Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nelson Mandela and Black Power, Guest Columnist, St. Louis American

Eric E. Vickers
"Painfully, Nelson Mandela’s passing points to why the long march of black Americans for equality – from which he drew inspiration – has languished for two decades: leaders with limits to sacrifice.
Perhaps nothing symbolizes this more than the national president of the NAACP’s recent announcement that he will leave the post because he wants to spend more time with his family. Although understandable, imagine what the world would be like if Mandela had put his family before the cause of his people.

Arguably, we are in a different time and era, when self-sacrifice of the magnitude of a Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X is unnecessary. Arguably, blacks achieving the electoral power sufficient to enable a black president substitutes for such sacrifice being necessary to elevate African Americans to a state of equality with white Americans.
The argument, however, seems to fall flat on its face when examining the atrocious disparity between the condition of black Americans and white Americans. By every statistical index and measurement of the quality of life – including physical security, income and wealth – black Americans rank so intractably lower than whites that in reality an invisible apartheid exists. It is no less an injustice to people that they are trapped at the bottom of society than that they are assigned to it.
Nationally and locally, African Americans are entrapped in inferior schools, chronic joblessness and an environment of violence. This would be more visible if we were to put up signs on the school districts that are accredited (“whites only”), on the reports of unemployment rates below 7 percent (“whites only”) and on the highway billboards heading out of our crime ridden cities (“whites only”).
The success of some blacks in being able to navigate and escape this entrapment should not blind us to the injustice, just as being able to reach the echelon of an attorney did not blind Mandela to the plight of his people.
Time has graciously allowed those whites who fought tooth and nail against this country imposing sanctions on the apartheid regime that imprisoned Mandela to acclaim him as a heroic and magnanimous leader. The man they love now is the one they branded a terrorist because he wanted and fought for power for his people. Mandela understood that power brought to a people not just tangible control and influence over the apparatus of government, but also an intangible sense of pride and dignity.
I thought about this kind of power recently in viewing the Missouri History Museum’s The 1968 Exhibit. Through poignant historical illustrations, the exhibit shows that King’s assassination in April 1968 spelled the end of the Civil Rights Movement and the arrival of the Black Power Movement, as starkly reflected in the iconic photo of the two black American athletes with black fisted gloves defiantly raised during the October Olympics, and the R&B song topping the charts that year: “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
When black power burst upon the national scene in 1968, Mandela was just four years into a life sentence at Robben Island, while blacks in the city known for Dred Scott – infused with a sense of black nationalism - elected Missouri’s first black congressman. When Mandela triumphantly emerged from jail 22 years later in February 1990, all the leaders of the Black Power Movement were gone, their leadership decimated and replaced by blacks in elected and corporate positions and throw-back civil rights leaders.
In the 23 years since, the man who sacrificed everything has seen his downtrodden people arise, while black leaders, who have sacrificed nothing greater than a position, have witnessed their people languish." Courtesy of St. Louis American,

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