I haven’t posted anything about the death of Nelson Mandela, because there is nothing I could possibly say that is worth hearing from me. I marked the occasion on Twitter with the simple, “Kua hinga te totara nui.” Later I posted a wry, “Nelson Mandela was the Nelson Mandela of our times” in response to white Westerners comparing Mandela to all their personal white heroes.
I’ve read around a bit. It seems that the right thinks that the left is politicising his death by criticising the make up of the delegation sent to the memorial. I’ve seen the response that the right politicised it when Key was advised not to take John Minto.
I disagree. Nelson Mandela’s death was politicised long before he died. It may even have been done before he was born. It was politicised when the lives of certain parts of the population became not their own, but something to legislate and control and use to froth up electoral sentiment. Feminism has “the personal is political” to recognise this exact phenomenon, because women’s bodies are political – how they dress, what medication they take, what jobs they can have, and the looming spectre of *whispers* abortion. People with disabilities are political too, because so many of them require dependent income, so that politicians and managerial staff and policy analysts are justified in debating who should be working or not working, what is classed as a disability rather than “poor choices”, how much aid people should have, whether it’s money or goods, how much oversight there should be in how it’s spent. There are probably people who think I might not really be doing the proper thing in drawing a student loan. Since I left high school I’ve had three periods of studying (dropped out, failed out, current) and three periods of working (dropped out, failed out, contract ended in February) in between the looooooong periods of not being able to do anything. Should that track record count against me? There’s a “what’s fair” debate, and there’s also a “what’s best public policy?” debate. I didn’t create either of them. Those debates existed long before I came along, with my disabilities, my trans*ness, my annoyingly female body and reproductive system.
Nelson Mandela’s death is political because his life was political. His body was political. His image was so political that it was banned for quarter of a century. The people who made him political are not those engaged in “identity politics”, they are those that created the need for identity politics in the first place through stifling legislation attempting to control the lives of any group that might one day threaten their power – Native Americans, black slaves, women, anyone who does not belong. Their expressions of emotion, of wants and desires that cannot be understood by the white male elite, are over-medicalised – drapetomania, hysteria, homosexuality and transvestism as mental disorders, “shamanism” as psychotic illness, and in medicalising them they assume a paternal over-interest codified into law.
This isn’t a minor quibble. Straight white men, for the most part, simply do not understand what it’s like to know that any discussion of the circumstances of your life can be shut down with “Now, let’s not get political.” I’m sorry, was I talking about electoral candidate selection? Was I citing Question Time? No! I was talking about how people with disabilities need enough to live on and the fact that the recommended course of treatment in biomedicine for GID is vastly out of reach for most people affected by it. The fact that these things rely on political interest to fix is not my problem, it’s yours.