Resisting the white washing of Mandela

young Mandela
by Frederick Sparks

As with Martin Luther King, Jr., we see in the remembrances and tributes to Nelson Mandela a certain oversimplification, appropriation, and white washing of not only the complexity of his political history but of his comprehensive social justice philosophy.

Former senator and failed Republican presidential candidate compared his party’s fight against Obamacare to the “great injustice” Mandela fought against, apparently unaware that South Africa has universal health care.  The infamous man-on-man candidate would also take issue with Mandela’s support of LGBTQ rights, as the post apartheid South Africa enshrined in its constitution discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender, something the U.S.A. has yet to accomplish.

We should also accurately recall the U.S.’s reluctance to fully support the struggle against apartheid.  Until 2008, our country labeled Mandela’s ANC a terrorist organization.

And just like King’s comments about economic inequality and in opposition to the Vietnam are glossed over for the safer parts of the I Have A Dream speech, largely ignored in the last few days have been Mandela’s critiques of American racism, warmongering and imperialism, and his unwavering support of the labor movement.

Moving beyond the superficial lip service tributes involves support of the comprehensive social justice philosophy Mandela embraced.

Resisting the white washing of Mandela

15 thoughts on “Resisting the white washing of Mandela

  1. 1

    Nelson Mandela (via my love of the two-tone/ska band “The Specials”, and their support for the ANC and sanctions) was the first guide on my road to feminism. I’m nominally one-quarter Boer (my paternal grandfather, who left my Nan before Dad saw the world), and it was shameful to know that a country of my forebears was doing this to someone like Mandela solely for wanting the same freedom they already had.

    So I joined a Free Nelson group, and demo’d and protested and got arrested in the name of making the international case. From there, when I came out it was queer rights next, alongside feminism, and on to today.

    An incredible example of endurance, dignity, morality, and real love of liberty. It’s obscene to take his words and image and twist them to suggest he would prefer the poor and PoC should be disenfranchised, kept in poverty, or that running a school-prison pipeline for the enrichment of already-rich white guys is anything but immoral wage slavery…it’s just obscene.

    Following Mandela’s great example, I propose that Rick Santorum should be taken out and…firmly talked to about human dignity, and compassion, and not being a filthy greedhead bigot.

    Amandla! Awethu.

  2. 4

    Mandela also supported Castro, Arafat, and Qaddafi, and was strongly against the existence of Israel. He was an incredible and inspiring person who also supported many on the Left regardless of their methods. Complex indeed.

      1. Yeah, Mandela was always clear that his adoption of nonviolence was a tactical decision, not a philosophical one. Having been driven to violence himself by a regime that would allow no other form of dissent he was not such a hypocrite as to condemn others in the same situation.

    1. 4.2

      He supported those people, but he was too smart to declare himself “strongly against the existence of Israel”. His position was that Israel had the right to exist unmolested, within its 1967 borders.

  3. 5

    Despite the superficial tributes that some media-savy conservatives are issuing, a closer look at conservative media outlets indicates that, like MLK, they really just see the late Mandela as a troublemaking communist who didn’t “know his place.” Just as they don’t see MLK as an American worthy to be in the history books with Washington or Jefferson, they dismiss Mandela as a third world nonentity. There are still millions of people in the US who think that “Gone With the Wind” is a documentary. The battle for historical memory is far from over.

  4. 6

    From JFK to Abe Lincoln to Thomas Jefferson, we take the parts of them we admired and liked and overlook the parts we think less of. If we only celebrated the lives of perfect people, there’d be nobody to celebrate.

  5. 7

    white washing of not only the complexity of his political history but of his comprehensive social justice philosophy.

    Much of the whitewashing is by those giving “tributes”, whitewashing of their own histories and comments they made about Mandela in the past. Many who now praise him were calling him a “communist” and “terrorist” back in the 1980s, pretending they were “always on his side” when in fact they were supporting the fascist Apartheid regime (e.g. Pat Robertson).

  6. 8

    Despite MLK’s lifelong commitment to nonviolent social change, conservatives thought that he was a dangerous communist. If you have access to an academic library that hasn’t tossed out all their old periodicals, go spend a day looking at magazines like TIME or Newsweek from the 1950s and 60s and see how the Civil Rights Movement is portrayed and read the letters to the editor. What you’ll find out is that most whites thought that civil rights for blacks, whether in South Africa or Birmingham, Alabama was a communist plot, full stop. It did not matter if blacks used violence or non-violence to achieve these rights, the very fact that they were demanding equal treatment was communism. The only reason Ronald Reagan signed the MLK holiday into law was because his back was really against the wall. Many places today still do not celebrate MLK day.

  7. 10

    Judging by the headline I thought you were going to talk about how he started Umkhonto we Sizwe and their use of the tire necklacing thing, or the bombings they committed.

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