“Let Us Not Grow Weary In Doing Good”

This morning, both Hillary Clinton and President Obama encouraged everyone – especially young people – not to give up on fighting for our values and ideals.

If you are someone who is uncomfortable with quoting scripture in a context like this, here is how Brazilian writer Rubem Alves said pretty much the same thing:

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…

…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.

As someone who is already in her “golden years,” I’ve actually been contemplating the idea that, in the struggle ahead of us right now, I might not live to see the dates we will be planting in the coming days. The question becomes: what keeps us going in light of the kind of discouragement we feel today? Tim Wise addressed that in a piece he wrote years ago titled, “The Threat of a Good Example: Reflections on Hope and Tenacity.” He starts off by quoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

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.

Wise then goes on to talk about how we sometimes oversell 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.

From there, he might make some people uncomfortable by talking about the different way that a lot of white people approach this struggle from the way that African Americans have in our history.

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.

I’ve often thought of that during this election as we witnessed the difference between those who understand the long-term battle for incremental change and those who simply want to burn the whole thing down and start over. When people of color are inspired by leaders like Obama and Clinton who espouse the former approach, we shouldn’t be surprised. Not only is it true that they are the most likely to be hurt in the burning down process, but they don’t fool themselves into thinking that it will bring the kind of change we all hope for. The struggle against racism for African Americans in this country has gone on for over 200 years and we’re obviously not done fighting against it yet – even though progress has definitely been made. But how many generations have come and gone as they struggled to plant the dates they will never see?

Previously I suggested that our generation is about to be tested in much the same way that we’ve seen in the past. In order to face that challenge and not grow weary, we might learn a thing or two from those who have demonstrated what it means to not grow weary – but were prepared to spend their lifetimes doing things simply because they knew that what they were doing was right.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.