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Nelson Mandela and Pop Culture

11 February 2010 No Comment

It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed since Nelson Mandela was freed and the African National Congress decriminalized as an organization, but February 11, 1990 began a new era of multicultural democracy in South Africa. I saw Nelson Mandela speak a few years ago and as inspirational as his talk was I couldn’t stop reminding myself that this man had endured twenty-seven years of imprisonment for challenging the unjust racist system of apartheid – while the world watched. Meanwhile, back in the states, although our government was lukewarm, public support for his release was widespread. Remember when it was taboo to support companies that hadn’t divested from South Africa? Do you remember the song “Sun City,” by Artists United Against Apartheid, encouraging the entertainment world to deny invitations to play at the glamorous South African resort (if not try to check out the video, its full of throwback artists)? Most of all, do you remember the heavy-handed approach that our favorite black sitcom took to educate us about South African cultures and the importance of preserving them?

The A Different World episode “A World Alike” first aired this week twenty years ago and is a great example of the intersection between black pop culture and politics. Kim gets a scholarship from Orange Glow but they haven’t divested from South Africa and the entire Hillman campus plans to boycott the company. What to do, what to do? Definitely throw in some South African exchange students who will give speeches about what their homeland is like, have everyone unite in song and dance, and throw in some drumming for good measure. By the end even ol’ Mister Gaines is singing South African folk jams and we feel so black, educated and Pan-African. The clip below is part 3/3 of the episode – the best part, the jam session starts around 7:00, and at 7:28 is the first and only time I’ve ever seen anything even resembling my name on an article of clothing.

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