Beyond Wretchedness, Resilience and Inner Rage: Hopes for the New Year
A positive outlook might engender positive change in 2007
By J.B. Borders
I've decided to be hopeful about the New Year.
I hope I'm not being foolish in making such a resolution. And I hope I don't live to regret my decision.
I hope also that my outlook is not simply the residue of Barack Obama-mania. His new book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, has become a national best seller and is helping to propel speculation about the Illinois senator's candidacy for the U.S. presidency in 2008.
I've read excerpts from The Audacity of Hope. Among other things, Obama uses the book to remind readers that the conservative Christian right does not have a monopoly on religious values. The Black Church, he counters, has long provided a base for both progressive political engagement and solid spiritual grounding.
Moreover, Obama's analysis of the challenges facing those who support social and economic justice is clear and balanced. "The problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect 10-point plan," he writes. "They are also rooted in societal indifference and individual callousness -- the desire among those at the top of the social ladder to maintain their wealth and status whatever the cost, as well as the despair and self-destructiveness among those at the bottom."
I hope Obama does well in the race for the presidency but that's not the reason I'm feeling hopeful about the double-O seven. The truth is, I can't pin it down to anything specific. It's just a feeling, a hunch, an intuition.
For weeks now, I've been attempting to analyze my growing sense of optimism, to ground it in objective reality, to prove to myself that it is something more than blind faith or Kwanzaa-induced ruminations on Imani, the Africanist spin on what the Bible describes as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
I am by nature empirically oriented. So from time to time, I would make mental checklists of positive versus negative conditions, factors and developments. Most of these analyses resulted in ties. The good and the bad kept canceling each other out.
And then came the November elections, which squashed the Republican juggernaut in Congress. Suddenly, there was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel of oppression that most of the country had been crawling through the past six years. Finally, it seemed that the Animal House administration could be prevented from continuing to trash the national economy, the Middle East and all hopes for that most elusive of panaceas, world peace.
As if to prove the point, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resigned immediately after the election. I took it as a sign that some of the outrageous cronyism of the Bush era would be curtailed. That was naive, I know, but I was hopeful.
Even when I learned that James Brown had died on Christmas Day, I remained upbeat. Though I always thought of Brown the man as an embarrassingly ignorant conk-head buffoon, I have nothing but warm remembrances about the times his music provided the soundtrack to my life.
I'll never forget the moment in the summer of 1965 when I first heard "Papa?s Got a Brand New Bag." Ill also never forget a small, scorching house party a couple of years later when I was in high school. We played all four sides of the James Brown "Live at the Apollo" long-playing recording over and over and over. Nothing else. Five teenage girls, five teenage boys, no parental supervision. Four hours straight of James Brown grunting, squealing and keeping it funky. It was a magical afternoon.
When I heard the Godfather of Soul, Mr. Please Please Please, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business had left this world, I just wished him well and hoped he had gone on to a better place. I tried to think of his passing as just another manifestation of creative destruction -- that something old must die in order for something new and better to be born.
That's also why I'm relieved to see 2006 go and to have 2007 come. This is a chance to make everything better, especially in New Orleans. I'm filled with hope and optimism -- for the time being, at least.
I hope, first and foremost, that this is the year we stop inching along toward a vision of how to save ourselves and, instead, make a giant leap out of poverty and ignorance. I just read somewhere that 90 percent of American businesses are family-owned enterprises and that they account for half of all employment in the U.S. I hope there is an explosion of new black family-owned businesses in New Orleans in 2007. I also hope we start creating all sorts of new cooperatively owned and managed businesses and service providers. That would help create extended-family and neighborhood networks through which we can prosper and take care of each other.
I hope this is the year we stop thinking of ourselves as "wretched but resilient" and instead begin defining ourselves -- and making outsiders do so too -- as triumphal, victorious, successful. It's time to stop whining and start winning.
I also hope this is the year we let go of our inner rage and turn it outward on our real enemies, wherever they are.
I hope this is the year the Archbishop of New Orleans makes good on his promise to combat racism in the church and its enterprises. If he doesn't follow through, I hope the Good Lord slaps some sense into him. If the Catholic Church becomes part of the solution and not just a large part of the problem, it may force the rest of the crackerocracy to slacken up on the blows they have been raining down upon our brows these past 500 years.
As an aside, I also hope this is the year black people stop begging white folk for permission to pray in houses of worship. That's why black denominations started being formed in the first place more than 200 years ago. There's no reason for us to still be confronting these issues and wasting our energy when we have so many more pressing concerns.
For example, I hope this is the year we stop begging government to help us and instead start demanding that the federal administration accept the full and direct responsibility to replace the homes and neighborhoods it destroyed when the federal levee system failed. The buck stops and starts there. No more ducking and dodging the blame.
And if the private insurance companies continue to try to fleece us, I hope we have the good sense to form a new Louisiana Mutual Insurance Company that we all own and invest in to collectively self-insure our lives, property and health. Sometimes the old approaches offer the best solutions.
I have lots of lesser hopes, too, but I'll only mention a couple of random ones:
I hope Harry Lee keeps his big fat mouth shut all year long.
I hope Bill Jefferson really does have an honorable explanation for all his nefarious-looking activities.
And I hope Ray Nagin becomes relevant again.
If these hopes fail to materialize, however, I won't be crushed. For despite all the hell we have been through in recent years, decades and centuries, I'm clinging to the audacious hope that we will turn things around and start to thrive like never before.
Now is the time. This is the year.
No backing down, no turning back.