His body isn’t even cold yet and the New York times has already put out a shameful article declaring Nelson Mandela to be an “icon of peaceful resistance”. News outlets around the Western world are hurrying to publish obituaries that celebrate his electoral victory while erasing the protracted and fierce guerrilla struggle that he and his party were forced to fight in order to make that victory possible. Don’t let racist, imperialist liberalism co-opt the legacy of another radical. Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist — all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it.
Don’t fucking let them.
Okay, also wrong.
1) Nelson Mandela WAS an icon of peaceful resistance, but not in the simplistic way the NYT article (and, I’m sure, many that will follow) believe he was. You see, when Mandela was arrested in 1962, he was, indeed, the leader of the ANC’s armed forces. That is not a fact that people should forget.
However, when he started negotiations with the apartheid regime in the late 1980s, South Africa was in the midst of what was basically an undeclared civil war. Violence was everywhere and often very unfocused; don’t think for one second that it was all between anti-apartheid fighters against people upholding the apartheid regime. The deaths/beatings/tortures/rapes were largely civilian-focused, and everyone was hurting everyone else (with white-on-white, black-on-black, black-on-Indian, Indian-on-coloured, coloured-on-black, so on and so forth). For an example, Google anything about “necklacing”.
It was b a d.
In order for the country not to collapse completely, someone needed to emerge as a leader who favored political negotiation and peaceful tactics over the violence that was ravaging the country, and Nelson Mandela, whose release had been advocated for over the past few years, found himself thrust into that position to the point that he started negotiating for the fall of apartheid from prison. He did what he needed to do because any more violence would have completely destroyed South Africa. He chose ending apartheid over saving face with the already-emerging anti-apartheid politicians, chose negotiating with the enemies that he hated over seeing more of his people die because of an ego or power trip or an extreme ideology (see: most of the leaders of both sides at this point). He chose making peace over expressing his anger, or (an even bigger issue now), his racial/ethnic affiliation. If he isn’t an “icon of peaceful resistance” for this, I don’t know who is.
2) “He and his party” Hahaha no. There were different parties and different voices and different races who fought together against the regime, not just the ANC. The ANC is one part of a MUCH LARGER MOVEMENT, one that included the people who would become the DA (the ANC’s biggest political rival), one that included not only the black Africans (mainly Zulu) that the ANC represents but also the Xhosa and the Tswana and the Sotho and the Coloureds and the Indians and The Black Sash and the Jews. IT WAS NOT JUST THE ANC.
Also, the ANC is actually largely why the country is so fucked up right now, because the party wants to keep power over actually doing anything good for its people (see: President Robert “Yes I raped that lesbian HIV-positive AIDS activist but I’m getting acquitted because I’m in power and I’m not HIV positive because I took a shower afterwards” Zuma; see: President Thabo “yeah I committed crimes against humanity but come on hear me talk more about how HIV isn’t a real thing and what all my people are dying of AIDS because I refuse to provide any knowledge or treatment LALALALA I can’t hear you LALALA” Mbeki)
3) “Don’t let racist, imperialist liberalism co-opt the legacy of another radical.” Don’t let your ignorant, imperialist liberalism co-opt the legacy of a man who is recognized as an amazing leader of a country and continent seriously lacking them. Don’t let your lack of knowledge of contemporary African politics let you think for one goddamn second that praising someone’s violence is a good thing. Don’t let your Western all-blacks-are-same ideology not recognize the true radicalism in his ideology, which is that ethnic groups should not matter and people should work together regardless.
4) “Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t.” Hahahaha take this, reverse it. He started violent and ended peaceful.
5) “For this, during his life they called him a terrorist,” Nope. They called him a terrorist because he fought against the apartheid regime, and the apartheid regime was allied with the West during the Cold War. He would have been a terrorist regardless of the amount of violence he actually used.
"and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist" Yep. Because he was (kind of) in the end. Although the Truth & Reconciliation Commission was totally Desmond Tutu’s brainchild, so don’t listen to anyone crediting him with that.
"All to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy," hopefully by now you realize that if you mean "revolutionary" to mean "violence is okey-dokey" you are full of shit. His revolutionary act was to be a Xhosa leading a largely Zulu resistance-cum-political party; his revolutionary act was to negotiate with a racial/ethnic enemy. His revolution rested in whom he dared to talk to, not whom he dared to hurt.
"and the lessons to be drawn from it." Yeah, the wrong lessons will be drawn from it, but not for the reasons you think. People will just think his thought process was "peace at any cost" instead of "w o w having a violent revolution was a super stupid idea because everyone is dying. Let’s take a different approach that doesn’t involve my wife directing her own band of assassins and me being imprisoned for almost 30 years that sounds grand".
An Actual Fucking (Half) South African
P.S. This is still super-simplified (I could literally spend hours explaining all the ins and outs of apartheid/the anti-apartheid movement/Mandela himself), but I think it does its job at least somewhat okay.
stripedbowtties asked: Hi, I was just reAding your defence against bad writing and I agree with it but I was just wondering what you meant by Mary Sue? You referred to it a few times. Thanks
The short answer: Mary Sue is the author’s idealized self-insert. (If you want to know alllll about Mary Sue, including the history and origins of the term, TV Tropes has your back. Also, if you aren’t careful, your mind and soul. Pack a lunch.) A Mary Sue story is one that primarily features a Mary Sue.
The slightly longer answer: That story you used to tell yourself, about the awesome girl who was totally pretty and everyone liked her and she maybe had magic powers and also like fifteen skills that you wished you did and also her hair never did that, you know, THAT THING your hair always does? And she was in your favorite fictional (or real person fictional) world, and all the characters or people that you loved the most loved her, and she married them or solved their problems or saved them or made them awesome food or held them when they cried? That story was a Mary Sue story, and that girl was a Mary Sue. Sometimes people write those stories down and post them. (AND THAT IS FINE.) Often the stories have limited appeal beyond the author and maybe her friends. (BUT THAT IS ALSO FINE.)
The “Sorry, you kind of touched a nerve” answer: While we can all identify our own Mary Sues, even if we’ve never written them down, people tend to spend a lot of time figuring out if other people have maybe written a Mary Sue, and checking every female character for potential Mary Sueism. In fandom times of old, the letters “OC” (original character) in a story header were a giant flag that meant Potential Bad Story Here, and the letters “OFC” (original female character) were translated as Guaranteed Bad Story Here. So people mostly stopped putting original female characters in their fan fiction.
But that couldn’t stop the inexorable progression of the Mary Sue Hunt. Canon female characters in fan fiction became the focus of intense scrutiny. Is this character being, perhaps, idealized? Is she better than she should be?
It was surprising how often she was better than she should be.
I mean, it’s one thing if we write John Sheppard being brilliant and solving a Millennium Problem while being extra super badass and a sharpshooter and extremely hot and having a troubled past and also he can play the piano and small children love him and he rides a horse. It’s one thing if we write Stiles as a badass motherfucker who can hack and do MMA and make small explosive devices and he saves everyone, and also it turns out he’s a surprisingly sexually skilled virgin, and also there’s this scene where he wears skintight leather and he has two boot knives. It is fine to write those things. (AND IT IS.) You could give Sheppard’s horse a telepathic soulbond with him and have Stiles elected president of universe (because he is awesome), and you’d still potentially have a significant and delighted readership. (WHICH IS ALSO FINE. Who doesn’t sometimes like a President Awesome with a Psychic Horse story? Give Sidney Crosby a psychic horse and you’ve got my click.) That’s just having fun and extrapolating from the canon. (Or, in the case of the telepathic soulbonding horse, it’s a crossover. From real actual published original fiction. And people call us strange.)
But if a female character does one of those things in fan fiction, she’s declared a potential Mary Sue. It’s out of character, it’s over the top, it’s wish fulfillment (as if there’s something wrong with wish fulfillment), it’s a self-insert. And that. That is less fine with me.
And the Mary Sue Problem is not limited to fan fiction. Turns out Mary Sues are also surprisingly prevalent in the canon itself! A tiny sample of the female characters I have heard described as Mary Sues:
- Hermione Granger
- Nyota Uhura
- Natasha Romanov
- Haruno Sakura
- Rose Tyler
- Bella Swann
- Katniss Everdeen
- Buffy Summers
Basically, think of any female character who gets more than eighteen lines, from any popular canon. Someone has called her a Mary Sue. Because she’s competent, because she’s smart, because she’s talented. Because she can do stuff, or because she tries to. Because she loves someone, or because someone loves her. Because she thinks she’s interesting. Because the author thinks we should care about her.
Mary Sue, in short, has become another way of dismissing female characters. Of telling women that we can’t be awesome. Of drawing the line between people who do (dudes) and people who are done to (ladies). Yet another entry in the long list of All the Unacceptable Female Characters. Yet another way of viciously scrutinizing every woman, real or imaginary, and either finding her excessively flawed (and therefore terrible) or excessively without flaw (and therefore terrible).
And also, of course, if the author of the Mary Sue story is a fan fiction writer, we make fun of her.
Which is why my actual definition of the term Mary Sue is: it’s a phrase that is useful for describing a certain common tendency in fan fiction that, taken to an extreme, is often pretty repetitive and uninteresting (but not, let me note, actually criminal or anything). Unfortunately, it has, over time, warped into a tool for knocking down ladies who write, and also other ladies, so I’m trying to learn not to use it any more. (But that is hard. Because see above about usefulness. Almost everyone has dreamed up at least one or two of these, and it’s so nice to have a name for them!)
ALL OF THIS.