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The Love Ethic

me.mae.i's picture

"Take no one's word for anything., including mine--but trust your experience... Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as, what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love." (The Fire Next Time, Letter to My Nephew 8)

Even during this troubling time, I turn to Baldwin for clarity. It's interested how that's where our conversation ended before the election. I left class quite upset. I felt like my words were failing to match what I was thinking and that I did not do Baldwin's writing justice. So here's my second attempt:

What I was trying to communicate was that there is a difference between trust and love. The two often come together, however, they are no where near the same. Trust gives one safety and security. While, love allows one to see and recognize another has a human being first. No one can ever change if they do not feel love. There will be no progress unless there is an underlying principle of love. I think it's important to establish love as a foundation because, in my eyes, love means that you are able to see a person, fully. When you are able to see and accept people for who they are and where they are at in life, you have grounds to do it for yourself as well--and that's how we move forward. Through clarity, through seeing, and through understanding. Hate works the opposite way. When hate other people, its festers in you and holds you back. Therefore, the other person or group of people ultimately wins and you are still stuck. It blinds you from finding a solution, and puts you on a path of division. 

I think this is why Baldwin priotizes love, not neccesarily trust. When I say "love your oppressor" I ask that you see them, even when they don't choose to see you. To recognize that before any label, they are too people--capable of better and change. Now, that does not mean trust them. It does not mean put all of your faith in them and except them to understand you or where you come from. Or to be able to save you. That's why you love yourself first and trust your experience. I do not think Baldwin is saying show them kindness or understanding. Or to give them any piece of you. But rather, to recognize the hurt that's done, and that it has been done by another human being. Not someone who is above you. But another person. 

I'll use an example to show what I mean:

A couple of days ago, another student who went to my high school (white male upper class) posted on facebook "nothing like the sweet smell of liberal tears in the morning" Now I've been facebook friends with this person for years now. I have seen all of his posts stating his beliefs and I never attacked him for it. However, this time I felt a need to say something because he was being intolerant. He was laughing at pain and belittling the life/experiences of so many people. Basically, a friend from high school commented speaking about how these were tears of oppressed groups who's lives were at risk. And he continued to belittle her. When I commented, I told the person who spoke of the tears of oppressed groups that I saw where she was coming from and not to worry because I'm fighting for her. And that this man should check his privilege. He responded by attacking my hometown and major and constantly disrespecting me. I tagged another friend in one comment to say this is Solebury (my highschool) for us. The place that we trusted. He responded by tagging his "republican brothers" (6 or 7 other white male upper class men --who also went to Solebury).  

After that, the friend I tagged screenshotted the conversation and exposed the truth of what happened. She showed the world the disrespect and hurt that he caused me. 

What's important about this story is the next day. After our little argument, he deleted all the comments and unfriended me. Then he messaged me asking for me to take down all of the posts because he needed to get a job. He said sorry for attacking my school and hometown. I struggled a lot with what to do. I turned to Baldwin, and decided not take the screenshots down, and this decision was made in the spirit of love. I had enough love for this man to show the world how I see him. I could have taken it down and did him a favor. But that's not love--or least not my definition of love. To have love for another is to be committed to truth and better. I did not bash his name or twist his words or lie. But I showed the world how I saw him in that moment. If he wanted to truly change that image, then he would have offered a public apology. That way we would be using this experience to grow together. However, through showing love and truth for others and posting the conversation before it was deleted, me and my friend were able to shed light on a hateful side of our high school. And I grew a lot from that. 

I share this story to say that I am not here to please my oppressor or work solely for their progress or them to be better. But I am here for humanity. And I feel like that's a principle Baldwin would carry as well. 

I think the reason why people have trouble accepting what Baldwin is talking about is because we don't do enough work unpacking what love means. We don't think about how to love and how to be loved. We don't take time in our society to envision new realities and what liberation looks like. Rather, we trapped ourselves in trying to working and acting... but for what. Call me crazy, but we need to think about purpose more. That should be worked into every societal fabric and makings, because with purpose you have a path and foundation.

So I encourage everyone to think about this, and I think it would be much easier to implement it and actually carry out a love ethic. 


Anne Dalke's picture

I am very glad that you decided to pick up the conversation where we left it in class on Election Day, with your explanation that “Baldwin is all about love.”

I appreciate the distinction you make between love (“the ability to fully see another person”), which allows change and progress to happen, and trust ((kindness, understanding, self-sacrifice).

And I appreciate your making the “text” of your paper a Facebook exchange with a former classmate, in which you act, in the spirit of love, “to show the world how you see him…to be committed to truth.”

I’d be interested in hearing you explain a little more your movement from “the ability to fully see another person” to showing “the world how you see him.” Does the first necessitate the latter? Is the latter the public expression of the first? Does the process you trace need a public demonstration?

I think a later section from “A Letter to My Nephew” also resonates here:
"integration" means...that we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it...We cannot be free until they are free....

I’m also wondering if you think that any of the texts we read in class over the past several weeks—Getting Mother’s Body, A Book of Salt, Between the World and Me—also include examples of love in action (or a failure of same?). Or acts of love (in distinction from trust) made public?

I’d like to hear you dig into one of these, as a more extended elaboration of the social media story you tell (you'd written earlier, for example, about Billy Beede's development, thinking about how her intersectional identity manifests through action, emotion, and basic human qualities--desires, love, relationships.....)