by Richard Anderson
In the space of 15 years, I voted for two Black presidents: Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.
My vote for Mandela was predicated on a history of personal oppression and hatred of apartheid and those who promulgated it. For me, Mandela represented a move from hatred to hope.
Fourteen years later, I voted for Barack Obama because his candidacy represented a personal vision of America I had always carried. This vision was not always vindicated by my experiences in the “land of the free.”
In many respects, being Black in America was not much different than being Black in South Africa. But I still hoped that this was the country where anything was possible.
In a very short time, this hope has been transformed into hatred. Not on my part, but hatred as represented by the faux protests, barbed commentary and stiff-necked opposition to every initiative of the current administration.
Mandela and Obama are both lawyers by profession, though the routes they took were very different. Mandela took up arms for the freedom of his country, and was jailed for 27 years. Obama took to the streets of Chicago as a community organizer, which eventually led him to the White House.
In 1994, South Africa had emerged from a struggle against apartheid to hold the first multiracial elections. Mandela, himself long a symbol of the struggle, was heir apparent to the political throne. I voted for Mandela filled with hatred for the apartheid system.
This legalized oppression was supported by the Reagan administration with the policy of Constructive Engagement with the apartheid regime. Yet, despite the lack of support of the U.S. government for the struggle for freedom in South Africa, I voted for the first time in my life at the age of 34. I was finally given my rightful status of a fully functioning, adult human being. It still is one of the most empowering feelings I have ever felt.
In 1998 however, I left South Africa for the U.S., disillusioned and disappointed at the bleak outlook for the future of ordinary South African citizens. A new Black political elite class had been created, but ordinary men and women saw their circumstances unchanged.
I became a U.S. citizen in October 2007. When Election Day 2008 arrived, I was first in line at a local middle school to vote for Obama and the Democrats. Mandela and the ANC won their election with 64 percent of the vote. Obama and the Democrats took the White House with approximately 53 percent of the vote.
Now, almost a year later, the obstructionist policies of the GOP, and the rise of veiled and open hatred of Obama and other people of color expressed by largely White voters on the right, leave me wondering if there is a solution.
The cry of “Victim!” by talking heads on the right is perplexing. These are the same people who advocated in previous years that African-Americans and Latinos should not complain, but “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” The silence to any racial or social injustice before this year has been deafening.
I have come to the conclusion that Obama did not win the first round of this battle entirely on his own. We all stand on the shoulders of the giants and ordinary folk alike who came before us, and those that now stand among us. So bring on the gloves—I’m taking a stand and going into the ring for this one. Join me—if you dare!
(Richard Andrews, who emigrated to the United States from South Africa in 1998, is a doctoral student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.)
(Reprinted from the St. Louis American.)