This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Other Wes Moore" by Wes Moore. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Why is Langa, Cape Town significant in The Other Wes Moore? How did a semester abroad help enlighten Wes Moore?
In his final semester of college, Wes Moore decided to study abroad. What he learned in Langa, Cape Town changed his way of thinking forever.
Read more to learn how a semester abroad in Langa, Cape Town changed Wes Moore.
Wes Moore Studies Abroad in Langa, Cape Town
In his final semester of college, Wes Moore decided to study abroad. He was placed with a black family in Langa, Cape Town, one of the oldest townships in South Africa. During apartheid, the townships were the designated segregated areas in which blacks were allowed to live. Despite the end of apartheid only half a decade earlier, economic inequality was severe between the black and white residents. Segregation was now a social construct, rather than a legal requirement.
Langa, Cape Town reminded Moore of Baltimore and the Bronx. He saw black people suffering and being more or less stuck without a clear path for change. The only difference was that poverty in the townships outdid anything Moore had seen in America.
Moore’s host family was made up of a mother, a son a few years younger than Moore, and an eight-year-old daughter. They welcomed Moore like family. Moore and the mother, whom he called “Mama,” talked for hours about the history of apartheid and South Africa. Moore was horrified by the stories she told. He asked how she could be so full of love and forgiveness instead of rage and resentment. Her simple answer, “Because [Nelson] Mandela asked us to,” blew his mind wide open.
Moore realized that humanity was more than just a word to represent people living among each other. It was a way of life. Humanity meant respecting each other’s lives, knowing when to fight and when to come together. His outlook on the world changed, and he felt a stronger connection to the name chosen by his late father.
Moore’s host-brother Zinzi was seventeen and preparing to be exiled for four weeks in the wild for the traditional ceremony of moving from boy to man. In Xhosa tradition, the tribe of Moore’s host family, adolescent boys were circumcised and taught the history of their tribe from tribal elders, including the struggles and perseverance of Xhosa leaders. They were taught to be good men, good fathers, and respectable husbands. They prayed and healed together over the month and returned home as men.
When these men returned home, they wore white for a month to symbolize their transformation and were celebrated by a feast in their communities. As Zinzi told Moore about this ritual, Moore saw a man dressed in white. His features were those of a boy, but he carried himself with an air of dignity and wisdom. Moore noticed how confident and sturdy this young man appeared and how Zinzi still lacked that demeanor.
Again, Moore was struck with the similarities and differences between life for young black men in Langa, Cape Town and those at home. Both groups struggled to survive a life of poverty, crime, oppression, and low expectations. But in Langa, Cape Town, the young men were supported and guided by their communities toward a better future. The movement from childhood to adulthood was celebrated and respected. In America, when a young black boy comes of age, they are feared and assumed to be more dangerous than before.
For one nation, the legacy of pain was a catalyst for growth. For the other, the legacy of pain was a catalyst for further division. Moore was on the cusp of this transition, and he wanted to find a way to rewrite the script for young black men in America. He wanted to take the legacy of those who’d struggled before him and use it to guide his path to manhood.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Other Wes Moore summary :
- How two men from similar communities can have vastly different lives
- What led one Wes Moore to become a Rhodes Scholar
- What led the other Wes Moore to a life sentence