The cost of hope
2008 feels so long ago, and the feelings I had then are so foreign now. But I remember clearly how a handsome, brilliant, and charming Black man once convinced me and so many other Black folks to hope for the world to change. I remember how he assured me that the violence of anti-Blackness I experienced as a Black kid living in America’s poorest city would one day be no more, despite there being no reckoning with the sins of this country’s past. I remember all of his promises to help make that happen.
I don’t know if I ever truly believed him. Nothing in my life had ever followed the script being written—that a Black face alone changes the function of the anti-Black system it represents. I’d seen Black cops in my neighborhood, and I’d seen the “change” they enacted. I saw it in the scars on the faces of poor Black folks inflicted by those Black officers and their white partners just the same.
At the very least, I wanted to believe Obama as much as he wanted me to. Regardless, that hope is gone for good.
I’m joined in pessimism by many other millennials of color—at least for now—according to a new poll by GenForward. This monthly survey of the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research is the first-of-its-kind, and pays special attention to young adults of color in order to highlight the intersectional issues affecting millennials.
“Disgust, fear, and anger are at the top of the list of emotions expressed by African Americans, Latino/as, and Asian Americans after the election of Donald Trump,” the December report reads. White millennials also expressed significant levels of disgust and fear, but hope was their second most noted emotion (12%) following the election. With Trump and the GOP set to undo much of the iconic “hope and change” promises of the first Black president’s legacy, the irony of a whitened hope’s emergence in its place cannot be missed.
Obama’s skill made it seem respectably complex, but the truth is “hope” is an easy sell. It’s cheap, prepackaged, and pre-marketed. This is why even Donald Trump could get so many people, young and old, to buy it with lazy promises to “make America great again.” The pharmaceutical industry demonstrates how a medicine can be priced at an obscene cost when there are no alternatives. It will demonstrate this many more times once the already defanged Affordable Care Act is dismantled as promised by Trump and his ruling party. And so many of us have made hope our only medicine.
Coming from a deep tradition of three different religious faiths, hope has always been emphasized as a salve throughout my life. Hope and the belief that things will be alright were the ultimate answer to all questions, simple and enormous, and hopelessness was weakness. Though I’m no longer religious, this often spiritualized construction of “hope as the only answer” set its roots deep inside me, and is constantly watered by the rest of the world. Indeed, even medical science agrees that hope is a cure, as increasing optimism has been shown to correspond with a decreased risk of death from disease.
So many of us Black folks bought into Obama’s message of hope because we thought we needed it to decrease our own risk of death. In the face of centuries of unrelenting violence, it is the only answer many of us have ever known.
But what is the cost we pay for hope? What if the lack of alternatives is a lie? What good is decreasing a person’s risk of death if she is already dead?
I believe hope for changing an anti-Black world while keeping it in existence costs too many of our most vulnerable. The trickle-down Blackonomics of progress narratives never prove themselves by wholly reaching the most impoverished, imprisoned and fugitive among us.
I believe that the world and the Earth are different, and that we can have this Earth without this anti-Black world we are living under. I believe that hope in saving the Earth—and the Black people who have always had their fates connected to it—relies on the hopelessness in the salvation of the anti-Black world built atop it.
I believe we have seen how Black people aren’t given access to the things other living people are given, and that perhaps an anti-Black world continuing to turn requires our social death—our lives not to matter. I believe you cannot decrease the risk of not mattering, that not mattering is already a terminal destination. So the only way forward is to stop it from turning.
Let whiteness have its flat hope in Trump. Let us understand that hopelessness for this world is valid. Black disgust, anger, and fear are valid. Black pessimism for this world is valid. Black abandonment of the offerings of this world is valid, and ultimately required for a new one.
Handsome, brilliant, and charming people will try and convince us to hope again. But if we must hope—and we must—we should hope for a world that is beyond this one. Faith in this world will always be followed by whiteness throwing its faith in a Trump. And the world will go ‘round as the Earth dies a little more with each revolution.
Photo via Twitter/The White House