(Message to a High School Kid Who
Never Heard of a Winnie)
Now that the Nelson Mandela hype is over, your young brain cells most likely forgot all about the significance of both his transition (we don't die, we change form) and his legacy. Your school teacher or college professor might have added him to their lesson plan, what with all the media attention on the 90yrld global icon. The same media who once considered him a terrorist for speaking against the mistreatment of Black South Africans; as in, I invade your home, call it mine and implement a system where you need a pass to get to one room to another and back just to keep the house that's no longer yours expendable, and then have you locked up or murdered if you got a problem with that.
If you're fortunate enough to be in a classroom that pushes education/inspiration rather than indoctrination/subjugation, a productive discussion on what Apartheid was about and what Mandela's legacy means to people of African descent, to the world at large and to you specifically, then you know what it means to be informed and empowered. Because the more you know about your collective and individual self, the closer you are to finding your own purpose. But with social consciousness comes social responsibility. And what made Baba (father) Mandela so special to all of us is the fact that after being unjustly imprisoned for so many years then released due to tremendous global pressure and consequently the end of Apartheid, the man made the decision to not retaliate; to not signal a go for a major racial war against those who understandably deserved to be punished for their role in the terrorizing of Black people in their own land. While this form of ultimate courage is admirable or simply strategic, since the objective was to advance Black people and a country divided. Zulus wanted to see blood, if not the total removal of European control. As in, This is our nation. It was always ours until you stole it from us and therefore all of our resources ought to be controlled by us. You didn’t have to explain this to a Black kid in Brooklyn. He didn’t have to study Apartheid to experience it. Grace has a way of turning itself into a hand that crosses an ocean if only to reach his brother in struggle.
Some of us think she went too far with her bull horn. Some of us think Nelson was soft for coming out of prison pushing Can't we all get along?
The thing about grace is that it doesn't get the kind of attention a ratchet reality show does. Humility is quiet that way and yet loud if you stop to notice it. Somewhere in the Mandela hype was his ex-wife/assumed 'terrorist 2' Winnie Mandela. Some of us think she went too far with her bull horn. Some of us think Nelson was soft for coming out of prison pushing Can't we all get along? But pushing a racial riot and getting nothing out of it in the end but more bloodshed isn't being hard. More of the throwing of stones onto burning bullets from children's hands might be an amazing story to re-tell, but at this point of the book, no longer effective. And Winnie staying by her ex-husband's new wife to help her stand as the current sitting wife wasn't being soft nor was it a photo opp to help change the minds of her doubters. Takes a certain amount of class to show grace in the face of your haters; takes spiritual enlightenment to turn a dis into an honor. This is why Winnie can smile today after years of terrorism pushed on her and her children during the earlier days when the shackles of Apartheid showed no signs of letting go.
Fast forward to today as we pause to honor the legacy of MLK not only for what he's done for Black folk in America, but for all oppressed peoples and particularly those of us living in poverty. To consider the Civil Rights Movement only a Black thing is to ignore all the good folk from other skin hues and other nationalities who helped make the Movement move, so when we take offense at the latest groups looking to get their movement moving by adding MLK to their feet we forget that the child being neglected by his mother is part of civil rights; the vet who needs a job is civil rights, the homosexual athlete who got pushed off his team is civil rights, the Rasta wanting to be left alone so he can do his thing is civil rights, the elderly man who's being evicted from his home and needs back up he don't have is civil rights, the transgender woman not being able to find an apartment is civil rights, the 16yrld Latina who got kicked out of her home for having a Black baby is civil rights, our sons who have to tolerate police terrorism on a daily basis is civil rights.
Bro. Malcolm would say human rights because each person has the right to basic and decent civility. The new generation might place more attention on cash n flash than on social consciousness, but my generation helped create that by dropping the ball. I’m saying we dropped the ball, yes. We gave our children the message that money means power when the medicine we should’ve used instead was money pays bills but knowing your history and honoring your culture is power, individually and collectively. And although they had seen old photos of their grandparents wearing wigs and sporting conks in order to make White society feel less threatened by our natural, we neglected to teach them that hair weaves and texturizers are just another form of the same psychosis.
Tomorrow, your teachers won't mention Nelson Mandela. Your parents won't continue discussing his role in the on-going holocaust of African peoples. That's if they even brought him up. And your favorite stores will move on to the next hype— Valentine's Day. Like the soda bottle on a factory belt, you'll wait to be told what flavor you should be/what label to put on, while the movement waits for you to move. These are complicated times and having grace is necessary for the conscious to navigate murky waters. Otherwise, there's nothing to teach, nothing to leave behind but she said/he said and stay tuned for more nothing.