Nelson Mandela's Spokespeople Are Sick and Tired of Everyone Attributing a Cheesy Self-Help Quote to Him
Sion Touhig/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Where You Think It's From:
Nelson Mandela sits right up there with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as one of the most important human rights campaigners of all time. It's no surprise that his inauguration speech has become so legendary:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
So work that dress! Black and white can mix!
Hillary Clinton used the quote during her 1998 commencement speech at Howard University, and the movie Akeelah and the Bee turns to it for a lesson on empowerment, to name some famous examples. Yes, after a lifetime of fighting for racial equality, Mandela got up to that podium and relayed a message that was truly important to him. And it was basically: "You go, girl!"
But Really ...
Loath as we are to reveal Clinton's white belt in Google-fu, Nelson Mandela never uttered these words. The quote actually comes from a self-help book by Marianne Williamson called A Return to Love. Williamson, it turns out, is a new age guru whose brand of schmaltzy love-yourself advice earned her a place among Oprah's all-time favorite bullshitters. Attributing this quote to Mandela is like attributing a passage from The Secret to Gandhi.
He did preach a good two-thirds of Eat, Pray, Love.
The misattribution of this quote is so frequent that the folks at the Nelson Mandela Foundation have included it in the FAQ about Mandela in a desperate attempt to keep themselves from tearing their handsome salt-and-pepper hair out. Even the South African Embassy in D.C. has had to waste their time clearing the confusion up a few times since Mandela's inauguration in '94.