December 8, 2013

There are a very few individuals to whom one could point and say that the world is inarguably better for his presence. Nelson Mandela was one such individual. The legacy that he leaves us is a powerful and morally just one.

So it's no surprise that the Sunday shows would focus on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. But true to form, the punditry inside the Washington Beltway ignores his larger legacy and focuses on Mandela's fabled peaceful resistance, marvelling on his choice to not show anger or bitterness for all the horrible treatment he received at the hands of apartheid.

And yes, Mandiba refused to sink into bitterness and anger. Yes, he would not allow the white minority government who treated him as a lesser being see him wallow in self-pity or all-consuming rage. But that was because he believed that his stance against apartheid was so clear, so morally irrefutable, that to give them the weapon of distraction of him acting out would hurt the larger fight.

But rather than focus on Mandela's righteousness (and our own massive failings, because apartheid in Sourth Africa was no different than segregation and Jim Crow here in the United States), what the Meet the Press crowd wants to do is talk about how unemotional Mandela was.

Sorry, Rick Stengel, Nelson Mandela was no puppet for your enjoyment. How much easier would it be to dismiss the angry radical than the calm, unblinking icon, challenging you silently to treat him as a lesser being? This whole notion of the "passive radical" that they desperately want to pigeonhole Mandela into dishonors his actual legacy:

Just as the church and Western culture created a mythology of Jesus as white, the Hollywood versions of my youth clearly established Jesus as passive, meek, exactly as Vilson characterizes one version of King—”no real threat to the establishment.”Many years later, I included the film Gandhi in a unit that explored Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, King (about whom all students know only “I Have a Dream”), and Malcolm X (a figure students had either never examined or had been taught he was a negative figure in history). That film portrayal of Gandhi perpetuated the passive radical myth in Gandhi through a British actor, able only to mask the whiteness but not abandon it entirely.

The life and work of activist and historian Howard Zinn has catalogued and confronted what ("The Color Purple" character) Nettie learns in Africa: Those in power who control the images and the narrative use those images and narratives to feed their privilege.

The passive radical myth allows the privileged in the U.S. to wield the mask of praise to hide their self-interests.

Rather than look at the evil that still lay within our bosom to keep Mandela on the terrorist lists as late as 2008, we console ourselves with the notion that Mandela exhibited no bitterness (though not one of them can attest to what he felt, only what he chose to show).

Way to miss the legacy of such a great man.

Can you help us out?

For nearly 20 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.