What African Americans can learn from South Africa

Julianne Malveaux | 7/25/2013, midnight
Nelson Mandela turned 95 years old on Thursday, July 18. He has been hospitalized for more than a month, and ...
Cape Town, South Africa.

King laid out a game plan that many have only reluctantly embraced. We still have hunger, illiteracy and dissent in U.S. life.

Few have stepped up to deal with these matters with the persistence of Mandela and the African National Congress. When President Obama establishes a middle-class task force, what does this mean for the poor?

Perhaps the comparison between U.S. Black people and those in South Africa is unfair. We have had leaders like Mandela–Dorothy Irene Height, Ph.D., comes immediately to mind–who have given their lives to the freedom struggle and have not wavered or cowered in the face of challenge.

South Africa, like the United States, has class divides between the middle class and the poor, with a sometimes indifferent middle class more interested in profits than people. But when I think of Mandela’s persistence, I think of the many ways that we, African Americans, have dropped the ball.

Trayvon Martin is not the first young man to have been massacred in the streets. Nor is he the first to garner national attention. Little has changed, because we have not been persistent in our protest. The details in providing equal opportunity in South Africa may be flawed, but they represent movement. The episodic engagement of African Americans around justice issues pales in the face of South African persistence.

Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and author.

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