Friday, December 06, 2013

Friday Night Videos: Mandela edition

Nelson Mandela died yesterday at the age of 95. As I've said elsewhere, I shed no tears for Mandela's passing, because how can one be sad for a life so well-lived?

Although I've lived my life 9,000 miles away from South Africa, Mandela has been a major public figure my entire adult life. When I first arrived at Texas A&M as a callow youth the fall of 1988, I didn't know anything about Apartheid, had never witnessed the chronic, overt racism that blighted our own country even during the years of my childhood. I was sheltered, yes, but also naive and unobservant. During most of my college years, I maintained this blissful ignorance: during my years at A&M, the student body elected its first black student body president in Stephen Ruth as well as the first black Yell Leader in Ronnie McDonald.

But I did witness something that sticks with me to this day. Between the Academic and Harrington buildings on campus, the student group "Aggies Against Apartheid" had secured a demonstration permit from the university and erected an "apartheid shack." The tumble-down structure was painted with slogans against the oppressive South African government. About once a week the shack was destroyed by vandals at night, only to be rebuilt a few days later. While nobody ever spoke openly in favor of apartheid, there were always plenty of students--sometimes from the Corps of Cadets, sometimes from fraternities, sometimes unaffiliated with any organized group--decrying the shack in the pages of the Battalion as an "eyesore" that deserved to be destroyed and removed. This battle went on throughout most of 1989, culminating with the ruins of the destroyed shack lying untouched and un-rebuilt for the better part of a semester, the debris taken away only after South Africa's apartheid laws were officially repealed in 1990. That give and take opened my eyes for the first time to the hypocrisy of some people intent on making a political statement, yet at the same time disavowing any negative consequences their stance might provoke (in this case, being rightly branded as a bigot). Seeing some of the venomous attacks against Mandela from right wingers today, I have to wonder about those who destroyed the apartheid shack back in the day. Did they truly believe their actions were not racist? Did they somehow convince themselves their opposition to those protesting apartheid did not constitute support for a violent, oppressive, racist regime? When justification of bitter resentment toward "the other" has to constantly be prefaced with, "I'm not racist, but..." maybe self-delusion and denial has taken root far more deeply than that person is willing to admit. What they really mean is, "I'm not racist, but I wish apartheid was still in effect because it really put blacks in their place." "I'm not racist, but things were so much better under Jim Crow." "I'm not racist, but slavery was da bomb."

The international community didn't just decide one day to pressure South Africa into scrapping its evil divided state. A grassroots movement, arising from college campuses across the U.S. and the world drew attention to the problem. Drew attention to Stephen Biko's death and Mandela's political imprisonment. Artists and governments followed. Corporations pulled out of South Africa--slowly and reluctantly to be sure--but the stigma grew too great. Determined, persistent youth effected change in the world, leading to the end of apartheid and the release of Mandela from prison in 1990. That was a good thing, and regardless of the strife South Africa is going through these days, the world remains a better place for it.

Anyway, enough pontificating. Here's Little Steven Van Zant and Artists United Against Apartheid with "Sun City."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Lindsey Buckingham.

Now Playing: Derek and the Dominoes The Layla Sessions
Chicken Ranch Central

No comments:

Post a Comment