How Do I Stay Hopeful Despite The Trauma Around Us?
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Politics and Activism

How Do I Stay Hopeful Despite The Trauma Around Us?

On hope, its potential, and the possibility of cultivating it in the face of oppression.

How Do I Stay Hopeful Despite The Trauma Around Us?
Fred Sullivan

With all of this past week’s horrific deaths, I am left with a feeling of despair so severe that I can hardly go on with my daily routines. Despite feeling this way, I know that I must find a way to harness a sense of hope— I cannot live a whole life with this kind of pain. I must find a way to see meaning in the goals I have for myself, to keep going on, to succeed in school, and so much else. With the killings of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, the shooting in Dallas, Anthony Nuñez, and undoubtedly many more tragedies, I am left at a loss for words. Is there hope?

Can one cultivate hope at all when the practical supersedes one’s dreams? Can one consider these faraway ideals—of equity, of justice, of safety, of success— when one is so busy fending for a family member, or worrying about how even the most mundane of incidents can lead to one’s death? Can one aspire to anything when every moment can become a threat? The sense of helplessness is so real and so constant that all my pursuits feel futile.

In spite of this never-ending darkness, I do not want to give up on myself or my people. Every time my father, a black Arab Muslim man, leaves the house, I wonder if this will be the last time I see him? I wonder if he will do something some police officer will consider punishable by death, or if he will know to tread the space between fighting back and going limp in time to save himself? Because my father, like many who are oppressed, has to fight an injustice by giving in to it so as to simply stay alive. Again: the practical supersedes the dream.

But if I live in that mindset of survival and despair, than I am only enforcing the power of these institutions. If I were to succumb to this current state of hopelessness I am in— which I will not let myself do— then I’m telling myself that I am not larger or greater than the systems that bring me down. It is to say that I am less, because I can be controlled so deeply that even my sentiments are subservient to my oppressors. I do not believe this. I do not believe that I can be contained in that way. If I fall prey to this notion, then I have become chattel. I become an extension of this systemic monstrosity because I have let that system’s power prevail over my being.

And when it comes to the body, nothing can be done. All racism falls on my body because I cannot control what happens to me physically—regardless of how hard I try. Therefore, to hold on to some inkling of hope becomes an act of resistance, because my feelings are not bodily. They are internal, and therefore, within my jurisdiction and mine alone. And so to hold on to some hope is to fight back; it’s an act of resistance, and I would argue, a form of activism.

I am not one for platitudinous language. I will probably die having seen minimal change in this country. I will probably spend the rest of my life in some sort of fear, either for being of color, for being a Muslim, for being a woman— or for all of these things depending on the incident I am faced with. But like I wrote above, I can’t let that hold me back so seriously that I become hopeless and complacent. I must walk into those spaces that were not meant for me and do what I can to make it so that one day they are. I must choose hope, even if only sporadically, because not doing so would be to let myself down, and when there are already so many institutional forces working to keep me down, the work of lifting myself up must come back to the emotions I allow myself to harness.

I am not naïve. I do not forget that I am privileged in other ways. I am a college student. A documented person. A cisgender, straight person. There are battles I do not have to fight in my daily life. But as a person of color, I never forget that whatever success I have comes at the expense of some other person who is held down by the same system that has both, buoyed and silenced me. I am not naïve. I do not harken back to the founding fathers' trite words, “All men were created equal,” or “We the people,” in my attempts to gather scraps of optimism. That is not the kind of hope I have. I know those founding fathers were not thinking of me. I know that a constitution that claims a black man as three fifths of a person is not one built for my empowerment. I do not forget the history of colonialism running through my veins. I do not forget the trauma endured by my ancestors. I do not forget this frayed, grueling history.

And I will continue to be sad. I will continue to be afraid. I will continue to worry about my family. But amidst all of that, I believe that in merely knowing the truths of this country’s horrible, gruesome history; knowing the foundational bedrocks upon which it stands; knowing the pain that my fellow people of color endure for no other reason than that they are of color; knowing that Iknow all of this, that I am conscious enough to know this, that I am not afraid to face the history that has at times privileged and oppressed me, is precisely why I am hopeful. I am hopeful because at least I am awake. At least I have not indulged in any lies. I must go on to believe that if anything, at least I have in this moment, chosen to be on the side of a history that hasn’t forgotten the past. And that, to me, is its own kind of hope.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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