Anti-apartheid heroes are often celebrated for their legacy by the same people who criticised them while they lived.
It happened to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X – and it’s now happening to the late Desmond Tutu.
The South African priest, who passed away on Boxing Day, has been lauded for his anti-racism work in obituaries that followed the unfortunate news.
But his lifelong support for BDS and the Palestinian struggle has often been ‘forgotten’ from any story.
The Guardian’s obituary was particularly at fault for this. A newspaper which, shortcomings aside, is known as a bastion of social democracy. It’s record on Palestine is also relatively good.
But Tutu’s obituary only talked about his stellar work opposing apartheid and discrimination in South Africa and ignored the many speeches and works on Palestine.
The Guardian later posted an opinion article about it after the backlash, to their credit.
But it highlights a wider issue amongst mainstream discussion of anti-racism legacies. Why do we mention the work in some nations but not others?
The few mentions of Palestine in the aftermath often came from critics.
Alan Dershowitz – someone the BBC had to apologise for platforming on Wednesday night – told Fox News: “The world is mourning Bishop Tutu, who just died the other day. Can I remind the world that although he did some good things, a lot of good things on apartheid, the man was a rampant antisemite and bigot?”
Tutu’s work in South Africa was invaluable. But by making that all he is remembered for, Liberals can inadvertently (or intentionally) confine his legacy to a smaller ideological box.
Think about Martin Luther King’s comments on capitalism, or other Black civil rights leaders’ comments on the Palestinian struggle.
Tutu’s entire legacy must be remembered, whether it be convenient or not.
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