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Power Lessons For Today's SJWs From Nelson Mandela

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

The captain of his own soul urges victims to liberate themselves first, and never stop fighting

Creative Commons 4.0 image from South Africa Gateway

We would fight inside as we had fought outside. The racism and repression were the same; I would simply have to fight on different terms - Nelson Mandela, Long Walk To Freedom

The South African white government considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist; he considered himself a freedom fighter. The African National Congress, formed in 1912 to unite black South Africans and fight for the freedoms they longed for under white oppression, took a more critical turn after the notorious segregation system known to the world as apartheid manifested in 1948 under the white supremacist National Party.

The ANC (originally the South African Native National Congress) wasn't conceived as a violent organization but it transformed after the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, at which 69 black Africans were killed and 180 injured when the police opened fire on 7,000 protesters at the police station. The police argued self defense, but some protestors were shot in the back as they fled.

Non-violence wasn't a principle for Mandela the way it was for Mahatma Ghandi. Mandela considered it a strategy, and noted it was only useful if your opposition plays by the same rules as the resistance. As the ANC and other groups' resistance met with consistent violent government response, Mandela noted nonviolence's ineffectiveness, and the Congress laid out the four types of violent protest: Sabotage, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and open revolution and discussed how to begin with sabotage, the least violent.

Reading Mandela's classic autobiography Long Walk To Freedom broke down for me the social justice warrior mandate into three parts:

First, liberate yourself.

Second, always fight no matter where you are.

And third, the most difficult lesson of all: Never fall into despair and hatred.


1. Liberate yourself first

What interested me about Mandela's story, in his own words, was how he'd been able to overcome the personal bigotry and hatred that so many others fighting a powerful, violent enemy have succumbed to. A few years ago I'd read the book the movie Invictus was based on. Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made A Nation detailed how Mandela learned to see the humanity of the white men who dictated his life for 28 years in prison, even the most brutal of the prison guards. He talked to them; he listened to them; he carefully and gently corrected their perceptions about Africans and the ANC and why it had turned to violence. He reminded me rather a lot of Darryl Davis, the black man who befriends Ku Klux Klansmen.

Mandela doesn't discuss that journey nearly as much as I'd hoped in Long Walk, but his observations on power, both personal and political, made up for it. They might seem like no-brainer silly platitudes--Liberate yourself and Don't despair? Really?--but they're the lessons we say we know, except we don't. We repeat them dutifully like obliging children, often with the sort of tonal twist to indicate Sorry I'm saying something everyone knows, perhaps prefaced with It goes without saying, but we don't mean them. We don't understand them. We don't apply them to ourselves.

The existential human crisis we're mired in after decades of neglecting our human connections and buying into the intensely patriarchal Every man for himself philosophy belies the lies we tell ourselves. It's always different when it's me.

Liberating one's self requires a constant stream of self-education, as most SJWs know, but also self-reflection, which many today don't. Mandela took education wherever he found it and praised rather than damned the religious-run schools for African children despite being morally rigid and colonialist in their attitudes. The government was unwilling to run decent schools for those at the bottom of the white-imposed strict racial South African hierarchy and he described them as "far more open than the racist principles underlying government schools."

Mandela read many books and held long debates with his comrades in the ANC and others. They engaged with the Communist Party, some of whose ideas they shared, a relationship which would come back to haunt them many times and subject them to the widespread perception (aided by government propaganda) that they were a Communist-led or infiltrated organization. Mandela valued the importance of engaging intellectually with others with whom he might not necessarily agree and this extended eventually to his greatest challenges in white-run prisons.

Still, the goals of the ANC remained, even after its turn to violence, for a free and equitable South Africa with no intention to 'drive the whites into the ocean,' a phrase he doesn't credit to an earlier source but sounds remarkably like an older Arab claim to 'drive the Jews into the sea'. Mandela continued reading and studying in prison, sometimes with permission and sometimes revoked when he 'caused trouble', which he did rather a lot by leading prison strikes and other forms of resistance for better conditions. He also describes ingenious ways for them to learn news of the outside world and spread it among other prisoners from forbidden newspapers utilizing many clever tactics.

Mandela challenged himself in a way SJWs don't often do today. An early story details himself and his pre-imprisonment comrades ignorantly cheering a black Sudanese leader commemorated in a Moroccan parade for shallow, superficial reasons rather than asking what the man had accomplished. They reacted out of nationalism and ethnicity, he realized, for a black man in a country with, at that time, few of them. "Later, our hosts informed us that Sudani had been a legendary soldier, and had even reputedly captured an entire French unit single-handedly. But we were cheering him because of his color, not his exploits."

Something for the antiracism set to think about the next time they cheer Colin Kaepernick, a good but not great quarterback whose greatest accomplishment was bending a knee during a song.

Twenty-eight years of prison time, most of it spent in brutal conditions, taught Mandela further resilience and gave him more time to study, read, think, and debate with his fellow political prisoners (often under their breath as they toiled in a quarry) to keep his mind nimble. When he debated, he hoped to change minds as everyone does, but always remembered, "It is easier to educate a man when he wants to learn."

2. Always fight oppression no matter where you are

When he was just a few feet from me, I said, as firmly as I could, "If you so much as lay a hand on me, I will take you to the highest court in the land and when I finish with you, you will be as poor as a church mouse."

Mandela's indomitable spirit bought him many bouts of solitary confinement, withholding of food and other punishments for 'causing trouble'. Political prisoners were separated from the criminal ones on Robben Island lest they 'contaminate' them with their political ideas. Oppression and maltreatment descended to a whole new level for African prisoners.

Mandela fought for more rights, and against new wardens who'd been brought in to 'tighten discipline'. He managed to get a few transferred out with his efforts. But he also strove to 'refuse to become my own jailer'. He recognized the importance of finding value in everything he did, whether it was doing a superb job of sweeping his cell or the hallway, or washing his clothes well. He spoke to his jailers and guards when permitted and he communicated with his fellow prisoners whether permitted or not. He strove to lift up the other prisoners, including the criminals, and it strengthened everyone. He fought for their rights and resisted special privileges if others couldn't share them.

It made him an even greater future leader.

3. Never allow yourself to hate and despair

"There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lay defeat and death."

Mandela drew a strong lesson from the ancient, classic Greek plays he read in prison: "...that character was measured by facing up to difficult situations and that a hero was a man who would not break even under the most trying circumstances."

He famously drew strength from the poem Invictus by the 19th-century British poet William Ernest Henley, particularly the last verse.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

Mandela never forgot that, and never shirked responsibility for himself. Today's SJW victimhood culture, which emerged from the '60s turn to identity politics, has ironically taken firm root in the United States, arguably the most privileged culture anywhere today. It's hard to imagine how today's so-called 'social justice warriors' would have survived the genuine, lifelong, day-to-day deeply institutionalized racism suffered by Mandela and his fellow Africans.

Complaining about 'microaggressions' is a sign of just how privileged one is.

Mandela's eventual reputation--even while still in prison--of being a uniter, of being someone 'whites could work with'--only came about because of his willingness to listen to people he didn't much agree with, and meet with them without calling them insulting names, however well deserved. If today's MAGAs are unwilling to listen to 'libtards' and paint them as evil, the equally identity-obsessed 'woke' are no different, apart from being willing to destroy their own if they don't hew to fanatical 'woke' dogma. The right intra-fights as well, but at the end of the day they come together to unite against their common enemy and they're far more effective at implementing their social engineering objectives than the left.

The left's 'self-education' consists of readings and consumption of sources from the woke's 'approved' list, frowning mightily on anyone who dares search outside that constipated lump, not unlike the days when the Catholic Church proscribed any book or scientific discovery that challenged its religious and political ideologies.

How many 'antiracists' today would be caught dead learning from a play by a dead white Western civilization-based Greek man?

Mandela fought against mental self-imprisonment, acknowledging that black Africans suffered from a psychological inferiority stemming from 300 years of white rule. The Black Consciousness movement advocated that blacks first liberate themselves from their own mental chains so they can rise up in confidence and liberate themselves. Those same chains exist for SJWs in every era, and they prohibit real social change. One might instruct them Physician, heal thyself, to quote Schrodinger's Jesus, a man reputed to have both died and lived (again).

I don't share the black experience but it bears many similarities to the female experience. Feminism has become as mired in victimhood and lack of resiliency as antiracism has in some quarters, seeded with self-infantilized yet dramatically privileged women wouldn't last ten minutes in downtown Kabul, before the return of the Taliban.

What if they held a culture war and nobody came?

What would happen if black people paid less attention to so-called 'white supremacy' unless genuinely confronted by it? Like, someone calling one the n-word or telling them to get the hell out of 'our' neighborhood, rather than hunting for 'microaggressions' and arguing that intent doesn't matter, but rather the black person's feelings, and why don't you just confront your own white supremacist privilege?

If that's 'white fragility', just try talking to a certain kind of 'antiracist' about all the white men killed by police under near-identical circumstances as black men, and point to problems within the African-American community the people themselves have to address, that can't be blamed on racism.

I am probably 'microaggressed' against by sexist men every time I go out, but I don't notice because I'm not paying attention. I don't look for it. The Patriarchy exists more strongly for and in some women than others, just as not every black person claims to be subjected to wall-to-wall perpetual racism. When you don't sweat the small stuff, you take its power the way you take an angry person's power when they insult you and you respond calmly and non-combatively. Sonofabitch, that wasn't what they wanted you to do!

If we don't notice a biologically-based bigotry has occurred, are we oppressed?

The intended victim isn't. At the very least, our day isn't ruined.

Mandela's most impressive virtue was his resiliency, germinated in his pre-prison resistance struggle and refined and polished for the next twenty-eight. Resilience poses a particular challenge for modern social justice warriors who haven't grown up in the same oppressive circumstances as did black South Africans under apartheid. I see little of it in today's SJWs, who overreact to perceived and unintended slights and catastrophize them, who prefer to fight a ten-year-old 'racist' joke they found on Twitter rather than look inward and ask how black people or others are holding themselves back.

I call out that lack of resilience in today's antiracists living in a racist world because I'm a woman living in a patriarchal world. I see my own and feminists' lack of resilience, especially those who self-infantilize with chronic victimhood. It's easier to blame 'patriarchy' (or white supremacy) than to acknowledge how much one gives each its power, rather than asking when to turn the blaming finger upon one's self.

What can I do differently? How can I act more powerfully? How can I push myself more?

I dare to ask myself these questions daily. I dare you to do the same.

Did you like this post? Would you like to see more? I lean left of center, but not so far over my brains fall out. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter Grow Some Labia so you never miss a post!




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