I’m pretty sure innumerable other bloggers have written about this, but one of the greatest men of our age died yesterday. Nelson Mandela was exceptional for many reasons, and while his death was not unexpected it is no less tragic. Through years of dedication, hard work, and courage he managed to defy the odds and down one of the most corrupt and oppressive regimes in recent memory. He did so through peacefull means, and helped create a South Africa where people of all backgrounds could live in peace; not resorting to the collective guilt policie’s like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Though the new South Africa is far from perfect, it is a place that has been getting better over time.
Mr. Mandela is best known for his multiple decades spent in prison on Robben Island. He was a political prisoner, imprisoned for challenging the establishment. However there is another civil rights activist who has incarcerated for over thirty years, right here in America. His name is Leonard Peltier and he was a prominent American Indian Movement (AIM) member until he was arrested and convicted of phony charges of murdering two FBI officers. The charges against him have been thoroughly discredited, yet he remains in prison because the government is too damn proud to admit that they have imprisoned an innocent man for so long. However, there is still hope for Peltier. The more awareness that is spread about his case, the more likely it is that he will be freed. Mandela’s story may have ended, but there is much work left to be done.
Originally I was going to be moving into campus next Thursday. However, I recieved an email saying that I am eligible to move in early on Tuesday for a program intended for students of color. All my life I have considered myself white; my mother is unambigeously so and my while my father does not identify as white he does qualify as White Hispanic on the Census Bureau. I am not offended with the terms “nonwhite” or “minority”, however I do have some issues with the currently acceptable “person of color” as I feel that term defines me by the color of my skin. The nonexistant color of my skin mind you, I am rather pale. Of course, I am not in a position to decide with label is okay and which is not.
Anyway, this early move-in program is intended for African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders (I’m not sure why Asians and Polynesians are lumped together, I guess the Census Bureau can’t tell the difference between say Thais and Samoans). Having a Spanish last name means I qualify. Of course race is a purely artificial construct with no scientific validity, so it is based on opinion and perception and nothing else. My mom has Portuguese and Italian ancestry that one hundred years ago would have made her a Person of Color. That’s in addition to an equal ammount of Slavic heritage that in much of Europe was viewed and something “other.” Now all that is viewed as just as white as her Dutch family. As for my dad, we recently found out that my grandmother has a significant abount of Irish and Navajo blood. So like most Americans, I have a rather diverse background that is hard to sum up. Still, most of that is considered White (or at least Indo-European) so I consider myself white.
Whatever I am or people classify me as, I am very happy to be able to move in earlier than I than I thought I was going to. Here is an interesting chart showing Colonian Latin America’s VERY different ideas about race: