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And then there's Hope

Hgraves's picture
Much like how I felt after reading Teju Cole's the White Savior, after reading Elizabeth Killbert's The Sixth Extinction I felt stuck. These two very caring individuals had presented me with a topic that by the end go reading their pieces I felt was no solution to. Teju Cole had brought attention to the fact that we as Americans are so quick to react off of emotion when we see a hungry person in another country and send them some money, but in the long run how is the helping them? And Elizabeth Kolbet opened my eyes to the effects that being in the geological era "The Anthropocene" is having on the environment and that we are in The Sixth Extinction of many of the earth's creations. Having both of these topics brought to me really opened my eyes to what is going on around me and it did pull on my heart strings. But, by the end of both of their papers that had quickly changed. I was left with the question: Ok, so what should I do? In Teju Cole's case he was so against the idea of "the white savior" and suggested that we get involved and help poorer people in a more long tern way. One of his suggestions was to get involved with politics. But for me, that didn't work. How am I supposed to see a person asking for money and not give them money because I'm working on it politically; something that could take years to accomplish. So,since politics wasn't the answer for me, my question arose. And in the case of Elizabeth Kolbert as far as ways to help the environment stop further destruction of Earth's beautiful creatures she gave none. I was so unsatisfied because I wanted so much more. The more I learned about what was going on, I kind of wanted to make a change but I didn't know where to start. We, the readers, were presented with this huge issue and someone who seems to know much about the topic had no resolution. With both of these pieces I was very stuck. Here I am with two huge problems, yet I have not starting ground of way to make these issues better. I felt hopeless.
  "But I know from my personal life sometimes something really bad has to happen before something really good can happen. It's when you get dumped or fired or fail that test that you have to look at yourself and figure out, What am I going to do now? And we're at that moment. Sometimes a breakdown can lead to a breakthrough." (Jones) These encouraging words were brought to me by the next activist that I read about named Van Jones. Van Jones is an environmental and social justice activist who in the article written about his work entitled Greening The Ghetto: The Political Scene focuses on his intersectional activism which includes improving the environment white trying to raise the socioeconomic status and improve the loves of many people living in the ghetto. Van Jones' writing was such a breath of fresh air after reading the two pieces mentioned above. When he presented a problem, he also presented a solution. It might not have the solution that's gonna change everything but it was a starting point,unlike what Elizabeth Kolbert gave. Someone had some direction that I could be apart of and help out with as opposed to suggesting getting involved with politics, something that is a bit unrealistic. Van Jones and his ideas gave me a sense of hope. I just felt like finally someone has some kind of idea of what needs to be done.
Being a product of the ghetto I've seen my people struggle. Even more personally, I've seen my mom struggle and continue to struggle because she isn't allotted the same opportunities. She never went to college and was pregnant around the age of 19. And having five kids by men who felt the need to not support their children made it even worse. Growing up all I see is people trying to make ends mere and with jobs being limited selling drugs and getting into all different types of things sometimes seems like the only way out. But what Van Jones is proposing, to increase the number of green jobs within these ghettos would not only improve the environment of these hoods because that's where everyone is getting hit worse with the pollution of the earth, but it would also create jobs for the poorer people thus raising their socioeconomic status. When more people have jobs, that creates less time to do illegal things which sometimes come out of boredom or desperation. And if less illegal activity is happening, that means that less money is needed to put into building jails within the poorer communities and the money used to build the jails vane be used to help rejuvenate the struggling ghetto communities. His ideas and his methods seems so logical to me, someone whose seen what needs to be done in these ghettos, and made me so hopeful that not only would the people in the ghetto be able to succeed but that there would be some improvement on the environment no matter how small.
To bring it home, all of the issues presented by each activist is such a big issue and I feel as though having some kind of idea on how to solve it that everyone can be involved in and just having an idea on how to fix it alone is very important. No matter how wrong people think Van Jones is he has an idea and he's running with it because you never know what the outcome could be. Here at Bryn Mawr College there are some racial issues that have arisen in the last couple of weeks that would make one question whether or not Bryn Mawr is a safe place. And for me, it takes a toll on me mentally and emotionally because a place where I am supposed to be living for the next four years is simultaneously the place where I feel like I always have to be ready for what is thrown my away. I can't relax. Granted this institution was intentionally intended to not have me, a woman of color, here and did everything to keep me out until it just wasn't plausible anymore, I still don't believe that I shouldn't feel welcomed. A big issue for me and this topic is that I felt like there was no resolution. Once again, the hopelessness began to succumb me. But luckily we have groups such as the NAACP and Sisterhood on campus that can be the single voice of the African American individuals on campus. They can be my Van Jones for my time here at Bryn Mawr.


Anne Dalke's picture

This paper is full of energy—it moves from your sense of overwhelming hopelessness, after reading Cole’s essay and Kolbert’s book,  through the sense of encouragement offered by Jones’s intersectional activism--a starting point, a direction—to reflect, first, on the implications of such work in your home neighborhood, and then on the possibilities it suggests for activism @ Bryn Mawr.
That’s a lot of territory to cover!

There are a couple of spots where I’d like to linger, and talk through with you; these are all moments where I’d like to dig a little deeper into the analogy you develop, from humanitarian aid, through environmental disaster and activism, to anti-racist work. First, your observation, in passing, that “illegal things sometimes come out of boredom or desperation,” puts me in mind of the intention of the BMC administration to re-think and re-work our honor code. How much do you think the current one depends on a homogenous imagining of who Mawrtyrs are, where they come from, what values they bring with them, how desperate they may sometimes feel to break the “code”? How is it possible to draw up a shared code of honor for a truly diverse community?

 Second, your finding hope in Jones’ work, in part, “because you never know what the outcome could be,” seems deep to me—the notion that hope can come from not knowing, rather than from the certainty that action will bring about a determined end. Third, your saying that “racial issues make one question whether or not Bryn Mawr is a safe place.” Who is the “one”? Do some of us feel more threatened than others? How much does a sense of safety correlate with identity? Fourth, your acknowledging that, given what’s happened on campus recently, that you “can't relax.” How much comfort do you think is due, to each of us here? How much discomfort is allowable/ reasonable/ an inevitable part of learning? Fifth, I celebrate with you the activism initiated here by both Sisterhood and NAACP, and share your sense of hope that their work, joined by that of allies, can continue to re-shape the “cultural commons” that is this college.