I will never forget where I was the moment I learned that Nelson Mandela died. This was enemy territory, at an elite bar in DC—a stone’s throw from the White House, the scene of countless obscene crimes committed against the American people, and people all over the world.
But I was hardly the only lefty in attendance: on my way in I passed retired Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Now this is a d00d I looooove. While serving in the House, he brought Articles of Impeachment against Dick Cheney and George W. Bush for the lies and illegal shenanigans in connection with the Iraq war. It went nowhere of course (“impeachment is not on our agenda.” -Nancy Pelosi). When Kucinich ran for president in 2008, his platform included: single-payer universal health care; bans on offshore drilling, toxic pesticides and privatizing Social Security; legalizing pot and ending the War on Drugs; and—my personal favorite—creating a cabinet-level “Department of Peace” to foster international cooperation.
That last one, of course, made him the laughingstock of the beltway press, punditocracy and Congress. What a loon, amirite? Where’s the angle in peace? More importantly, where’s the money in peace? Alas, America’s Owners would never stand for a cabinet-level department working against their interests, which, lest we forget, requires the perpetuation of a state of permanent war. As it turned out, the country elected a dutiful servant to the Military-Industrial-Complex in the form of one Barack Obama.
Kucinich ran for his newly redistricted House seat in 2012, and was defeated in the Democratic primary by Marcy Kaptur (D-Forced Birth Brigades). He decided to retire, and as of January 3, 2013, no longer serves in the House. Had the man not been on his way out of the bar Thursday evening, the Palace would have sent him a drink.
So it was that I was seated in a plush red banquette in a giddy reverie about my Rock Star Lefty sighting when the TV above the bar silently splashed the news of Mandela’s death. It was a gut-punch. For all his considerable lefty-liciousness, Dennis Kucinich could never hold a candle to Nelson Mandela.
At the end of an evening careening from delirious to somber to serious to joyful and around and around again, my companions and I toasted the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, and went up to our respective rooms.
Since the news of Mandela’s death broke, we have all seen the expected barrage of media, much of it quite moving. But a few things stand out. One, Rick Santorum is a ginormous asshole of previously underestimated proportions: he compared apartheid to Obamacare. OMFG. How anyone lets this shitweasel anywhere near a microphone, ever, is a conundrum I will simply never understand. The usual excuse is that he represents the way a lot of people “think.” If that is so, it is all the more reason to isolate and ignore him. And to mock him mercilessly wherever he shows up. Seriously, beyond his family is there anyone who thinks the world is a better place for having him in it? Unless one of his kids ends up leading a leftist revolution or something, I just don’t see how history will record him as anything other than the typical, hateful dumbass he is—if history records him at all.
The second (and related) thing that struck me is this: WHITE PEOPLE WITH SHOULD SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT NELSON MANDELA. Blacks (and other minorities) understand his life, his work and his legacy from a perspective that whites cannot possibly comprehend. Exhibit A: this very post. In a piece ostensibly about Mandela, I, a Whitey McWhiteperson, have so far held forth on two white d00ds—Kucinich and Santorum—and most disgustingly, reveled in my unearned privilege by painting a picture of myself downing $12 glasses of French rosé and lounging around a swanky DC power bar where the only people of color I saw were on staff.
All of which is to say that no one should give the slightest fuck what I—an over privileged asshole—have to say about Nelson Mandela. If I have any sense whatsoever, I will shut up and listen to Brit blogger-author-poet-musician Musa Okwonga, who writes:
Dear revisionists, Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel. Over the next few days you will try so, so hard to make him something he was not, and you will fail. You will try to smooth him, to sandblast him, to take away his Malcolm X. You will try to hide his anger from view. Right now, you are anxiously pacing the corridors of your condos and country estates, looking for the right words, the right tributes, the right-wing tributes. You will say that Mandela was not about race. You will say that Mandela was not about politics. You will say that Mandela was about nothing but one love, you will try to reduce him to a lilting reggae tune. “Let’s get together, and feel alright.” Yes, you will do that.
You will make out that apartheid was just some sort of evil mystical space disease that suddenly fell from the heavens and settled on all of us, had us all, black or white, in its thrall, until Mandela appeared from the ether to redeem us. You will try to make Mandela a Magic Negro and you will fail. You will say that Mandela stood above all for forgiveness whilst scuttling swiftly over the details of the perversity that he had the grace to forgive.
You will try to make out that apartheid was some horrid spontaneous historical aberration, and not the logical culmination of centuries of imperial arrogance. Yes, you will try that too. You will imply or audaciously state that its evils ended the day Mandela stepped out of jail. You will fold your hands and say the blacks have no-one to blame now but themselves.
Well, try hard as you like, and you’ll fail. Because Mandela was about politics and he was about race and he was about freedom and he was even about force, and he did what he felt he had to do and given the current economic inequality in South Africa he might even have died thinking he didn’t do nearly enough of it. And perhaps the greatest tragedy of Mandela’s life isn’t that he spent almost thirty years jailed by well-heeled racists who tried to shatter millions of spirits through breaking his soul, but that there weren’t or aren’t nearly enough people like him.
His body isn’t even cold yet and the New York times has already put out a shameful article declaring Nelson Mandela to be an “icon of peaceful resistance”. News outlets around the Western world are hurrying to publish obituaries that celebrate his electoral victory while erasing the protracted and fierce guerrilla struggle that he and his party were forced to fight in order to make that victory possible. Don’t let racist, imperialist liberalism co-opt the legacy of another radical. Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist — all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it.
Don’t fucking let them.
The next 60 words are all I’m going to say.
Mandela’s wiki page is pretty thorough; if you want to actually learn something about Nelson Mandela, I’d suggest you start there and follow the links therein. Stay away from The New York Times, the national news media, and white blogs like this one.
I like this 1998 picture of Mandela in Brazil. He looks regal.