Letter from the Editor
Whether it is the invasion of the Russians into their neighboring country of Ukraine to roll back freedom or the fight by the socially and racially powerful in America against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, the struggle to advance justice is always resisted—but that means that the push to establish justice must continually be made.
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen Russia, a nation hell-bent on destruction, invade its neighbor Ukraine in the hopes of subduing it and turning it into a client state. Ukraine is targeted by Russia for reasons that defy understanding without insight into the mind of Putin as he attempts to destroy its independence. But while we can cheer on the bravery of those who resist their subjugation, I fear that without a counterbalance to Russia’s moves there will be little left of Ukraine in a few weeks.
Ukraine’s sovereignty will be erased, and it will return to its status as a vassal of the greater Russian state. And that will be that. Its independence will be snuffed out because, after all, when someone with a great army and greater ambition wants to conquer a smaller, isolated nation, who can stop it without igniting a larger conflict that could be the formal outbreak of our third World War?
One thing that watching these events has awakened in me is the realization that what we accomplish in this life for good and for justice can be erased quickly by determined opponents. Not two years ago I watched with great hope the changes in our American nation that came about because of the widely popular protests about the need to love the bodies of Black people. The murder of George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis by a police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck was the inciting moment, but there was a long sequence of fuel and sparks where other Black people had their own lives taken by brutal police action.
Something seemed to snap in the minds of many Americans who went out in public protests across the nation, demanding changes. We watched as cities painted streets with BLACK LIVES MATTER slogans and promised changes in policing. We watched one corporation after another pledge to change their hiring practices and change their focus to incorporate the values of Black people. We watched as so many Americans stood in solidarity on street corners to demand that our Black friends and neighbors be treated fairly and justly, and that Black bodies be honored and loved.
It was a heady moment. To me, it felt like a change was gonna come.
But we’ve slipped back to our old ways of indifference and even contempt in our social reactions to the pain of Black people and the pain of those who have been marginalized by the powerful. During a month to celebrate Black history, one state after another pushed for legislation to ban talking about the reasons for having a Black History Month, turning the celebration of factual events into a cherry-picked quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Not two years ago I watched with great hope the changes in our American nation that came about because of the widely popular protests about the need to love the bodies of Black people.
Those American states that are controlled by those who have always opposed the dignity of Black lives have pushed back, hard, to roll back any advances—and they have gone even further to strip parents of their ability to show love to their trans kids or to talk about the normality of diverse gender expression and affection in schools.
The powerful always continue to seek to dominate and control the lives of those who they consider as “weaker,” whether it is a nation-state like Russia seeking to crush dissent in a sovereign neighbor or it is the dominant class in America seeking to impose “order” upon and remove dignity from the lives of those who have been historically oppressed.
It would seem that it is a foolish thing for the disempowered to push back against these desires for liberty and justice for all because the reality is that the powerful want “for all” to mean “just us.” The attempts to build just societies and just organizations and just laws continually are opposed and relentlessly fought against until they break and crumble, and the novus status reverts to the status quo.
Why try to effect change when change is resisted and pushed against so strongly by those who have vested interest in re-establishing the dominance of the already powerful? Wouldn’t it make sense to just get along with the way things are, accept that the powerful will rule over the powerless, find a way to make peace with misery, and bow down to oppression?
In a word: no.
No, it is not right to give up. It is not right to let our ancestors’ hard work to effect change go to waste because the job seems too hard for us. It is not fair that every move forward toward justice requires eternal vigilance to protect those advances from the powers of retrenchment and recapture. It is not acceptable that trying to live in peace and gentleness can become a reason to be conquered and destroyed. It is not just that the stories we hear in our homes and schools and churches and synagogues and mosques and temples about doing right no matter the cost are stories that often aren’t reflected in reality. It is not endurable that every good thing must be defended by exhausting vigilance.
But it is the way we have to live.
We have to push to keep what we have created and built. We have to push to advance justice, even if it is in small increments. We have to furiously defend any attempt to take back justice and freedom, and even more furiously work to return and release what was taken captive.
It is not right to let our ancestors’ hard work to effect change go to waste because the job seems too hard for us.
It is going to take work to effect changes in states that are joyously enacting laws to restrict the rights of women, trans people, and Black people and People of Color. We are going to have to stay committed to turning back the attempts to take away freedom. We can’t truly relax as if any small victory is a settled victory. We’re going to have to get up, again and again, and fight for justice.
The story of Russia and Ukraine, of course, is a real war of violence that is destroying one nation for the enjoyment and psychic pleasure of another. That conflict parallels America’s fight to maintain and expand justice for Black people against the desires of the powerful in America to roll back righteousness and return to the rule by descendants of Northern Europeans. Both fights reflect the same motivations of the more powerful to control the less powerful. That fight must be continued as long as the more powerful attempt to rule by force what they could not hold by persuasion.
Love one another.
OHF Weekly Senior Editor
NEW THIS WEEK
Racism and White Privilege at the Ukrainian Border
By Sylvia Wohlfarth
Our new article this week is by Sylvia Wohlfarth, who brings her perspective of this present Russo-Ukrainian conflict and the discrimination faced by Africans living, working, and studying in Ukraine as they attempt to flee into neighboring countries.
So focussed are we with the tragedies unfolding in Ukraine that we are overlooking parallel incidents taking place at its borders. Black refugees and other minority groups who have been living, studying, and working in Ukraine are facing segregation, racism, and abuse as they, too, try to flee war-torn Ukraine to Poland and other bordering countries. Read the article at OHF Weekly.
More about and by Sylvia Wohlfarth
The fight for justice takes place in so many areas of our lives, but it starts with raising awareness of the need for justice for those who are oppressed, whose “backs are against the wall,” as Howard Thurman put it.
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