In the most recent moments of grappling with police brutality against Black Americans, I’ve been asked countless times, mostly by non-Black friends and colleagues, “Are you optimistic?”
Truth is, I aspire to optimism.
But in practice I am probably more of a pragmatic idealist. What’s completely indisputable, however, is that I’m a truth teller.
And the truth about what I’ve come to understand is that many of these inquiries about my state of “optimism” or lack thereof have so much more to do with the fact that the questioner needs me to be optimistic. This is particularly true in cases where they’ve shared their new awareness about the state of “race relations” in the U.S.; their commitment to learn, grow, and change; or, their plans and actions, e.g., those related to anti-racism.
I was initially perplexed by their need to know if I’m optimistic, and even occasionally befuddled by their disappointment with my inability to readily declare that I possess optimism. My frequent response about my aspirations for or journey towards optimism seemed to frequently disappoint or surprise—as did my declaration that I’m not an unbridled idealist.
I’ve even had well-meaning colleagues suggest that optimism would be good for my health and state of mind. And while several studies have apparently linked extreme or strong pessimism with health risks, I’ve not seen strong links of optimism with positive health outcomes. A recent study on perceptions of financial outcomes does suggest that realists report a strong sense of subjective well-being; so, maybe my pragmatic idealist roots may serve me well.
All that said, I’ve gotten a sense that my expressing optimism about where we are or where we may be headed in our communities, workplaces, or as a country as a whole would give some of these non-Black friends and work associates a sense of absolution.
The truth is we each need to sit with the raw reality of this moment—a reality that I and many of my Black and other minoritized friends, family, and colleagues have traversed and continue to navigate. While the issues at hand, the historical paths related to them, and the daunting work that we must do to “right the ship” seems at times completely overwhelming, exhausting, and uncomfortable, we cannot look to those among us most impacted by the systemic racism in this country to carry the optimism and absolution.
So please know that while I aspire to optimism, even if my aspirations come to fruition: My optimism cannot absolve you.
You must continue to reflect, learn, grow, and commit to the hard, long work ahead. Your absolution is in doing the work, and fully submitting to the process of learning and growth.
If you have comments on this post, as always find me on Twitter—@BerondaM.