A Love Very Few Can Understand
United States Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), in the third day of the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the 116th Associate Justice to the United States Supreme Court, said these words:
“I’m not gonna let my joy be stolen, because I know - you and I - we appreciate something that we get that a lot of my colleagues don’t.”
He was expressing a sentiment that many of us that identify as African Americans have been trying to express for generations. We, as a people, have been marginalized, vilified, persecuted, abused, oppressed, enslaved, imprisoned, and even murdered in a nation which is considered, by friend and foe alike, the greatest democracy in the history of world. Yet, despite these historical facts, many of us feel that this is our home, our native land, and we will defend it against, and thrive in it despite, all enemies foreign or domestic.
Senator Booker, Judge Jackson and I are generational contemporaries. We were born when the Great Promise of America: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’’ was actually being codified into the United States Code and enforced by the Federal Government. Our champions have been elected, appointed to cabinet positions and the courts, and even honored for their martyrdom. Our contemporaries have made enormous progress in the corporate/financial arenas outside of the Black community, increased our representation in the halls of government and have occupied the two highest positions in our government. Yet, with all the gratitude we can muster, our generation, and our children, and grand children are demanding and encouraging America to be better than it has ever been, especially towards our people.
We understand that there are still many barriers to overcome, many “firsts” yet to be attained. We know the struggle for equal justice, let alone equitable justice, is still formidable. We know, historically, that the power we have attained politically is fragile and must be fortified. We acknowledge that the financial gains we have made can be wiped out without our due diligence. It is known fact to us progress cannot be achieved without struggle. Yet, myself, Senator Booker, Judge Jackson, and many others engage in this struggle without malice. We engage because of love.
Even though the words of the most prolific document to declare independence from an empire were written by a person flawed by his personal practice of enslaving human beings, our love has embraced those words to be our declaration as well. Yes, we have lovingly usurped them, for ourselves, our future generations, and on behalf of our previous enslaved and oppressed ancestors.
This is not to suggest that our generation is monolithic in thought. No group of human beings are wired that way. Many African Americans do not love America, for historical and contemporary reasons. Those of us that do love America have attained that love at different stages of our life experience. However, I will say that those of us who truly strive to make America better for all of us have that love. It is a love that has been passed down from abolitionists, politicians, lawyers, scholars, ministers, entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, organizers and soldiers for many generations. It is our duty to pass it down as well.
But love brings about hurt. Hurt is what led Senator Booker to make his eloquent remarks. Hurt is why Judge Jackson shed a tear or two. Hurt is why we who experienced that moment in the proceedings were relieved when we saw and heard it. Because when you love, you can be disappointed. When you love, you can be caught off-guard. When you love, you can be offended. Love makes us vulnerable, but it is also our greatest strength. Our love for this nation is this nation’s greatest gift.
People tend to take love for granted, so do nations. America may take our love for granted, but we cannot afford for our continued love to wane or diminish. Our love has delivered us from slavery and Jim Crow, and it will deliver us from micro aggressions, trolling and insurrections.
The Apostle Paul, in the first chapter to his letter to the church in Philippa, wrote:
“Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the Gospel.”
If we change the wording to reflect the charge we have to love our nation it would read:
“Some indeed praise America even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former praise America from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to our chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that we are appointed for the defense of the nation.”
We have an incredible obligation to defend the idea of America. We have to make America the land of free and the home of the brave in the truest sense. Love gives us freedom. Love gives us courage. It is a love that few can truly understand, especially if they are not a member of our identified subset, but it is one that must be shared, because we know that love conquers all that oppose it.
That love is what Senator Booker talked about that day. That love is what moved Judge Jackson that day and has motivated her throughout her legal career. That love is what helped us relate to what transpired in that moment of the hearing and gives us that hope for a better tomorrow. It is that love that is going to save our nation for posterity.
As Dr. King reminded us in his last speech, there will be more difficult days ahead. There will be more unjust sentences, more cases of excessive policing, more poverty, more black businesses failing, more attempts to suppress our rights. However, Dr. Cornell West reminds us that: “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people.” To paraphrase, we can’t lead America to be the best it can be if we don’t love America and all its potential. Even if very few can understand that love.
“America - - this monument to the genius of ordinary men and women, this place where hope becomes capacity, this long, halting turn of ‘no’ into the ‘yes’ - - needs citizens who love it enough to re-imagine and re-make it.”—-Dr. Cornell West (emphasis added)