EXCERPTS FROM A 1987 PIECE TALKING ABOUT STRUGGLE.
Byline: Kevin Haynes, November 1987
Ten years ago, a black South African named Stephen Biko, who had already been reprimanded and punished by that country’s government for opposing apartheid, was imprisoned for continuing his peaceful campaign against systematic racism.
Biko’s life and death have come to symbolize the long struggle to end racial oppression in white-ruled South Africa. His legend has now crossed paths with the acting career of Denzel Washington, who 10 years ago spent considerable time on an unemployment line.
“It’s interesting to go back and look at what I was saying when I was waiting six months for a job,” recalls Washington, who kept a journal during those lean years. “I remember I wrote down ‘Patience is the name of the game,’ and I wrote some stuff about my unemployment book and how I didn’t like the people that worked there. I talked about Line C and how they think they’re giving you the money out of their pocket. I still have my book…”
Washington admits Biko’s story was as foreign to him as the unemployment line is today.
“I definitely learned a lot more about who he was,” Washington says. “It inspires me to keep plugging. We’re angry, and we get behind this cause or that cause, but I haven’t had to shed any blood. I haven’t had to lose my mother or my father or my sister or my brother for a cause. I went over there with a certain naivete and this anger about being a brother and being ready to change the world. And then I met people who had been in prison for 10 or 20 years. I met people who had lost their families. It really brought me down to size….”
“Yeah, I’m Denzel Hayes Washington Jr.,” he says, drawing out each word as if pronouncing the name of a cherished high school. “It was tough when you’re, like, in sixth grade with that name. They called me everything. I heard Stencil, Pencil — I even heard Ginger Ale once — Zendel, Zelly, Zenny, Deli, Denny, Dee. None of that ever stuck. Just Denzel.”