Racial Justice reflection series – Chapter 4 “A Dream Deferred”

Massingale quoting Vaclav Havel:

[Hope is] a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation…It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons…Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed…Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out,” (147).

This came at just the right time for me, and maybe it will for you too.

As the St. Mary staff person working with our Faith Doing Justice ministry, it would be easy to look at this past semester and feel discouraged. Heck, it would be easy as anyone to look at what is happening in the world, on campus, in the Catholic Church even, and feel discouraged.

Let’s just take UofM’s campus as the example for a moment. Anti-Latino messages painted on the Rock. Racial slurs written on students’ doors in the dorms. Racial slurs graffitied on Ann Arbor area buildings. UofM administration allowing for a leader of white supremacy groups to speak on campus. It’s a lot.

When I get discouraged about how things are going, the tendency can be to become indifferent. I have felt indifferent about race at times this semester. That’s why this message of hope and vision that Fr. Bryan is bringing to us is HUGE!

When I remain in hope, I find that it becomes easier to respond with love, rather than anger, disgust, judgment, or indifference. When I remain in hope, I find myself being more generous and being more courageous in speaking up about racial injustice.

Now, imagine…what would we be able to create if we all had just a little more hope? Could we create that “Beloved Community” that King wrote of and Massingale references?

I think that’s what Jesus wants us to be pondering and exploring, particularly right now during Advent. This is a time of exceptional hope.

But sometimes there is another temptation for myself and for other white people getting in the way of this hope. When we realize our contributions to perpetuating racism (whether that’s directly as an individual or indirectly as part of an institution or system of oppression), there is the desire to want to do something, anything, to prove (mostly to ourself) that I didn’t mean to contribute to it or that I am a good person who is not racist.

And I call it a “temptation” because I think that mode of thinking is something to avoid. It’s a white person’s way of wanting to get “off the hook”, to have a quick fix. But the imbalance of power as a result of race isn’t an issue that has a quick fix; we are always “on the hook.”

Besides, most of the time, I, as white person, don’t know what to do. Even after having taken classes on intergroup dialogue, social structures, and other community activism-based classes, there are times I still don’t know what to do.

And when we don’t know what to do about race, what usually happens? We do nothing.

What I’m trying to say here is: I want to avoid the temptation of having to prove that I’m not racist. At the same time, I also want to avoid becoming indifferent and not doing anything to proclaim anti-racism and a movement towards a positive, inspiring vision, like the “Beloved Community.”

If white people are set on doing something but not knowing what, the one thing I think of doing before anything else is to buy into the vision of the “Beloved Community” and to have hope.

As Massingale writes, “No one gives one’s life for the sake of an abstract concept. No one risks humiliation, ostracization, vilification, persecution, and other forms of opposition for an intellectual idea or sterile definition.”

So if you’ve been feeling discouraged lately, know that we have hope and that that hope is not based on worldly happenings, but on faith. Faith in a heavenly vision of a “Beloved Community”, in which all are truly welcome, social differences are celebrated, and we live this out daily.

How do you see yourself living out this hopeful vision of the “Beloved Community”?


Jake Derry

Jake is a recent University of Michigan graduate and the Campus Ministry Associate at St. Mary, working with the Faith Doing Justice ministry. He enjoys writing, being outside, playing sports, and being creative and entrepreneurial.