In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela writes a lot about the decades long struggle to overthrow apartheid in South Africa. It was a long, and ultimately successful struggle in which they wanted to change the hearts and minds of the people, but more importantly they wanted to change the system. Mandela and his fellow members of the African National Congress (ANC) wanted to have the freedom of their fellow South Africans. In the 1990s they finally achieved this goal. Does that mean that there is not still racism in the country? Surely not. While I am sure they hoped to live in a world free of racism, their main goal was to ensure that all people could live free. Likewise today, the goal of the Black Lives Matter movement is not to address systematic problems within the African American community, but to shine a light on what seems to be systematic problem of unnecessary killing of black people. Unarmed people in many cases, who are targeted (at least in theory) because of their race. And then, after this killing, to compound the issue, the officers are frequently not held accountable.
An autobiography is always suspect as it is within our nature to try and portray ourselves in the best light. I have no reason to believe that Mr. Mandela did not do the same here, but even if he did, it did not negate the power of the story. His language is simplistic and accessible, and the usual boring details of politics are kept to a minimum, while the struggle of having to have passes, and being arrested and imprisoned are the focus.
My thought, embarrassing though it is, while reading Mandela’s Long Walk, was to think of how similar his story was to Harry Potter’s – the yardstick against which everything in my life is measured. More broadly, how the struggles that the ANC went though looked very much like a Hero’s Journey, as defined by Joseph Campbell. We have Nelson Mandela, a young lawyer working at a Jewish law firm. He is told to stay out of politics, but he does not listen (Call to adventure. He is separated from his family and for much of his adult life as he spent it in prison. And in the end he is set free and uses all of his knowledge gained through prison and through the ANC to help make his country a better world. It is a heavy price to pay but it is something to which we all should aspire.