The guest post below was originally posted to Melvin Lee Rogers’s Facebook page. It has been posted on BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY with permission from Melvin Lee Rogers.
Democracy and Hope From Disregard and Anger:
Some Thoughts From Melvin Lee Rogers
A long post and I don’t know if it all is clear, but I want to say it because it helps me. Since Monday evening I was, like many, trying to come to grips with the horror of Floyd’s murder. He mattered to his family, his friends, his community. But for many of us, he represents a symbol of black life denied–black life taken prematurely by the habits of racial disregard. And just thinking about myself, I was feeling utterly defeated, wondering, what am I doing and what have I (personally and professionally in my little slice of life) been going on about in the writing and in the teaching. On Friday, I was angry–not the kind you wear on your face, but the kind of anger you feel in your soul. And so encouraged by Serge and assisted by anger, I wrote a page or two that was then published by Boston Review.
Since then I have been asked to speak with this or that news outlet or podcast. Selfishly, I’ve declined them all. I am far too emotionally unsettled and I am not up for putting that all on display for those who seem unable to understand that our eruptive emotions are really attempts to match the gravity of the moment.
For those of you who know my work and know me, you know that I have over several years insisted on the importance and necessity of hope. I’m nearly at the end of a book in which this theme is central. I have done so because, for me, hope fuels life. It structures our trivial desires and our grandest ambitions. It has always seemed to me that an important thread of black struggle in this country has been about hope and how central it is to this thing we call democracy.
But hope is not the kind of thing we can sustain by ourselves. We need support; some of that support comes from within, but a good portion of it comes from without. And when our hopes are continually dashed, it won’t be long before our souls darken and our imaginations are arrested.
This country has been in the business–since its inception–of crushing souls. This has been its primary business. When black life is taken prematurely it is just a reminder of that irrevocable hell into which we were thrown so so long ago that stains everything we call the United States. I say everything because even the good it does to address the harms done to black people is itself only possible because we must recall that irrevocable hell.
What we are seeing right now in this country is a rupture. We are seeing protesters demanding the nation come to grips with its living past–the way it inhabits the present. James Baldwin described this as a battle–an attempt to enter into battle “with that historical creation, Oneself” in a quest to “recreate oneself according to a principle more humane and more liberating.”
But Baldwin knew as this Nation must come to know that the present will always contain the unaltered memory of pain and disregard; the present bears the imprimatur of the irrevocable character of past wrongs. The fate of the future (and we must use grand words for our moment). But the fate of the future will largely depend on this Nation’s ability to reckon with the past without insisting on absolution. In this society, we still must insist that living a shared life is imaginable and progress (yes progress) is possible. However, they both depend on America abandoning its long-sought-after quest of achieving redemption from its sins.
Melvin Lee Rogers is currently Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at Brown University.