During our interview a few months before he retired in 2010, the Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu shared this heart-wrenching story of flying on a plane out of Lagos, Nigeria. As he boarded the plane, he was beaming with pride, he says, when he saw two black pilots shepherding the plane. While in the air, the plane experienced some bitter turbulence, and at that moment he admits:

"The first thought that came to my mind was 'Hey, there's no white men in that cockpit. Are those blacks going to be able to make it?'"

Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu is a pivotal figure in helping galvanize South Africa's improbable and peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in the 1990s. And he's been an active participant ever since in the country's developing story ever since. Despite all the discussions and Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, he helps us realize that the amount of damage done to black South Africans' psyches is deep-seated. A sober reminder that history is present in incalculable ways.

Share Your Reflection



thanks for this, his unsparing honesty remains a powerful reminder that we can't fix all that has been broken.

Well said. It's a heart-wrenching story and for a man like him to share it is truly something special.

acknowledging our own prejudice-bias-paradigm is the first step toward a healing response to our broken-ness.  When a great man shares, we are all granted a bit of courage to take a deeper look into ourselves.  Thanks for sharing.

there is a lot of power in this kind of honesty. still, it is heartbreaking. 

I have read Tutu and heard him also talk in Kalamazoo. He truly inspires how we are all made for goodness. I was shocked too when hearing the above tale when you ran this interview, such that we very much feel his pain at the thought. Another impressionable thing was that he clearly sees how the oppressor likewise is dehumanized in the process of dehumanizing the victim. And reconciliation for this soul is also required, out of love. I have reminded myself of this often too when a vitriol email/blog entry or hate mail comes to my attention that the person is in need or some form or reconciliation.

I first heard of this account from my therapist. She attended a conference in South Africa and shared the impact of Dr. Tutu's revelation on the audience

Unfortunately, Bishop Tutu has a blind spot on certain issues. He has consistently refused to address the persecution of Christians in countries like Egypt. He omits mention of attacks on Christians in Nigeria, let alone the refusal of Saudi Arabia to allow churches on its soil. At the same time, he pillories the West, the US, Israel, ... He has called on people not to criticize Islamists, yet verbally attacked peaceful Christians. He wrote that Jews cannot be expected to be judged by the same standards as others - so he favors double standards. This is quite sad coming from a man who has achieved much.