Nelson Mandela’s birthday, July 18th, is also recognized as Nelson Mandela International Day. Although each year, the day is celebrated with Google displaying Mandela inspired artwork and a couple news segments showing flashbacks of Mandela’s achievement, this year, I think we need to go a little deeper.
For those that are somehow unfamiliar with him, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, philanthropist, and the first black president of South Africa. As a young activist, Mandela preached about using nonviolence as the key method in fighting the system. These efforts resulted in him being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Because of this, he was often called the “Gandhi” of South Africa. But unlike Gandhi, who only believed in nonviolence and truth, Mandela realized that violence may just be necessary when there is no other way to fight a bigger evil. However, that is not the issue here. Unfortunately, despite the many efforts of Nelson Mandela and activists akin to him, we still have a long way to go to achieve racial equality.
Apartheid may have ended in South Africa, and segregation ended in the United States, but that is on paper only. With polarity increasing in political ideals globally, the area that has seen the most racial segregation are academic institutions. A recent study found that South African universities are still segregated and the black population is demanding better education and classroom conditions.
Before calling out and condemning another nation for their unfair treatment of an entire race, we must look into our own backyard first: while Americans like to boast about the US being a leader in freedom and human rights, how much freedom do we have if our school districts are only now being forced to desegregate? Yes, as recently as May of last year, a school district in Mississippi was ordered to end segregation in the school since the district had not done anything despite various efforts over the past FIFTEEN YEARS.
These American children were robbed of the chance to learn side by side their white peers and receive the same quality education because they were born with more melanin in their skin. This is exactly what Nelson Mandela devoted his entire life to keep from happening.
Nelson Mandela said, “It is easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.” We cannot honor Mandela and talk about his work while simultaneously electing people in power who contradict everything he stood for. In fact, there is no bigger insult.
We don’t need inspiring artworks or half an hour primetime coverage going over Nelson Mandela’s life. Those are thoughtful, but empty acts that lack change. What we do need is to ask ourselves why we are still facing issues that so many politicians and activists spent decades trying to fix. And although the easy answer is that we face these issues because bigots love to maintain a system that benefits them by denying that these issues even exist, we need to find a way to change the status quo by reaching out to the humanity of those who consider equality a repugnant notion. We need to show opponents of equality that if they truly want this nation to succeed then they should be okay with getting a slightly lesser amount of pie; what we have right now is a group of people refusing to believe that racism and racial inequalities exist in the first place, all while perpetuating a segregated society.
Although I am heartbroken that these are problems that still plague the world and our nation, I am hopeful that a change in possible. If it took Nelson Mandela over 50 years of struggle to rid South Africa of apartheid, then certainly it is possible to improve race relations in this country, even if it's one small step at a time.