The long walk to freedom has only begun

Ben DeVore, Web Editor

“If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care for human beings.”

 It may surprise you to know who said this quote, especially that it was the same person who also said the often quoted, “Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” He even said “If people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” These quotes may be more recognizable than the one above, they have been quoted everywhere from Facebook statuses to major news articles since the death of Nelson Mandela.

Like many complicated topics, this man’s words have been carefully selected to portray a single image that, while inspiring, is neither accurate nor believable. Nelson Mandela was a man who, while passionate about the idea of peace and equality, was not unwilling to fight for his ideas. His memory should be represented beyond the Hallmark card style caricature that our country’s mainstream media has chosen to present.

 When remembering Mandela’s words and his lifelong fight against South Africa’s apartheid, we as a country can forget how personal to Americans the issue of racial separation is. Our own history of segregation is not only overlooked, but our present racial divides are masked by denial. This shows that it is easier and more comfortable for us to judge, solve, and reflect on other countries’ problems rather than our own, letting the present issue of U.S. racism fall through the cracks. Our own history of civil rights is thought of only as distant and resolved history.

 While the South African Apartheid was long and awful, lasting from 1948-1994, or 46 years, our own Black Codes and later Jim Crow laws lasted well over twice as long, 1865-1967 or 102 years. As a nation, we have lived much longer with segregation laws than without. This huge difference in legalized segregation between America and South Africa doesn’t change the pain and suffering birthed from these eras. It does show the depth of ignorance that Americans show by putting this era of institutionalized racism in the past or thinking that the issues have been solved.

Black South Africans outnumbered their colonizing leaders not in only number, but in depth of history. South Africa was their homeland. With hundreds of years of culture built around their freedom and self leadership, those 46 years of apartheid, while seeming infinite at the time, is a period of darkness in light of their long history. The ending of apartheid was a matter of returning to the culture and leadership of times before the reign of whites, a time that some still remembered.

In America, however, there was no time before the oppression of blacks. Slavery was intended to erase all memories of self-rule. Because America was mostly a white dominated country and African Americans were brought here against their will, there was little to no black history in the U.S. before their oppression. In South Africa the ending of apartheid meant returning to the past. In America ending legal segregation, because of the lack of an integrated country beforehand, created an entirely new nation.

 South Africa’s apartheid ended with the presidency of Nelson Mandela, the first black president. The immediate return to leadership of black Africans began the healing of the nation. The ending of apartheid was not only a law, but was directly visible in the leadership of the country. In America, however, the ending of segregation was merely law. Segregation, oppression, and economic structures that mimicked slavery emerged directly afterward. While changes have occurred, they have been slow and small, with Obama becoming the first black president 41 years after the ending of Jim Crow.

 We must also realize as we celebrate Mandela’s life that his fight is neither won nor over. It is hypocritical to celebrate Mandela and the ending of apartheid without examining the racist history of our own country – a history that continues to influence us today.

Racism and segregation continue today in forms that, while less recognizable, are just as harmful to us all. From daily racial profiling of young black men like Trayvon Martin, to the war on drugs which incarcerated large numbers of black teens often for small amounts of marijuana, you only have to turn on the news or look around your daily life to notice the injustices continuing in a time some people consider ‘post racial.’

 In some cases this new ‘hidden’ racism can be more harmful than any ‘white only’ signs or legal segregation that occurred under Jim Crow. In other words, it can be worse to recognize racism as evil and deny it is happening, as is the case today, than to recognize racism is happening and deny that it is evil, which was the case in Jim Crow America.

 Nelson Mandela’s actions and words will live on. In order to celebrate his memory in a way he would be proud of we must remember his message beyond inspirational Facebook memes and recognize that they represent a movement that is neither won nor over. Our nation’s mainstream media has simplified his words, ignoring parts that are important for us to examine and apply to our own country. To celebrate Mandela’s life and death we must continue his fight for equality and understand that racism will never end while we continue to accept it.