“At least they have hope.”
What is that supposed to mean? Hope for what? Usually it is about hoping for something better: a better home (from shack to brick house), a better job (from cleaner to self-employed businessman), a better marriage (he’ll stop drinking eventually), and so on. I hate hope. I never hope anything other than that the bus won’t be too late today. I never hope I’ll become a better writer or a better wife etc. The only way I’ll become better is if I work hard and address all my many flaws. The only way someone will move from their shack to a solid brick home is if they work hard, or the government changes its policies and provides free housing, or if they are lucky (someone kind builds them a home or gives them lots of money). And even then – let’s face it, in this deeply unequal world – there are no guarantees. You don’t get a house by hoping (and often, not even by working); and I won’t write a book by hoping. So when I hear people say, But they still have hope, I feel an overwhelming and slightly inexplicable desire to do violence. I felt this on Monday night as I read the words of Charles Skinner in the back of a book of photographs Terreno Ocupado, by Jo Ractliffe. The pictures are, mainly, of an informal settlement Boa Vista in Angola’s capital, Luanda, and of the famous Luanda market, Roque Santeiro. And at the end of the book, Skinner writes about how the city is changing so fast and how Angola has become a petro-capitalist state (notably, he doesn’t mention the diamonds that he is very much involved in as an employee of De Beers, but anyway), and he also writes about the never-ending hope of the Angolan people. This is odd, I think. Is it possible to see or hear or feel hope in someone else? Is it possible to state that someone else ‘has hope’? Diplomats and politicians would say: Yes, it is. When they’ve completed a tour of some country in Africa or Asia, they often say something like: What struck and inspired me most was the hope of the people; or, At least they still have hope. Can you have hope? Is hope perhaps another way of saying ‘faith’? At least they still believe in God. God will help me become a better writer, a better lover, and God will build my big house that I dream about each night when the rain drips through my corrugated iron roofing, and God will take away the idiots running North America and replace them with gentle souls who’ll make everyone happier. Barack Obama represents hope. He is a modern expression of hope, a symbol of the desire by many people to believe in what you might call blind faith. Tautology, surely. Hope, for me, represents an inability to face the truth because reality is too unbearably dreadful. Hope is thus about fear and a failure to confront life as it is. Hope is where people hide. And when powerful people pat the powerless on the head for having hope it’s out of a great huge sigh of relief. Thank God they haven’t woken up quite yet. It’s, yes, paternalistic for sure, but it’s more than that. The powerful are hoping too, desperately praying, that the powerless won’t wake up and start getting angry. For as long as there is hope there is passivity, there is acceptance, there is a failure to act.