Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) remembered late South African president Nelson Mandela as a man who made it cool for black kids in the United States to say that they have African heritage.
“As a kid, I’m embarrassed to admit I knew very little about Africa,” Rangel said on CNN this morning. “If you wanted to insult a black kid, a colored kid, a Negro kid, you called him African because the world, including the United States, had allowed us to believe that Africa was so underdeveloped, that the world had an attitude that they were inferior people as opposed to the Europeans.”
“When Nelson Mandela became a world leader and was on television and people of African descent, not only in the United States but throughout the world, could not possibly identify with a country. Mr. Cuomo identifies with Italy. Our history has just been torn apart and substituted with this inferiority,” he continued.
“But when Nelson Mandela spoke, even in the British tilt that we would learn to respect, and he spoke to the world in terms of peace, even though he had the power. And so many little black kids would say, ‘Mommy, he looks like me, doesn’t he?'”
Rangel added he didn’t know “how God could have blessed us in trying to instantly take away any ideas of inferiority in bringing a saint with all of the qualities that we expected in all of our leaders, including the pope, and to share him with all of us.”
When the congressman got to finally meet Mandela, “I was so awed I couldn’t believe it. God spent a lot of time on Nelson Mandela.”
Rangel was there when Mandela was inaugurated and hosted as a special guest the warden who had incarcerated him for 27 years.
“And as he stood there, the air blackened with the South African Air Force zooming over him,” he said. “And I saw for the first time in my life white kids and black kids hugging each other with happiness and their parents crying and hugging each other, the kids not even knowing that there was a problem before Nelson Mandela. And I tell you that there wasn’t a dry eye there. I don’t know what everyone was thinking, but I would say thank God this man was sent to us, because whatever he did in life, everybody could put themselves in that position and wonder, ‘could I do that?’ And that’s the bar that he set for all of us.”