The Arc of History: Why We Should Remain Hopeful in the midst of Trayvon’s Death
When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. — Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr
In the chaotic frenzy that is the still fresh and still unfolding aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death, I still remain hopeful. And I think it is necessary to imbue a humble vestige of hope into the justified anger and action of our nation. Optimism always seems to be a dirty word that seems to be the more unwise choice between pessimism and realism. But we must remember, that the reason we fight for Trayvon, the reason that we remember the unjust deaths of black youths throughout our history, the reason we continue to force our country to live up to its ideals—undoubtedly must stem from an underlying hope—an optimism—that we can reach that ideal.
I cite Dr. King not because he’s the go-to for evoking the hope of justice (albeit he is), but because Dr. King had a very interesting narrative to many of his speeches. That narrative was always laced with the idea that history is progressive. Part of Dr. King’s magnetic and prophetic aura was that he took racial equality as inevitable, and being such, he criticized those individuals who continued to fight against the current of history. We can remain optimistic, I think, because history has shown us that injustices are inevitably clarified through action, persistence, and often times events that we have no control over.
For instance, throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth, scientific movements, such as Eugenics, had begun to utilize science to justify why certain races were inferior to others. These attempts used flawed scientific methods, in some cases outright lies, to suggest that Blacks were mentally, morally, and physically inferior to whites. It is this type of race thinking that spurred historical villains such as Hitler to begin heralding the superiority of the “Aryan” race. Then what happened? The Holocaust. The abhorrent event that showed the danger and evil of scientific racism, and even in the midst of Hitler’s reign, our own Jesse Owens was one of many who showed the strength and capabilities of Black people.
Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin
But we can even be a bit more contemporary. Remember the controversy of the Islamic community center being built on Ground Zero? The media distilled the initiative of the multi-faith and multi-national Cordoba House into the over-simplified issue of “should a mosque be built on Ground Zero?,” and instead of a real discussion about the historical memory of 9/11 and Islam, the debate exposed America’s xenophobia and inability to distinguish between Islamic extremism and the actual complexities of the world’s diverse array of Muslims. Yet again, history came into the foray, when Pastor Terry Jones attempted to launch a hateful Quran burning ceremony, which was called off after pleas from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Obama himself—which essentially silenced the media’s attention to the protestors against the community center. Unfortunately, the pastor was at it again recently, with interestingly little attention from the western media. Nevertheless, we can still appreciate how time dealt with the outlandish outcry of America’s xenophobia back in 2010.
And of course, there are other things. A recent string of LGBTQ teen suicides, which speak to the reality of homophobia and intolerance in the nation, and led to nationwide attention and movements which speak to the plights of LGBTQ youth. (Imperfect as they may be) Or how about the fact that the nation elected its first Black president in the midst of one of America’s lowest moments of confidence and hope? Trayvon’s death is a tragedy, but I am grateful that it has called national attention to the greater problem of America’s racist symptoms, and thus diverted some media attention away from the caricatures that have the nerve to be called Republican presidential candidates.
Thus, to be optimistic is to be historically attentive. Of course, history moves upon the actions and wills of its makers, and to be hopeful does not call for complacency or passivity. But I find solace in the fact that, as imperfect as our nation and world is, it operates it a pattern of self-correction. Justice is hard to reach, but it is inevitable. I wholeheartedly trust that, and I hope others do as well.