For an Optimist I’m Pretty Pessimistic
A year and some months ago, in March 2019, my worldview was entirely different, both in its scope and in its perception of reality. I was taking a critical race theory class at the time, and I was quite frankly frustrated by it, partly because of the material (which was at times triggering) and partly because I felt that my professor and I disagreed on several points and that my opinions and values were not entirely respected. At the same time, I did enjoy the class, and I learned a lot from both the professor and my fellow classmates. While I often disagreed with him, we were still in accordance more often than not. As I was going through old notes recently, I found a note I had written down for class which was I presume a quote from him saying
“We cannot become pessimistic because the past was so absurd. We need to leave room for hope, or else we will be living in a state of madness. We are dooming ourselves.”
In 2019, my mind was brimming with thoughts from this quote. I wrote with passion about how we need to acknowledge what good has come without settling and how there is always room for improvement, but we need to appreciate what we have because backlash is inevitable. And yet despite that inevitability hope needed to be at the core of our ethos. I wrote about how we doomed ourselves by prioritizing one form of marginalization over another, about how gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, location, citizenship, class, and host of other factors cause people to struggle through the world in different ways. I wrote about how people face different obstacles, and in certain places and spaces they will at times have different advantages and disadvantages as they move through the world, about how the realm of what kind of identities someone can hold is infinite. About how solidarity is the key to a better future for all of us, and without that, we cannibalize our own efforts.
In 2020, my mind is full of similar thoughts, yet they are drained of the optimistic mindset. A year ago, I was filled with hope, and eager to go out into the world. It is with unflinching candor that I say 2020 has battered down my defenses such that my hope is leaking out and escaping into the world, elpis fleeing Pandora’s box.
There is some confusion in the myth of Pandora, as to whether it was a good thing that she kept hope in her jar — lest it not escape and be denied to the world — or if by keeping it in the pithos she was denying hope to those who suffered.
Suffering. There is so much suffering. From wildfires to pestilence to the ceaseless war against those of us who are Black, killed day after day. Because make no mistake there is a war against BIPOC. There is a war against those who do not conform to gender binaries that do not exist, have never existed in anything but the cultural consciousness and must be dismantled not only because lives are at stake but also because how we live our lives is not anybody’s business but our own. The war against those of us who are disabled. And all these wars are fought with and against each other as we doom ourselves to madness. You know that old saying? “United we stand, divided we fall”? It is not just a platitude. It is a strategy, to cause us to destroy each other, to cause hatred and sow seeds of distrust on all sides. At times solidarity feels like a long-forgotten dream. How do we move forward when taking a step forward in one respect is two steps back in another?
And yet I cannot let myself lose hope. I cannot let myself fall into that trap. Losing hope is giving up and giving up has never been particularly my style. That said, I am scared. I am scared for the lives of family, my friends, and my communities, but I am also scared for the world. I am scared for what this all means in the greater scheme of reality as we know it. These are the things that keep me up at night. And here is where I get into a bit of a quibble with Star Wars. Because while I agree that fear and anger unchecked lead to the dark side — some of the worst atrocities are committed by those who cannot control these emotions — I think that a healthy dose leads to reason and caution, and the passion of emotion, compassion and love, is what will save us. Not because of some innate magic, but because by loving and caring for each other we can work together to make the world a better place. This is not about just casting a spell; it is about doing the hard work of working with one another to do the right thing. And I truly do believe that it is, in the long run, entirely possible. Perhaps I am an optimist after all.
“I am, and always will be, the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes, and the dreamer of improbable dreams.”— Eleventh Doctor
All my love, Talia
P.S. Don’t forget to take action to support Black Lives and keep us all safe during COVID-19! This is a both/and situation! Note that the following is a non-exhaustive list, but I think a good place to start:
- Support Black-owned businesses — see the Black Parade Route for some ideas.
- Learn about ways to support Black trans lives, because even in the midst of Black Lives Matter, Black trans folx are too often forgotten or ignored.
- Sign a petition, such as the #JusticeforBre petition, calling for justice to be served to cops who have murdered American citizens.
- Attend a march or protest — although they are not being covered as much in the news these days, they are still taking place, and they are still important.
- Donate money, if you can, to bail funds or mutual aid funds.
- Support food banks during COVID-19
- If you have recovered from COVID-19 donate plasma
- Wear a face covering!!!!!
- When you go grocery shopping try to buy enough for 2-3 weeks but don’t clear any shelves. (Also note that many places are reserving the first hour of shopping for the elderly and those who are immunocompromised! If you don’t fall into either category please shop later in the day, folks)
- Try not to go farther from your usual area than have to — none of us like being cooped up, especially in the summer, but the less we travel the less we risk spreading the virus somewhere it hadn’t been before
- Foster a pet to reduce the load on animal shelters. Use this network to find a place near you