It’s exhausting to witness people cling to racist ideas and systems. Sometimes, it causes us to wonder—reasonably, I think—whether fighting racism is a fool’s errand. Yet, hope is essential for those who seek to change the world.
Without hope, there will be no social progress. People won’t fight if they don’t believe they can win. That is why so many black freedom fighters have stressed the importance of remaining hopeful.
But hope can’t be contrived. It’s not compelling to tell people that they must, arbitrarily, keep hope alive. That they must simply believe, against the apparent facts, that we will prevail against racism.
To me, a naive “stay positive” attitude always seemed dangerously close to mistaking delusion for hope. That’s why I’ve never been able to be an optimist, not even now, but I’m absolutely hopeful.
Where Hope Comes From
I used to think hope was like wind. It’s either there or it’s not. However, I’ve come to realize that hope is more like a fire. It can be sparked, fed, managed, and preserved. I think hope must be treated this way.
Real hope for racial justice was sparked in me the day I read about some ordinary women who took a stand against the Nazis and won in the winter of 1943. Their Jewish husbands had been abducted by Hitler’s security forces and were being held in the Rosentrasse community building.
Fearing that their loved ones would be sent to the infamous death camps, these women gathered outside Rosentrasse in protest. Despite the freezing temperatures, and the machine guns pointed at them, these women demonstrated until their loved ones were freed.
The Rosenstrasse protest is famous for being the only German mass demonstration against the Nazis on record, raising the question: what would have happened if all of Germany had acted like those women that day?
What would happen if all people, in every nation, braved the danger and inconvenience of standing against injustice and abusive power?
Memory and Hope
Sometimes they call us ordinary people “The Sleeping Giant.” When we are awake to our collective power, we could likely have any kind of society we want. But we’re largely unaware of our past victories.
We’re largely unaware of those women who said no to the Nazis. We don’t hear about women like Mama Chikamonenga, who chased British colonists out of Zambia with a legion of half-naked women. We’re not all aware of Itzik Alrov, an insurance salesman, who started an awkwardly named Facebook page about the outrageous price of cottage cheese, leading to a nationwide dairy boycott in Israel. The history is too large to do it any justice in a blog post. But it’s the memory of events like these that provide grounds for hope.
So, how can an antiracist remain hopeful during a global resurgence of overt white supremacy? By continuing to read the stories of ordinary people who have stood against injustice and won. When we continue to learn how we’ve been successful in the past, our hope that we can be successful again is grounded in facts instead of sentimentality. That is how hope is sparked, fed, and preserved. And without hope, there is no revolution.