Eddie Daniels spent 15 years in one of the harshest prison environments imaginable on South Africa's Robben Island for fighting against apartheid, but yesterday morning the black man stressed that he believes race is insignificant.
Grabbing a white sheet of paper, Mr. Daniels looked out into his audience of students at Maumee Valley Country Day School and said: "With all due respect, this [paper] is white. No one here is this color."
Mr. Daniels, who has been speaking to high school and college students around the country in connection with the autobiography of his life in South Africa, said race was used as a tool of oppression in South Africa and in other parts of the world. Despite his experiences in prison, he emphasizes that race has no bearing on a person's ability or personality.
His book, There and Back: Robben Island 1964-1979, chronicles his life story as well as his time with Nelson Mandela - Robben Island's most famous political prisoner in the struggle against South Africa's apartheid government, a system of racial segregation that lasted from 1948 to 1994.
"If you look in the mirror and see your reflection, what do you see?" Mr. Daniels asked the students. "You see your hair is a different color from your skin. Your skin is a different color from your eyes. Your eyes are a different color from your lips. Your lips are a different color from your teeth.
"You're all multicolored, but you've been indoctrinated over time that your color is white, a methodology so deep that we must use these terms. Once you realize that it's not what is stated, you're on the road to cleansing yourself and [learning] that color is insignificant."
For most of Mr. Daniels' life in South Africa, race and color meant everything, he said. He was the child of a white Englishman and a mother of mixed-race who was considered "colored" under South Africa's apartheid system. Because of his mother's race, Mr. Daniels was denied the privileges of whites.
He said he eventually joined the African Resistance Movement in a fight against apartheid. He was jailed for his activities and held in the infamous Robben Island for 15 years.
"I didn't think I would live to see the end of apartheid. I didn't think I would survive prison, but I did," Mr. Daniels said. "Without the world, we would still be struggling. The world came to our aid. Many of you are too young to have supported us, but your parents did and your grandparents did, and eventually your government did."
Mr. Daniels told the students that through education, they could make a difference of ridding the world of apartheid and of governments that seek to oppress people in other countries.
"Education is the key to the future," Mr. Daniels said.
"... We have a world that's angry at itself. There's so much fighting and killing. We need people who will come in positions of power to bring peace, calm, tranquility, and mutual respect."