability to manufacture weapons and maintain armies in the field were the decisive advantages that the British and Americans held over the Sioux and Zulu nations.  This combined with the almost total determination by Britain and the United States to conquer and dominate the West and South Africa would provide them to overcome any advantage that modern guerrilla warfare could muster.

These battles occurred in the context of late nineteenth century imperialism, an era when the less technologically developed nations were subjected by the great global economic expansion of the time.  They mark the high point for both Sioux and Zulu forces and the Western nations responded with brutal campaigns that led to the total defeat of both native nations.

2The victories of the Sioux and Zulu at Little Bighorn and Isandlwana set the stage for the final defeat of these native people by the Western powers in the late nineteenth century.  Despite achieving total victory over Western armies the battles marked the beginning of the end of independence for both of the native nations.

These victories proved costly to the native people as both created avenging armies that would destroy both peoples.  Conducting a brutal winter war in 1876-77, the US army so devastated the Sioux and Cheyenne that by spring the majority had surrendered to the agencies and returned to the reservations.  The British conducted an equally brutal march across Zululand that resulted in the Zulu capital of Ulundi being burned and their king imprisoned.   After these wars neither nation would ever regain the power they processed before the battles.


During the reign of King Shaka (1816-1828), the Zulu beame the mightiest military force in southern Africa. Shaka initiated a series of military reforms that rendered the Zulu virtually unbeatable.

By the late 1800s, British colonial officials and the commander-in-chief in South Africa, Lord Chelmsford, considered the independent Zulu Kingdom ruled by Cetshwayo a threat to the British colony of Natal with which it shared a long border. Cetshwayo, who was the King of the Zulu Kingdom from 1872 to 1879, was a half-nephew of the Zulu king Shaka.

Picture1In December 1878, the British demanded that Cetshwayo should disband his army within thirty days. Cetshwayo’s response was to mobilize approximately 30,000 men. On January 11, 1879, a British force of 7,000 British regulars, about as many Natal African auxiliaries, and a thousand colonial volunteers invaded Zululand. One division of this force – 1,760 British soldiers and auxiliaries – spent the night of January 21 unprotected as the British failed to order entrenchments around their camps and reconnaissance ahead of the march. A Zulu force of 20,000 warriors swept into the camp at Isandlwana, annihilating this division of British forces. Only 55 whites and 350 African auxiliaries survived the onslaught.

Picture3A British army’s defeat at the hands of spear-carrying Zulus sent shock waves across southern Africa, and it left Britain humiliated in the eyes of rival European powers. Leonard Thompson in A History of South Africa wrote that Isandlwana was “the greatest disaster to British arms since the Crimean War.”

Martin Meredith, in Diamonds, Gold, and War, wrote that “The British army that day suffered one of the worst disasters in its history.” In fact, it was the first defeat by a tribal army on a British force.

Days later, the Zulu were eventually defeated at Rorke’s Drift by the British. The military campaign was not the end of the Zulu kingdom, though. Having defeated the army, the British set Zulu against Zulu, preventing a revival of Zulu power without cost to Britain. They abolished the monarchy, banished Cetshwayo to prison in Cape Town, and divided Zululand into 13 separate territories under 13 appointed chiefs in a ruthless display of divide-and-rule tactics.

Battle of Little Bighorn

Gen. Custer’s last battle was part of the United States government’s 1876-77 campaign to retake the Black Hills region of South Dakota, ceded in perpetuity by an 1868 treaty to the Lakota. But when gold was discovered in the area in 1874, the army was sent to push the American Indians to a reservation set up for them.

202The Battle of Little Bighorn occurred in 1876 and is commonly referred to as “Custer’s Last Stand”. The battle took place between the U.S. Cavalry and northern Indians, including the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho. Prior to the Battle of Little Bighorn, the tribal armies, under the direction of Sitting Bull, had decided to wage war against the whites for their refusal to stay off of tribal lands in the Black Hills. In the spring of 1876, Sitting Bull and his tribal army had successfully battled the U.S. Cavalry twice. The U.S. Cavalry was attempting to force the Indians back to their reservations.

One of the U.S. Cavalry divisions, consisting of over 200 soldiers and warriors from the Arikara and Crow, was led by Lt. General George Custer, who spotted a Sioux camp and decided to attack it. However, Indian forces outnumbered his troops three to one.

The battle occurred June 25–26, 1876 near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana.

It took less than an hour for the arrows and bullets of the Indians to wipe out General Custer and his men. Custer and all his soldiers – more than 200 in number – were killed by over 3,000 Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors during their attempt to reclaim the Black Hills region from as part of a US government campaign. Custer was killed, as were two of his brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law.

It was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho.

Despite having won this battle, the Indians were not victorious. Outrage over the death of the popular Custer led the U.S. government to redraw the boundaries of the Black Hills so that the land would not be part of reservation property, which left it open for white men to settle.


There is still a Zulu nation today within South Africa, and its chief – Goodwill Zwelithinihas ruled this kingdom since 1968, although this is a largely ceremonial role under the country’s Constitution. The Zulu represents the largest ethnic group in South Africa today with up to 10-11 million people. And the Zulu language, the largest spoken language in the country, is one of South Africa’s official languages. The president of South Africa today, Jacob Zuma, is a Zulu, and is in fact the first Zulu to lead the country.

The Sioux and Cheyenne have no such power today as the Zulu. They still have reservation set aside for them by the US government. The Great Sioux Reservation mainly lies in South Dakota, but also stretches into North Dakota and Nebraska. The Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation today lies in eastern Montana, while the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation lies in South Dakota today.

What is very telling of the classic statement that “history is written by the victors” is these battlefields today. I have been to both the battlefields of Little Bighorn and Isandlwana, and what stood out to me is the decidedly one-sided version of history portrayed at both sites. Both sites undertook attempts to provide memorials to the victorious indigenous nations only in the early 1990s.

Little Bighorn has dozens of markers and memorials to the fallen US soldiers with nothing dedicated to the Sioux who courageously fought for their land. In 1881 the War Department had erected a monument for the 7th Cavalry. The U.S. Army also took custody of the site, controlling access and historical interpretation for decades. It was only in 1991- 115 years later – that the U.S. Congress ordered construction of a privately funded memorial for the American Indians. “The public interest,” according to Public Law 102-210, ‘will best be served by establishing a memorial…to honor and recognize the Indians who fought to preserve their land and culture.” In 1991, President George Bush signed legislation to also change the battlefield’s name from “Custer” to “Little Bighorn” Battlefield National Monument and to create the Indian Memorial.

Indian Memorial at the Little Bighorn battlefield

Indian Memorial at the Little Bighorn battlefield

Isandlwana is scattered with memorials to the British soldiers who died during the battle, but no monuments or memorials to the victorious Zulu who fought for their land and freedom. In the early 1990s when Nelson Mandela was released and radical change was inevitable in South Africa, many were becoming aware of the indefensible bias of the history of the country in general and how this was reflected in monuments in particular.  The Isandlwana battlefield was a telling example: the fact that memorials to British soldiers had been erected on the site, but nothing existed there to commemorate the Zulu warriors who won a decisive victory over the British in 1879 was embarrassing. It was only in 1999 that a memorial was erected at the site commemorating the valor of the fallen Zulu – unveiled on the 120th anniversary of the battle.

Zulu Memorial at the Isandlwana battlefield

Zulu Memorial at the Isandlwana battlefield

Inside South Africa’s whites-only town of Orania

Orania pic
The whites-only town of Orania is in the news again in a new BBC article that appeared on October 6th.

p10bOrania, a small town of 1,000 people in the Northern Cape in South Africa, was founded in 1991 as an Afrikaner-only town, where only Afrikaans is spoken.

“We do not fit in easily in the new South Africa. It [Orania] was an answer to not dominating others and not being dominated by others,” says Carel Boshoff Jr, the community leader and the grandson of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd.

Orania has proved to be the answer for those Afrikaners who felt displaced in the land their people had ruled for many decades. They feared the loss of their culture, heritage, and jobs in the new democratic South Africa. They especially were afraid economically by the effects of such policies as affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), which encouraged more black participation in business. Orania, to these Afrikaners, was a way to preserve their identity and livelihoods amidst a South Africa that was trying to right the wrongs of the past 300 years of racial segregation and oppression.

One local explains the new South Africa as “reverse racism”.

“We can’t get jobs. It’s like we are being punished for the past,” he says.

“I see nothing wrong with apartheid,” says Martin Kemp, one of the older residents.

“Of course you get the petty apartheid: ‘You use this toilet I use that toilet’, I don’t think that was necessary but the real apartheid as Dr Verwoerd saw it, there was nothing wrong with it,” he said.

Black people cannot live here. Prospective residents are screened by the town council using a strict criterion, which includes first and foremost being an ethnic Afrikaner. Simply speaking Afrikaans, being a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, or even just being white is not enough.

Orania officials say the town’s safety and economic prosperity show that their model is one that works, as opposed to the new South Africa. Town officials cite an annual growth rate of nearly 10% since its inception 23 years ago.

Orania currency - the Ora 2The town boasts shops, hair salons, a library, a post office, a hotel, schools, and churches. They even have their own currency, the Ora, which is pegged to the South African rand.

A statue of Hendrik Verwoerd welcomes people to the town, while busts of former Afrikaner leaders – Paul Kruger, JBM Herzog, DF Malan, JG Strydom, and Verwoerd – and old apartheid-era flags decorate the landscape.

The scary part of Orania is not just that it exists, but that the town’s inhabitants feel that it needs to exist. They also see apartheid as a positive aspect of the past that they are desperately keeping alive, despite it having been declared as a crime against humanity by the United Nations as early as the 1960s. But it is an interesting discussion: What does a town like Orania say about South Africa today? Should a town like this be allowed to exist? What do you think?

Ernest Cole exhibition in NYC


From Sept. 3 through Dec. 6, over 100 of Ernest Cole’s photographs from the 1950s and 60s of South Africa will be on display for the public at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery.

Untitled12Ernest Cole was one of the first black photographers in South Africa who told the story of the hardships and humiliation of blacks living under apartheid in the 1950s and 60s. He worked as a photographer for Drum magazine in the late 1950s, and then the newspaper Bantu World, before becoming a freelance photographer . He wanted to record the evils and social effects of apartheid through photographs. He photographed the inequalities of black schools, the brutal working conditions and degradation of working in the mines, and the struggle of everyday living for black people.

He used photographs to tell the world what it was like, and what it meant, to be black under apartheid. His photos were banned, but he was able to smuggle the prints out of the country with him and he published them in the U.S. in 1967 in his book, House of Bondage. In the book, Cole summed up what his photos represented: “Three-hundred years of white supremacy in South Africa has placed us in bondage, stripped us of our dignity, robbed us of our self-esteem and surrounded us with hate.” His work helped the world see what was really happening in South Africa.

Drum photography editor Jürgen Schadeberg said of Cole, “His life was dedicated to showing the world the reality of Apartheid, and to bring image and light to tales of oppression.”

I first saw Cole’s powerful images in the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg back in 2012, and they stood out for how powerfully they showcased the emotion and human effects of apartheid.

If you will be in New York City over the next few months, check out this powerful exhibit from one of South Africa most well-known and skilled photographers from the apartheid era.

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Israel and South Africa


A recent Al Jazeera news headline caught my attention for a number of reasons: “When Gaza bleeds, South Africa rages” (8/15/2014), which included the following sub-heading, “Origin of apartheid now center of global solidarity with Palestinians.”

With the current conflict between Gaza and Israel raging, it seems odd to look to South Africa to see how it is being followed, but there is a rocky history between the nations of Israel and South Africa, and the past definitely is still impacting the present.

According to Natasha Joseph, who wrote the Al-Jazeera article, “One reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a volatile fault line in South Africa is the country’s own history.”

According to Heidi-Jane Esakov, a researcher at the Afro-Middle East Centre, a South African think tank: “For many South Africans this conflict feels deeply personal. Across religion and race many identify with the Palestinian cause and see the conflict as an extension of their own struggle against apartheid.”

“Having lived for decades under a system that denied democratic rights on racial grounds to millions of people over which it ruled, many South Africans – including the likes of Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and senior ANC leaders – feel an intimate connection with Palestinians living under Israeli occupation,” Joseph wrote.

Historically, there was an intimate relationship between Israel and apartheid South Africa. The two nations viewed themselves similarly, both being viewed as pariahs in their specific regions of the world: Israel as the lone Jewish state in the Middle East, surrounded by Arab Muslim nations, and South Africa as the lone white minority state in southern Africa, surrounded (after 1980) by black African nations. Jews and Afrikaners both took the same stance, arm themselves in a laager to defend themselves and their existence as a people and a nation. They relied heavily on each other from the 1960s up through the 1980s as military, intelligence, political, and economic partners. While they were fighting what they perceived as defensive struggles for survival, they were viewed from the outside as colonial conquests.

1Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, points out that both nations in the 1970s were convinced that they “faced a fundamentally similar predicament as embattled minorities under siege, fighting for their survival against what they saw as a common terrorist enemy, epitomized by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). … And for the top brass in both countries, the only possible solution was tight control and overwhelming force.”

Many today paint Israel as a latter-day South Africa, questioning its legitimacy, its oppression of the majority Palestinians, and its construction of “homelands” for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Thus as the state of Israel aligned itself with apartheid South Africa, naturally black South Africans have aligned themselves with the Palestinians and their plight. In 2002, Archbishop Tutu visited the Occupied Territories and spoke about what he saw there, including the “humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.”

Even Nelson Mandela entered this controversy when one of his first international trips after his release from prison in 1990 was to visit PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, and years later, he declared in 1997, that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

And Palestinians, who witnessed the successful use of boycotts and divestment by the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, have turned to these same strategies and tactics to isolate Israel, as highlighted by the following posters by Carlos Latuff, a Brazilian political cartoonist, in 2010:

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But in the US, even officially mentioning the word “apartheid” in connection to Israel can get you in hot water. In April, US Secretary of State John Kerry used the term when he warned that Israel risked becoming an “apartheid state” if US-sponsored efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement failed. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee responded in a statement by calling his comment “deeply troubling,” arguing that, “Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate. The Jewish state is a shining light for freedom and opportunity in a region plagued by terror, hate and oppression.” As a public storm grew around the remarks, Kerry issued a statement regretting the use of the word apartheid.

Peter Beaumont, who wrote the article in The Guardian, pointed out that “Senior US officials historically have avoided the word ‘apartheid’ relating to Israeli policies. It is believed to be the first time a US official of Kerry’s standing has used the contentious term in the context of Israel, even if only as a warning for the future.” Beaumont even pointed out that Barack Obama had condemned the use of this term when running for president in 2008.

001But this did not stop former US President Jimmy Carter from using it for the title of his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, warning that the treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank was approaching a South African scenario.

Interestingly, former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak foreshadowed Kerry’s warning in 2010: “The simple truth is, if there is one state, it will have to be binational or undemocratic … If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state,” he said.

And current Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said in 2013: “But the time has come for the same youth to ask to what kind of state do they want to leave the gas reserves. To a Jewish democratic Israel? Or to a binational Arab state? Or to an apartheid state?”

On the other side of issue in South Africa, though, are the thousands of Jewish citizens there. Historically, despite making up just 0.6% of the population, many leading anti-apartheid activists fighting in South Africa against the regime were Jews, including such prominent figures as Joe Slovo, Helen Suzman, Albie Sachs, Arthur Goldreich, Rusty Bernstein, Denis Goldberg, Harold Wolpe, Wolfie Kodesh, Nadine Gordimer, Ruth First, and Ronnie Kasrils, among many others.

Today, however, as Natasha Joseph pointed out in her Al-Jazeera article, “The majority of the community [in South Africa] are passionately pro-Israel.”

An estimated 15,100 adults self-identified as Jewish at the time of South Africa’s 2011 Census, although the Jewish Board of Deputies put the number closer to 75,000 when children and secular Jews were included.

In March 2012, I heard Benjamin Pogrund speak at the University of the Free State in South Africa. As a prominent anti-apartheid journalist as well as someone who is Jewish and has been living in Israel for over a decade, I was interested in his comments and perspectives on the situation. Pogrund dismissed any comparison between apartheid South Africa and Israel, saying that “to compare it to apartheid is just not true.” He argued that Palestinians have the vote, have equal rights, and are a 20% minority in the population as differences with the situation for black South Africans under apartheid. He said what was happening to Palestinians was “oppression, not apartheid,” and that “people who compare it to apartheid don’t understand apartheid.”

Zapiro, the well-known political cartoonist for South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, took a different stance with the following cartoon from earlier this year:


While it is impossible to compare oppression and discrimination between people in two different nations, it is interesting to follow these historical comparisons to try and understand how and why people view present situations the way they do.