Hope can be an ugly word. Many of my white friends frequently encourage me to “hope” in the face of systemic injustice and oppression. While talking with a close friend, I realized where my tension with this word comes from in conversations with white peers. They often speak “hope” while ridden with white guilt: a sense of overwhelming responsibility, burdening shame, and inevitable failure when beginning to wrestle with issues of race. White guilt often makes white people feel stuck with violent pasts they did not ask to inherit but still benefit from, contribute to, and continue to reinforce. So when I bring up injustice, whether in a class comment or through poem reflecting on #BlackLivesMatter, my comments often spark white guilt rather than engagement or solidarity. When they have to reckon for a few minutes with the reality of systemic racism, mass incarceration, and other forms of discrimination against people of color, white people are often uncomfortable and quickly defer the focus of the conversation to topics that do not call them to consider their privilege. Protests and disputes may stun them into consciousness, but only for a few seconds, only until they convince themselves that “this too shall pass,” this is all just a terrible dream, and they will wake up one day and it will all go away, in the name of “hope.”
In Christian communities, this false, white hope is often misnamed “faith” or “Jesus” and offered to minorities expressing pain as the solution. Never meant to calm, quiet, or encourage my soul, white hope as an extension of white guilt serves to pacify and silence their own anxiety and confusion. Make no mistake: I deeply, firmly believe Jesus is the answer to systemic injustice. But after reading James Cone and M. Shawn Copeland, I strongly doubt that many of the white women and men who encourage me to “have faith” and excitedly tell me where they see “hope” in my art are dwelling on the same understanding of Jesus as I am. True hope, the hope that Blacks have born for generations, is not founded on a defense of (white) privilege or a sense of overwhelming (white) guilt, but belief in the the aforementioned subversive reality that Christian faith hangs on. To borrow a phrase from a recent movie, dear white people: of course there is hope, there is a Resurrection. And the Resurrection, just like the hope Black people have maintained for hundreds of years and unlike white guilt and the false hope it proposes, has nothing to do with you. If white guilt remains your vantage point, everything you engage in related to race or racial justice will not help Black people or any other people of color because your actions and thoughts will be centered around you feeling better (e.g. less white guilt). So, dear white people, if you want to engage in discussions of racial reconciliation and, better yet, racial justice, then please deal with white guilt in a constructive way. Until you do, it and you will be the center of every “diversity credit” class you take, every art show you attend, every article you post on Facebook, and every time you hear the story of a friend or acquaintance who does not look like you.
After I performed spoken word at a recent coffeehouse, someone expressed surprise with the “hope” that they heard in my pieces. If I could, I would do my best to help him understand that the hope of my poetry, the hope of the tradition of Black faith, has not and will not be tarnished or defined by white guilt. Our hope is not in white allies or activists, but Jesus’ Resurrection. Black faith in the Resurrection, not white guilt or white hope, is what compels me and many other Black women and men around the world to believe that change is possible. We are not working for or hoping for more white guilt or more white hope – we are working towards Resurrection faith. Of course there is hope for Christians, because the death of Christ is not the end and the Resurrection testifies to the truth that hatred, whether in the form of racism, Islamophobia, or homophobia, does not have the last word – Resurrection hope does.