I really enjoy listening to Cornel West speak. While I don’t agree with all his politics, I do think he is brilliant, endlessly entertaining and has a fiery spirit that has unfortunately been all but stomped out and placated in most members of American society.
Cornel West did an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN recently, and as always did not fail to entertain or raise a few eye brows. West said that we were witnessing the “Santa Claus-ification” of Mendela’s legacy. He went on to proclaim that we had “turned the revolutionary into an old man - a huggable old man with toys and a bag, smile on his face, no threat to anybody, domesticated, tame. And no longer really full of the fire.”
Cornel West is absolutely correct.
The mainstream news will rarely mention this, but up until a few years ago Nelson Mandela was on the United States Terrorist Watch List. And historically, the US didn’t exactly look favorably on Mandela. In fact, during the 80’s, President Reagan placed Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) party on America’s official list of terrorist organizations. But we don’t seem to hear a lot about that now. Instead we hear about President Obama taking selfies with Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt during the memorial service or Senator Ted Cruz’s Facebook page blowing up because right wingers hate anything anti-‘merican.
I’m just a little bit disappointed of the media coverage of Mandela’s funeral, the shallow commentary on his life and that so many Americans are so short sighted and stuck in their lame duck train of thought.
A very brief look at Mandela’s early activism
Scanning Wikipedia, we see that Mandela was born into an African royal family and was able to go on to attend Fort Hare University then the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law. After studying law, we became politically active, joining the ANC party. As a member of the ANC party, he served as a lawyer and was repeatedly arrested.
In the beginning, Mandela followed the rules. He played it strait, by the book. He took the path of non-violence, and it got him nowhere. After spending over 10 years fighting peacefully for change and seemingly getting nowhere but arrested over and over, he turned to more radical measures.
While in college and thereafter, Mandela became more and more influenced by communist and socialist thinking. He had many socialist and communist friends and became increasingly inspired by other revolutions and movements that had taken place like Castro’s 26th of July Movement in Cuba.
In 1961, Mandela founded a militant group (MK) and in association with the South African Communist Party, led a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. This ultimately led to his imprisonment and a 27 year sentence in jail.
My Take on Nelson Mandela
Many Americans are quick to look at Mandela and label him negatively as a terrorist and communist. And why shouldn’t we, we are taught to think this way after all. Communism will destroy our entire way of life if we don’t stomp it out and terrorists are always lurking in the dark, looking for ways to kill us.
I see it much differently. Yes, Mandela was a socialist/communist and yes, Mandela did say that his armed forces (MK) would resort to guerilla warfare and terrorism if need be (at least according to Wikipedia which points to a citation to a book I don’t own), but understand that he lived in a world of complete injustice.
Consider what Mandela and his fellow man endured, a world where a foreign nation had swooped in and taken over, removing natives from their foreign lands, relocating them to slums. A world where it was illegal for blacks and whites to intermingle or be married, or where blacks were not allowed to run businesses or hold professional jobs. A world where busses and trains, hospitals and ambulances and virtually everything else was segregated.
Wait… this all sounds so eerily familiar to me…
In the United States, many of our great civil rights leaders took to peaceful protest to effect change, as did Gandhi during the Indian Independence Movement. But Mandela decided to take a more radical approach. Perhaps that is a sign of weakness, perhaps he might not be considered as noble for doing so, but regardless, I understand why he felt as he felt and why he did what he did.
Mandela was sick of injustice and he stood up against it, as did many of his fellow men. Perhaps if Mandela hadn’t been sent off to prison for 27 years, we’d have not ever even heard of his name today. Regardless, I understand why he did what he did and felt the way he felt. I would have felt the same.
Quick Final Thoughts
How can so many Americans have such negative things to say about Mandela when we have such a similar history or oppression in this country? Are we really that short sighted? Do we really not comprehend? Perhaps it is so. Perhaps most people are incapable of putting themselves in other’s shoes.
I am not a socialist, communist or radical. But I have never had any reason to be. I have always been relatively happy, healthy and free or injustice and oppression. But if I were in a situation where I was forced into poverty or slavery, oppressed, beaten down, starved and broken, I too could see how I might cling to more radical ideologies. I too can see how I might be led to lash out violently. Is it not a man’s primal instinct to defend his own life after all?
Why is it that so many others appear incapable of considering this?
Check out this other interesting article about Nelson Mandela- Don’t Sanitize Nelson Mandela: He’s Honored Now, But Was Hated Then