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Searching for Hope

I am angry and I am unsure why. I was pleased by the election of Joe Biden’s defeat over the current president. I was concerned many Americans would opt out of the 2020 election, but I was surprised by one of the highest participation of Americans due to early voting and mail-ballots in my lifetime. I was comforted that the election was not close as many pollsters expected which would have caused additional angst in the United States. Still I am angry and I am searching for an answer. 

After the current president’s handling of the coronavirus, which resulted in thousands of dead Americans, his preoccupation with his personal standing at the expense of countless Americans who truly needed his help, and even getting COVID-19 himself, had zero effect on changing his posture, but over 74 million voters gave him a thumbs up for four more years. My anger was prompted by the fact Americans live in two different worlds and the two shall hardly meet. The 2020 election illustrated that a killer pandemic was not enough to bring a shared reality of life nor a shared team effort to fight an invisible virus that showed no discrimination for any political persuasion.  

He had no control over his black body nor his son.

I read several polls that showed race relations were not improving, but getting worse. Maybe my anger bubbled up because of the killing of George Floyd way back in May 2020 and the subsequent protests that reverberated across the globe caught fire. At the time of Mr. Floyd’s death, white Americans held an overwhelmingly favorable opinion of Black Lives Matters movement towards police reform, recognizing systemic racism, and raising the national consciousness of black life issues that had been invisible before 2020. Since the November election, white reactions about Black Lives Matter have fallen significantly, possibly returning to pre-2020 levels. I am angry because I truly believed white Americans had truly believed black lives do matter. Nothing has changed. That is why I am angry. 

I reread author Ta-Nehisi Coates’s provocative memoir “Between the World and Me” as he tried to help his young son navigate the white world as an up and coming black man in America. In the book, there is a profound story Coates told about being a father in New York City. While carrying his young son in a stroller on the busy streets of Manhattan, a white woman pushed Coates’ son. Like any parent, he lashed out about the woman’s error and hoped she would apologize to him. However nearby, a white man watching the incident came to the woman’s defense. After pushing the man away from his son, Coates’ fear came from five words that shook him to his core; “I could have you arrested” (Coates, p. 94) Coates felt the man’s words told him everything about being black in America: he had no control over his black body nor his son. His anger and sadness is a recessive toxin every black person carries within them, which rises during threats. Safety is not a right to us. Coates named my anger from this election; that this fact has not changed despite my presidential choice taking the oath of office for the highest office in the land on January 20th of next year. Despair and hope are fighting out for supremacy in my heart and mind. 

Being black in America is my struggle between hope and despair,

Coates helped me to pinpoint my struggle as a black man in America. The struggle between despair and hope does not go away after January 20, 2021. The struggle for humanity and equality is not fulfilled through enacting legislation nor State of the Union speeches. Being black in America is my struggle between hope and despair, better angels and dark impulses, and common ground and turf protection. I learned much from Coates’ perspective to make sense out of an American story that does its best to exclude black experience as American. Coates stands as my modern day Malcom X in a George Floyd context. 

I am searching for hope. Coates admits he is an atheist. He makes no bones he does not speak in the lines of Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, or Julian Bond who carried Christian commitments. Coates wrestled with an American history that chose a narrative that fit white aspirations and goals. While visiting Civil War battlefields, Coates writes to his son, “the entire narrative of this country argues against the truth of who you are….I was obsessed with the Civil War because six hundred thousand people died in it. And yet it had glossed over in my education, and in popular culture, representations of the war and its reasons seemed obscured….But when I visited any of the battlefields, I felt like I was greeted as if I were a nosy accountant conducting an audit and someone was trying to hide the books” (p. 99)  The buying and selling of black bodies for profit and labor was closely tied to the Civil War.  The interpretations of the Christian bible played a key role in who determines the humanity of black people. 

Each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up, and speak out.

I need to find hope since being a black Christian in America must lead to a better place than Coates’s hard-edged perspective. I need a voice of hope within the auspices of Christian vision for America. My search for hope was located in the familiar voice and tenor of the late U.S. Representative John Lewis. He wrote his reflections on the current situation of black people in America to embrace the tension of hope and struggle to redeem the soul of America. The New York Times published his last words on the day of his funeral on July 30, 2020.

Lewis identified his own anger while growing up in rural Alabama. He searched for a word that was distinctly Christian and American with a hopeful vision. He wrote, “like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we were all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up, and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act….Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.” I felt my anger lessened and my hope received a fresh supply of oil in my lamp. 

   I believe hope is the main ingredient to keep pushing for a truer story of America. Lewis was not a day trader of quick fixes and transactional politics, he saw anger must submit to service for a larger call, a greater vision. “When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence…So I say to you, walk with the wind…and let the spirit of peace and power of everlasting love be your guide” I could not agree more. 

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

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