Some zealously conservative Americans despise Nelson Mandela. They believe his life is unworthy of celebration because he signed a bill permitting abortion, was a terrorist, was a communist, and took help from America’s enemies.
Can some of America’s revered leaders meet the standard of worthiness demanded of Mandela? Under the system of chattel slavery that existed under the watch of American icons George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, slave masters were permitted to force a pregnant slave to lie face down on the ground with her pregnant belly in a hole. Then, the master could beat her continuously, usually with a bullwhip, either as punishment or to instill fear in her.
Slave owners could cut out the baby from the woman’s womb and stomp it in front of other slaves, if they wished, for no better reason than to demonstrate their total power and control. Slaves were dehumanized, brutalized, and exploited to enrich the people who abused them. The only thing that could limit a master’s cruelty was his desire to extract further profit from a slave.
Millions of black Africans were dragged across the oceans by slave traders from Italy, America, Britain, and other countries. They were packed into crowded hulls like cord wood or bolts of cloth, and if half died, the voyage would still produce a profit. Yet, the leaders of nations who traded in this misery and who turned a blind eye to the carnage are honored to this very day.
Christopher Columbus and his son were pro slavery. They helped to advance the genocide in the West Indies. Why does Columbus, or even George Washington, have a holiday in America, if the litmus test applied to Mandela is valid?
If you can hold up George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and even Confederate General Robert E. Lee as positive examples of American leadership, and say because their greatness transcends their role in slavery, genocide and human degradation, these things should not be held against them by black Americans, who are you to condemn the honors being heaped on Nelson Mandela? Does not the role he played in helping to bring apartheid to an end and to prevent the genocide of the white South Africans who carried out a reign of terror against his nation and people merit the admiration he receives?
If Mandela is to be forever remembered as a terrorist or communist, then why not remember George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as terrorists and slave traders.
Washington and Jefferson were great men. We should not frame their history or their character only in terms of slavery, though we should also not forget it. I quote both of them when speaking on Constitutional principles of limited government, principles among the most enlightened the world had ever seen.
I often quote Thomas Jefferson in my advocacy of a National Right to Work Law: “A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
Jefferson and Washington were flawed, but still giants of history. So is Mandela. How strange to crucify and condemn him when, unlike Washington and Jefferson, he actually lived and preached racial reconciliation when it was needed most.
Ponder that before risking self-righteousness and hypocrisy by condemning Mandela.