On Thanksgiving: What Loving Others Truly Means

James Baldwin    in Harlem, 1963. Photo by Steve Schapiro.

James Baldwin in Harlem, 1963. Photo by Steve Schapiro.

Beloved Community: Thoughts through King, West, & hooks on Thanksgiving

“I have decided to love. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Love is the answer to humankind, but that love is not the chicken-soupy kind. And in the market culture like our own, and “hotel civilisation” like America, Love is reduced to stimulation, sentimental gimmick, or performative activism. It’s an “I Voted” sticker, centering anti-racism conversations on white people in media, tokenism in the wellness industry. As Cornel West put it, America is “obsessed with comfort, contentment, and convenience,” expecting answers handed on a silver-platter and issues to resolve on their own.

But Love is about struggle. And loving one another more is to escalate the level of our struggle. One of the reasons why it's so hard to talk about love in America is that we live in a pseudo-saccharine culture. Which is to say, we like to stimulate feelings without any action or commitment.

And of course you can’t talk about love without talking about death, and the death that must come to certain actions. And America has been denying death ever since she was a “City on a Hill.” But if we take that phrase from Matthew 5:14 in its entirety, we must take it with "you are the light of the world,” and being a light is to power the light of all. It’s the symbolic willingness to die—the death of racial injustice, bigotry, homophobia, health discrimination, misogyny, appropriation, erasure, xenophobia. Are you willing to die with the values and thoughts you’ve been stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with and be born again in another way of thinking about the world?

And act in that world. In Baldwin’s words, “I can't believe what you saybecause I see what you do.” As a nation, we growingly feel helpless about injustice and grapple. We muddle through this convenient hotel existence, avoiding any encounter or confrontation with permanent, continuing legacies. We are not going to make it as a society if we just muddle through. It’s not just chit chat and talk and “intentions,” it’s Love in and as struggle. It’s sacrifice, service, it’s cutting against the grain of fictions taught. We cry easier than we change. The oppressed has shed too many, a Trail of Tears continuing. Shed your privilege and power—choose to change.