"That only which we have within, can we see without. If we meet no gods, it is because we harbor none. If there is grandeur in you, you will find grandeur in porters and sweeps." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last week I read Cory Booker's new book, United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good.
Today, I read the New York Times Sunday Book Review dated Feb. 4, Cory Booker: By the Book. In the article Cory Booker is asked, "Which writers - novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets - working today do you admire most?" And Senator Booker answers:
Let’s see. Playwright, I’d say Lin-Manuel Miranda — “Hamilton” is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on a stage, and for a guy who loves American history, hip-hop and theater, it was pure bliss. Journalists? The person that comes to mind right now is Ta-Nehisi Coates. His articles — and especially his book “Between the World and Me” — have been incredibly important to me this year, as I have been thinking and writing a lot about race and the promise of America. I admire and respect him, even though (or because) I find myself disagreeing with some of what he writes and some of the conclusions he draws.
It was a funny coincidence that as I was reading the Times article, I was listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. And, in my mind, all three works: United, Hamilton, Between The World And Me... started to debate the ideas of American history and race and opportunity and oppression.
From Hamilton, My Shot...
This is not a moment, it’s the movement
Where all the hungriest brothers with
Something to prove went?
Foes oppose us, we take an honest stand
Is that a guarantee of freedom for our descendants?
Or will the blood we shed begin an endless
Cycle of vengeance and death with no defendants?
I know the action in the street is excitin’
But Jesus, between all the bleedin’ ‘n fightin’
I’ve been readin’ ‘n writin’
I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow
And I am not throwing away my shot I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot
It is impossible to think of the founding fathers merely as dead white males once you see and hear them embodied by young black and brown men rapping America's narrative.
And then there's Between The World And Me and Coates' message that America is structurally and irredeemably racist.
“It does not matter that the ‘intentions’ of individual educators were noble. Forget about intentions. What any institution, or its agents, ‘intend’ for you is secondary. No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. But a great number of educators spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ in a country authored and sustained by a criminal irresponsibility. The point of this language of ‘intention’ and ‘personal responsibility’ is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. ‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”Is the American Dream a lie or does it belong all who are young, scrappy, and hungry?
In United, Cory Booker says...
"Tolerance is becoming accustomed to injustice; love is becoming disturbed and activated by another's adverse condition. Tolerance crosses the street; love confronts. Tolerance builds fences; love opens doors. Tolerance breeds indifference; love demands engagement. Tolerance couldn't care less; love always cares more."
"The destiny of our country will surely depend on how many of us choose to join forces and fight the battles of our time, side by side. Cynicism about America's current state of affairs is ultimately a form of surrender; a toxic state of mind that perpetuates the notion that we don't have the power to make a difference, that things will never change. This idea is not only wrong, it is dangerous."
Perhaps a diverse nation like America will always be more interdependent than we realize. Our national narrative is both cynical and hopeful, compassionate and indifferent, both a calculated symphony and a beautiful rap.