A great man, an even greater hypocrisy (part 2)

This is the second part of Rock Hackshaw's three-part column reflecting on the passing of Nelson Mandela.

If you haven’t read part one of this three-parter then I suggest you do so. These columns are being written in response to what I see as the media hypocrisy surrounding Nelson Mandela’s death: there is a context and there are specific themes.  

The feedback on part one has been overwhelming. In that regard, let me just say this: often times, one man’s hero is another man’s villain. It’s usually all about perceptions and acceptance. Anyway, I am moving on now; we will all have time for analysis at another point.  

In this country media is called the fourth-estate. It is placed just below the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judiciary) on the totem pole of power and legitimacy. It plays an important and necessary role in the socio/politico/economic flow. It can hardly be isolated, extricated or excluded from our basic economic, educational and cultural needs. It aids in the socialization process, politicization procedures, overall information dissemination, system-maintenance, basic survival, and so on and so on. Its input is invaluable relative to the upkeep of law, order and the   equilibrium society generally maintains. Not only is it pervasive, it’s also indispensable. Media’s impact on all of us is immeasurable. Let’s don’t ever let that get twisted.

Mainstream media (MM), along with all the fresh alternatives -including   “social media”- just happen to inform our everyday attitudes, actions, decisions, behaviors, beliefs, et al. With the advent of the internet -undoubtedly one of human’s greatest inventions- it is easy to understand why some are saying this is the most informed age of human history. The access that ordinary humans now have relative to information flow is phenomenal and astonishing.   

When military dictators come to power, the first institution they go after is the “free press”. In general, despots hate having the media scrutinize their every move; especially when some of these moves just happen to be blatantly immoral. 

There is a saying akin to this: bad stuff happens -and flourishes- when good people stay silent and/or do nothing. The “good people” who are the gatekeepers of MM perceptibly become the biggest culprits in this abdication -or dereliction- of formal social responsibility and duty. There is no doubt that these gatekeepers often protect and enable the “status-quo” no matter how horrible the situation(s).  That’s exactly what was done during Nelson Mandela’s time in prison. 

There was a period during the peak of South Africa’s apartheid system where one could be jailed for simply exposing a picture of Nelson Mandela in public: likewise if you publicly uttered his name. It was a concerted attempt to literally make him a member of the living dead. This tactic failed only because blacks took Mandela’s heroism into the vibrant underground resistance movement. In this regard MM was of little comfort and support, bar a minuscule number of courageous editors, from differing races, ethnicities, nationalities and religions. 

If we (re)examine the role MM played in the suffering(s) of Nelson Mandela, we emerge with a far different picture from the glossy one being painted now that he has died. That’s part of the hypocrisy of which I now write. 

Back in the 1960s, MM of that era, overwhelmingly portrayed Mandela as a communist, or socialist, or terrorist, or Marxist-Leninist, or lawbreaker, or assassin, or traitor, or anarchist, or whatever negative connotation they could indiscriminately select to describe him.  These pervasively negative portrayals had the cumulative effect of preventing the entrée of invaluable material support needed by Mandela and the ANC, from people all over the world. The apartheid system of SA could have been destroyed much earlier than it was. 

Can we ever calculate the number of human lives which could have been saved, if MM had done the right thing from Jump Street? Can we ever reverse the unnecessary carnage, bloodshed and pain caused by those who tried to defend a system that was morally indefensible from Day One? This is what I meant when I said in my first column that too many folks aren’t made to pay prices for their political/social action or inactions. They make horrible everyday decisions with impunity.    

It took decades for committed people to break media’s stranglehold on Mandela’s image. It took a vibrant and committed international movement to free Mandela and defeat apartheid. It was the largest mass mobilization in support of a convicted felon/symbol since Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  

In the history of man no one of Mandela’s race has ever enjoyed this kind of success; and all this came about because the movement skillfully and tactically employed near all the tools, vehicles and instruments of public communication for the cause célèbre. 

In January 1980 -as a freshman at Columbia University in New York City- I joined an organization called “The Coalition for A free South Africa”. I guess it was mainly because of my visible passion, that I was quickly elevated to membership on the steering committee. I spent about five years there, totally committed to the anti-apartheid struggle; of which I was aware since I was a mere child growing up in the republic of Trinidad and Tobago.  

One of our goals at CU was to convince the board of trustees to divest (billions of dollars) from companies doing any type of business with the South African government. We often staged protest rallies on campus only to be heckled and tormented by pro-apartheid supporters (overwhelmingly white), who often tried their utmost to disrupt our events. There were times when it came down to pushing and shoving, fisticuffs, and the eventual intervention of campus security or police officers from nearby precincts.  

Early in 1985, we seized a building and staged a lockout. By then the anti-apartheid movement had grown exponentially all over this country; especially on university campuses. Later that year the CU trustees divested. Eventually the government of NYC did likewise.

By 1986 Congress had enacted tough sanctions against the South African government. Resolutions demanding Mandela’s release from prison started springing up at all three levels (federal, state, city/local) of government. Private sector support was slow in coming around but it eventually got there. Eventually the immense international pressure was too much for the illegal and immoral government of SA. 

How could that government claim legitimacy when they excluded blacks from participating in the elections? After all, blacks only made up more than eighty percent of the SA’s population then. How could The USA and Israel -given their respective geneses- ever support such a travesty? Plus, upon all that, also willingly assists in helping this regime develop nuclear weapons too. 

In retrospect, it is very difficult to understand; given that most of our republican elected officials love to pontificate about the USA’s “exemplary-nation” status; and how great a democratic system we have here. You know what I am writing about:”we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal...and endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights, etcetera….”

And yet, today in the good old US of A (United States of Amnesia) we can see elected republicans all over this country (overwhelmingly  Caucasians) attempting to pass laws which would frustrate, intimidate, antagonize and marginalize non-white voters  in this so-called democracy of ours.   

The point I wanted to make about the push back we encountered in our anti-apartheid struggles at Columbia University is this: reactionaries and racists still abound. Do you really think that all those whites who refused to sell shoes to black men (“loose shoes”) have died off and are as extinct as dinosaurs? And those southern white supremacists from yesteryear didn’t leave offspring just as vicious and venomous?  

 At the United Nations, the USA was very late boarding the anti-apartheid train. It wasn’t until governments from all over the globe started to vehemently condemn the racist South African system -by direct and indirect everyday actions- that the USA reluctantly came aboard. All this eventually led to the apartheid regime being ostracized more and more; day after day, after day. So the USA got aboard when the writing was on the wall, and when it was realized by near everyone that it was only a matter of time before the system inevitable fall. Look; as I said before, there were many reasons for US tardiness.   

Let me give it to you straight and with no chaser: apartheid still exists today in many subtle and not too subtle forms all over the world. And this is one of many international issues that MM in this country -and similarly in the world at large- refuses to focus on. This is what they refuse to elucidate, illuminate, expound or expose. This is what they refuse to verify, magnify, clarify or edify. It’s a damn shame since lives are lost every day because of this refusal. In the keynote speech he gave at Nelson Mandela’s funeral ceremony, President Barack Obama essentially said that on every single day of the year, racism hands out millions of cuts and stings. It was a simple yet profound remark, within a brilliant speech from a gifted orator.   

Universally, this is a very painful reality for dark skinned people. The darker you are, the higher the prices you pay in your sufferings. Racism’s octopussian tentacles can be found in every single aspect of human endeavor.  

For the most part MM projects a narrative of racism being transcended with the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency. Truth be told: the election of this half-black and half-white male has changed very little in terms of race relations here or abroad. Sure enough his election has had incalculable symbolic value -especially for teachers all over the USA- however, the hope and change many expected along race-lines is nowhere in sight. Let me repeat: the darker your skin, the more racism you encounter on every single continent.

After Nelson Mandela’s ascendancy to heading up the South African government, the media narrative then also suggested that racism and de-facto apartheid were being transcended. Analysis would suggest that these narratives were foisted on an unsuspecting audience because “white skinned privilege” is heavily invested in racism; and also because Caucasians overwhelmingly control mainstream media. 

Thousands of outrageously racist acts take place on an everyday in this country and all over the world at large. Most people never hear about them. Occasionally something sensational will get to the front burner of MM; but as I said in part one: the perennial “loose shoes” anecdotes that are part and parcel of everyday life for black folks are hardly ever exposed. And, furthermore, let me suggest here that most whites don’t want to know about them since it would lead to cognitive-dissonance.     

Recently, in the Dominican Republic, the Supreme Court has ruled that children born of Haitian emigrants cannot automatically become citizens of that Caribbean nation. I have been informed that it only applies to Negroes. I have also been informed -veracity not ascertained as yet- that if you were a mulatto, octoroon or quadroon, it doesn’t affect you; primarily if the white side of you are clearly discernible.  

Granted there has been minimal public outcry to this ruling, research will show that there are quite a few countries in the world where the same thing occurs. In many European countries the backlash against immigrants has been astounding. And once you dig deeper into the situations you will find that non-whites are usually the targets.   

Back in the day, the US government openly supported a racist dictator named Trujillo, in the said Dominican Republic. He was the dictator who ruthlessly annihilated thousand of black Haitian immigrants, for no other reason than their skin color. Trujillo planted the seeds of today’s inhumane policy there.    

In a French beauty pageant recently, a young woman whose parents were born in Benin, was crowned Miss France 2014. This led to over a million negative tweets there. Based on her looks she is obviously mixed, with ostensibly both Negro and Caucasian blood (somewhat like Barack Obama I guess). The tweets kept referring to her as a nigger. They were outrageously hideous in tone and content; some were vulgar, humiliating, ugly and insulting; but this wasn’t the first time for France. Back in 2000 when the first non-white Miss France was selected, there were thousands of negative letters sent to the young woman of Rwandan heritage. In many of these letters human excrement was discovered. 

Do I have to write about the way European Caucasians treated the aborigines they met in Australia and New Zealand? Or about the impact of Europeans on the civilizations they encountered in the Americas (North, Central and South). In near all cases the indigenous people were callously depopulated. One West Indian historian said that this was done with “callous brutality and wanton rapacity” in the Caribbean.   

Often, when I lecture at various universities, young starry-eyed students tend to request a chronology of this “racism” thing and from whence it started. There are no easy answers. First of all you have to distinguish amongst races. Then you have to filter in the fact that throughout history racism has had various shapes, forms and disguises. It also has lots of kinfolk. 

I will try to tackle some of this in my last column of this series. I will also discuss some of Mandela’s shortcomings in his post-incarceration phase; plus the opportunities we activists missed inside and outside mainstream media.

Stay tuned-in folks.