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You do not do the things you do because others will necessarily join you in the doing of them, nor because they will ultimately prove successful. You do the things you do because the things you are doing are right.
Sometimes I think we both oversell and undersell the notion of fighting for social justice. Oversell in that we focus so much on "winning" the battle in which we're engaged, that we often create false hope, and when as often happens, victory is limited or not at all, those in whom we nurtured the hope feel spent, unable to rise again to the challenge.
Yet we undersell the work too, in that we often neglect to remind folks that there is redemption in struggle itself, and that "victory," though sought, is not the only point, and is never finally won anyway. Even when you succeed in obtaining a measure of justice, you're always forced to mobilize to defend that which you've won. There is no looming vacation. But there is redemption in struggle.
Invariably, it seems it is we in the white community who obsess over our own efficacy, and fail to recognize the value of commitment, irrespective of outcome. People of color, on the other hand, never having been burdened with the illusion that the world was their oyster, and thus, anything they touched could and should turn to gold, usually take a more reserved, and I would say healthier view of the world and the prospects for change. They know (as indeed they must) that the thing being fought for, at least if it's worth having, will require more than a part-time effort, and will not likely come in the lifetimes of those presently fighting for it. And it is that knowledge which allows a strength and resolve few members of the dominant majority will ever, can ever, know.<...>
This isn't to say it's impossible to inspire young whites to fight for justice, nor to stick it out. It's just a bit more of a challenge sometimes, for it requires that the person be open to an entirely different way of thinking about the world and their place in it: a challenge, but not undoable, as any glimpse at the long list -- however much longer it should be -- of whites who have committed their lives to equity and peace will attest. And so, I explain, there is something to be said for confronting the inevitable choice one must make in this life, between collaborating with or resisting injustice, and choosing the latter. There is something to be said for knowing you did all you could to stop a war, eliminate racism, or improve your community for the good of all. There is something to be said for a good night's sleep, and the ability to wake in the morning, look in the mirror, and never doubt that if you died before lunch, you would have lived a life of integrity.
Her argument proceeds by looking at the "ethic of control" that guides the assumptions of white middle-class people, whether on the left or the right side of the political spectrum. In the second section of the book, she examines various works of African-American fiction as a source for a contrasting "ethic of risk" that upholds the worth of struggle in the face of probable defeat.
What is hope? It is the presentiment that imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks. It is the suspicion that the overwhelming brutality of fact that oppresses us and represses us is not the last word. It is the hunch that reality is more complex than the realists want us to believe, that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual, and that, in a miraculous and unexpected way, life is preparing the creative events which will open the way to freedom and to resurrection.
But, hope must live with suffering. Suffering, without hope, produces resentment and despair. And hope, without suffering, creates illusions, naiveté, and drunkenness. So, let us plant dates, even though we who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret of discipline. Such disciplined love is what has given saints, revolutionaries, and martyrs the courage to die for the future they envision; they make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.
A little over a year ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates surprised himself (and everyone else) when he told Ezra Klein that he had become uncharacteristi...