Despair and Hope

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In his autobiography, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, historian and activist Howard Zinn writes: "To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness."

Now, when racial tension suffocates our lungs and violence rains on our most vulnerable bodies, it seems like every news update is but another reason to despair. As racism and antisemitism rear their ugly heads in Charlottesville and around the country, it feels not
only difficult but perhaps even ridiculous to harbor any sense of hope.

But while these negative feelings are certainly warranted, I can't help but think back to Zinn's words, and how being hopeful does not equate to being silly or oblivious. America has, at once, a dark, disgusting tradition of racism, and a beautiful, ongoing history of everyday heroes who fight to dismantle that. These are two coexisting truths. To me, hope does not mean rejecting the reality of racism. It means remembering those who boldly and tirelessly worked to propel this country forward - people like Sojourner Truth, Dolores Huerta, Ella Baker, Susan Ahn Cuddy, and Emma Lazarus - and letting their stories inspire me. Hope and anger are not mutually exclusive.

Knowing this hard-fought and well-earned history is empowering in times of distress. And as I grapple with the ugly underbelly of America, it feels crucial to remember that people on the whole are inclined towards "compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness." Being hopeful is neither foolish nor irresponsible - it is healthy, productive, and, ultimately, a reflection of the truth.

With a Perspective, I am Karen Chee.


Karen Chee lives in Foster City and contributes humor pieces to The New Yorker.