Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mandela's Embrace by the Mainstream

      The recent passing of Mr. Nelson Mandela and the outpouring of public support while touching and without doubt well deserved left me with very mixed emotions.  As one who was able to see the righteousness in his cause from the outset -  the  mainstream's recognition of the legitimacy of his struggle and the justness of his cause raises a question in my mind that the greatest impediment to positive social change may be the mainstream itself.  When I graduated from Montreal's McGill University in 1986 and found my way to Toronto publications like the Toronto Sun were running articles where Mr. Mandela was openly referred to as a terrorist.  Later when I went on to law school at the University of Windsor I had countless heated discussions where some fellow students echoed similar sentiments about Mr. Mandela.  Indeed, the U.S.A. had Mr. Mandela on a terrorist watch list as late as 1998 or so.

     Of course - my faith in the mainstream is shaken even more when I consider that it was not very long ago that African-Americans in the United States of America were involved in there own struggle over  laws which deprived them of the right to vote and legal equality generally.  In that struggle - as in Mr. Mandela's struggle - there was one man who stood courageously and denounced those morally bankrupt laws - Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  He too was imprisoned - albeit not to the extent that Mr. Mandela was.

     If we are to use the two above-referenced historical experiences as a gauge - they tend to reveal that both the Canadian and American mainstream (and others) suffer from a condition akin to that provided for in the insanity defence in criminal law.  The insanity defence in criminal law provides that  one who is suffering from a disease of the mind and can not appreciate the nature and quality of there actions is not criminally responsible for their conduct.  These two historical events show that the mainstream clearly appeared to be incapable of appreciating the moral  bankruptcy of both Jim Crow and Apartheid at the outset like myself and others.  In both instances it was not until after years and years of senseless killing and untold human suffering that they embraced both struggles and leaders as legitimate and heroic.  Why?  It is my sense that shame, embarrassment and what the social psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance had more to do with this embrace than anything else.