"Mahatma Gandhi has joined the ranks of Confederate officers" is a sentence you wouldn't expect outside of this week, when a statue celebrating the Indian leader in Ghana was torn down after prolonged activism by students. But what on earth could be controversial about a man like Gandhi?
Taking a page out of America's recent racist sculpture whack-a-mole game, University of Ghana students and lecturers have managed to get rid of a controversial sculpture of Gandhi through two years of peaceful resistance (we don't know who would've been prouder of that, Gandhi himself or Sun Tzu). The government finally decided to remove the statue from the campus, intending to put it somewhere people wouldn't complain as much.
So what's the deal with Ghana/Gandhi grudge? While most of the world remembers Mahatma Gandhi, who politely stuck it to the British and led India to independence, Africa remembers Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a young lawyer who spent 20 years in colonial South Africa fighting anti-Indian racism. And we have to specify, because recent biographies of his early life have pointed out that Gandhi did not care about or for black people. While in South Africa, he completely ignored the plight of black South Africans. In fact, his main civil rights goal wasn't to achieve equality for all races, but to convince the European ruling class that the country's Indian population should be allowed to skip the white picket fence over to the nice side of apartheid.
And as historian Patrick French points out, this isn't merely one of those "Let's remember grandpa was born in a different age" kind of situations, because Gandhi's views on Africans were pretty racist even for his time. In his correspondences, he referred to native South Africans as "Kaffirs," the N-word for people who thought the N-word was a bit too progressive, and said that Indians were "infinitely superior" to the African race. So it's no wonder that African students didn't want to gaze up at a man who wrote "About the mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly" on their way to the campus mixer.
The statue's protest is only part of an emerging movement to expose Gandhi's far-from-divine sides, and that's a bit awkward, to say the least. Gandhi's resistance to oppression and racism was a great inspiration to many later civil rights heroes, most notably Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. So finding out that the man spent a great deal of his life with the same kind of views that come free with a Confederate flag tattoo and a pair of truck nuts can a hard pill to swallow. But the very smallest lesson to take away from this is that nobody's perfect -- at least, not perfect enough to have their historical butt encased in stone just anywhere.
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