I arrived late at my country’s history.

That is to say, I grew up being fed a very specific history at school, one that favoured the white colonists and made it seem like we were the heroes and main players in our country’s past.

The truth is that the same thing has happened around the world. “When did Columbus discover America?” We ask. Conveniently ‘forgetting’ that he and his men bartered with the indigenous people who were there, as well as butchering and enslaving the locals for their own end and purposes.

The saying ‘History is written by the winners’ gives us some background to this idea. Maybe more telling is that when I googled the statement to see who said it, the answer was Winston Churchill.

The answer was also Walter Benjamin and Dan Brown [author of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and other bestsellers. It may even have been Hermann Göring, Napoleon Bonaparte and George Orwell. Another layer that has been added to the fact that the victors generally narrate the story of how events unfolded (deciding who the hero is as well as the villains) is that we can’t even trust the online ‘facts’.

One of my favourite online quote memes is this beauty from Abraham Lincoln (who died well before the internet was born):

Lincoln Meme


So when my wife and I returned to South Africa, I realised that I needed to have a more rounded version of the history of my country. I especially needed to hear the voices of people of colour telling the story of what had happened in the past from their perspective.

The first book I got my hands on, which still rates as my most helpful book, was the Robert Sobukwe book, ‘How can man die better?’ What followed for me was Steve Biko’s ‘I write what I like’. Other books that helped fill in some of the gaps were Antjie Krog ‘Country of my skull’ and ‘Begging to be black’, Frank Chikane’s ‘No life of my own’ and Desmond Tutu’s ‘No future without forgiveness’. I am busy working my way through Rian Malan’s ‘My traitor’s heart’ with the tagline ‘A South African exile returns to face his country, his tribe, and his conscience.’

Next up I am hoping to read Frantz Fanon’s ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ which apparently gives insight into a more broader African perspective.


The point is this – that if we continue to read the things we’ve always read and continue to only listen to voices like us (whoever they may be) then we are only likely to have our present ideas confirmed to us. The moment I invite voices that are different to what I am used to into the conversation, that is when learning, challenge and a perspective shift are more likely to happen.

So for me that has become voices of woman, it has become writers of colour, it has even become authors who subscribe to a different faith than I do. Not so that I will agree with them on everything they say or think, but so that I can stick the things I hold to under a microscope and see if they hold up. So that I can entertain new ideas from fresh perspectives, with different insights and hopefully learn a more accurate truth about the world and myself.

This extends beyond books to podcasts and blogs and articles and videos. It even plays out in the types of people I choose to follow on Twitter and the friends I connect with on Facebook and so on. By enlarging my boundaries, I increase the size of my world and the opportunities to learn and grow and transform are endless.

How are you doing in this? What are some of the books you have read that have shifted your perspectives on things? Who are some of the people you listen to who are different from you but have helped give you a fresh perspective on life, politics, religion or another area? Please share some examples with us in the comments.