I wrote this for the Urban News.The great Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95. His death should cause reflection and celebration: Nelson Mandela was, simply, a great man.
In our culture we like to simplify and homogenize our icons. George Washington never told a lie; “Honest Abe” Lincoln studied by candlelight in a log cabin; Ronald Reagan, according to some of his idolizers, never did anything wrong (despite supporting apartheid while he was president). We like to sanitize our heroes.
We don’t need to sanitize Nelson Mandela: he was a human being just like you and me. Human beings are complex; they make mistakes. Many conservatives like to point out that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, and indeed, Nelson Mandela did turn to violence. He also embraced anyone and anything that could help fund his struggling ANC (African National Congress)—including Fidel Castro and socialism, as he looked for answers to end his nation’s oppression.
Does this diminish Nelson Mandela? I don’t think so. I think it makes his image richer. Nelson Mandela liberated a nation, freed a people from generations of oppression, brought down a regime based on racial separation. Not only did he do so without a violent revolution; he did so without demonizing the white minority, but by reconciling with them. Nelson Mandela embraced his former oppressors—and the world is a better place for his life and example. (Egberto Willies, over at DKos, said just about the same thing.) (more…)