“If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America.” -Nelson Mandela

As Americans celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, it is important not to rewrite history. First of all, Mandela was no saint, and his compromises with injustice are an important topic for another day.

More importantly, we must not forget how the Reagan administration, and much of America, pandered to white supremacy in South Africa. Then Representative Dick Cheney voted in 1986 against freeing Nelson Mandela. Cheney later defended his vote, “”the ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization. … I don’t have any problems at all with the vote I cast 20 years ago.”

As the Bible says, human beings have a tendency to deify dead saints and persecute living ones. Mandela was a frightening figure because he spoke unpleasant truths. He was harshly critical of our nation’s tendency to side with oppressors against liberation movements. Most of all, Mandela was hated by some in America because he committed the greatest heresy possible, he wanted to weigh the US on the same scale as other nations.

So long as the term “terrorist” lacks a specific legal definition, it will be used by the powerful to deny oppressed people their day in court. Anyone who resists hegemony can be called a terrorist. Press coverage of “terrorists” will usually not include an account of the injustices being resisted. Instead ,”terrorists”will be pictured as lunatics who simply want to hurt us. ¬†While no one denies there are dangerous people who’s actions deserve to be called “terrorist,” it is also true that we have also called many people “terrorist” who’s “crime” was to try to liberate their own people.

As we see our own national leaders grieving Nelson Mandela this week, we must remember they might not be doing so if he were still alive and demanding justice from us.