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Sometimes we must wrestle with unpleasant realities bec...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Sometimes we must wrestle with unpleasant realities because hope on its own is severely limited

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Lwando Xaso is an attorney and a writer exploring the interaction between race, gender, history and popular culture. She is the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’.

Anyone who reads this column knows I am a champion of hope. But I hear the word ‘hope’ so often that I fear it is now becoming dull to my ears.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Most distressing is when people with privilege and ability ask me to restore their hope. These days I wonder if hope is even the point. Is it time to move beyond searching for hope? Is it unfair to seek hope on demand from people who have every reason to feel hopeless, but hold on to hope because it is all they have?

One of my favourite writers is Ta-Nehisi Coates. My book Made in South Africa: A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress is very much inspired by him. His writing career skyrocketed during the Barack Obama presidency in the US, when reliable interpreters for blackness were in urgent need.

I loved the fact that Coates has never been seduced by American exceptionalism. He refutes the lies of the US’s self-perception. Coates does not trade in hope. It is not his ministry. But still people, especially white readers, wanted to hear him say something to make them feel good. These people want to know that the story will end well.

Coates has often said he hates being asked to offer white people hope of a better future, in which America becomes a post-racial utopia. He simply does not believe the US is going to “get over” racism: “White supremacy is so foundational to America that it will be impossible to ever eradicate it.”

Although I’m a big proponent of hope, I admire Coates for holding up a magnifying glass to our turmoil without the temptation to soothe our anguish, especially white anguish.

What if the point is not hope but discomfort? Amid the havoc of Covid-19, economic downturn, a high unemployment rate, crime, corruption, assaults to the rule of law by treasonous public figures, there are some who look to others for hope. Unable to sit in the discomfort, they reach out to what will make them feel better. I understand that impulse. But I also know that some moments require us to wrestle with the unpleasant reality. Sometimes we should not look away to look for hope.

Many South Africans drew their hope from Nelson Mandela. They found hope in the ideal of the now defunct rainbow nation. Had that hope been alchemised into real change, perhaps we would be better off today. But hope with no sacrifice or purpose will get us nowhere. The reason the rainbow nation ideal did not hold up into the 21st century is because some of us subscribed to it only to the extent that it made us feel good. We wanted all the hope the rainbow nation offered, but none of its responsibility and personal sacrifice.

Mandela is no longer here to make you feel better, but his values and ideals are. It’s up to you, through the work you do, to embody the hope you seek in others. Hope can be the fuel that gives us the impetus to do the work. It’s not an end in itself.

In my first piece of the new year I wrote: “May hope bloom in all our lives. Even when the stems are bare – tend to your hope. Cultivate it and it will reward you.” Hope on its own is severely limited. It needs purpose. It needs a plan. It needs commitment. And it needs for you to do your own work and hopefully the fruits of your labour will feed you and generations to come. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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