So, I had a conference with one of my professors (by the way, she is awesome and has two adorable dogs) where I talked about my field experience working with an ESL student at the local high school. During my conference I ended up talking about my working class family…
While I am incredibly proud of my working class background and family, I realized while I was talking that I still felt some shame while talking about being working class. Society tells us that we should be ashamed of being working class and hide that fact, and in that moment I felt that, because of that lesson taught by society, I felt shameful or being working class. I felt embarrassed to admit to my professor that I, unlike most of the people at my private liberal arts college, are not upper or upper-middle class. I do not have a family with a two car garage and new cars to go with them. I do not have the ability to go shopping and keep up with clothing trends (hell, I own three pairs of pants, two of which are held up with safety pins). My mother works three jobs and if it wasn’t for my abusive step-father she still wouldn’t be able to afford food or electricity or shelter. And I felt shame. And I feel shame now even though I know that my original feelings aren’t my fault. It’s everyone else for telling me that’s how I should feel.
And people wonder why more working class people don’t talk about their experiences. Because we are told not to. We are told not to talk about something so shameful. Well, I will talk about it.
Nelson Mandela on the US invasion of Iraq
This is the Mandela that I mourn not the white-washed, sanitized version of a revolutionary figure that aligned with Communists, was part of a group branded as terrorists by Reagan, who continued to voice his opposition to Israel’s apartheid regime and illegal occupation of the West Bank and used armed resistance to fight apartheid in South Africa.
The way white people are exalting him across the political spectrum globally based on his national reconciliation work in South Africa post-apartheid (which did have major pitfalls for non-whites in particular) and erasing his revolutionary past and fight for equality across the globe shows just how ignorant of history they are and how incredibly myopic they are too.
White people are doing to Mandela what they’ve already done to Martin Luther King, Jr., and it makes me sick. If I see one more racist white liberal lionizing Mandela in a way that erases his revolutionary past so their facebook status about his death can serve as their “feel-good” justification of the day for their “liberalism,” I’m going to be sick. And don’t even get me started on the white American conservatives who are now lauding him even as Reagan demonized the ANC and Dick Cheney voted against a resolution that would have urged the South African apartheid government to remove Mandela from prison.
Don’t sanitize Mandela for your white comfort. He’s a hero in many regards, but maybe not for the reasons you might think based on the whitewashing he’s receiving in the media to hollow him out and make him into a puppet figure for racist white liberals and conservatives alike, just like MLK.