Race Matters, by Cornel West essay - …

Cornel west essays - Selfguidedlife


Desmond Tututalks about being called to act by the 3 billion people in the world “who are not responsible for global warming” but “will pay the
highest price if wealthy countries refuse to do their fair share.” Do you feel a connection to those people or sense of resonsibility? If you do what would it mean for your choices to act on it? Thinking back to the beginning of the book, does Tutu offer a way to do that without lapsing into bleak despair? Explain.

Dostoyevsky once wrote, "Each one of us is responsible to all others for everything." Do you agree or disagree with this perspective? Explain. If you agree, how is this possible? List specific ways you can carry out your responsibilities "to all others for everything."

"Only Justice Can Stop a Curse" by Alice Walker

Have you ever experienced the mind-state Alice Walker describes, where you decide that humans have messed up the world so profoundly, that maybe we're just doomed to extinction? How did you get past it?

What is your reaction to the curse-prayer at the beginning of the Walker essay? Have you felt this kind of anger and bitterness toward an enemy? Were you able to channel your anger in positive ways? If so, how?

Walker states that although she has been an activist all her adult life, she sometimes has felt embarrassed to call herself one. What defines an "activist" in your opinion? Compare definitions with others. Would you be embarrassed to call yourself an activist? Why or why not?

Can you conceive of Walker's interracial marriage being illegal, and the laws prohibiting it being justified by mainstream institutions, like most of the southern churches? Does this have any relevance to contemporary debates, for instance on gay marriage? Compare this history with the history described in Dan Savage's essay.

What is the tragedy of the world that Walker refers to?

Walker concludes her essay by recalling the story of "blond Paul from Minnesota" from her voter-registration work in the deep South. What is the point of this story-that is, what did she learn from that experience that is a part of who she is today? Have there been people you've dismissed who've surprised you with their courage or vision?

Walker renews her soul by remembering " fresh peaches and the courage of `people at their best, reaching toward their fullness'" in order to expand her spirit and make her feel larger than her rage. Have you ever been brought out of feelings of bitterness by savoring the fruits of the world? How does this parallel the Desmond Tutu story that Loeb tells in the book's introduction?

How do our small stones of activism add up to build an edifice of hope?

Explain the quote: "All we own, at least for the short time we have it, is our life. With it we write what we come to know of the world." How would you write a more just world with your life?

"The Clan of One-Breasted Women" by Terry Tempest Williams

Did you know about the nuclear testing of the 50's? Did it surprise you that our government knowingly exposed our population to these risks?

Compare the Tempest Williams essay to Joanna Macy's "The Elm Tree Dance" in Section VIII. How is your understanding of the Macy essay affected after reading the Tempest Williams piece?

Review the essay to identify some element about which you would like to know more information, and research it; for example, Operation Plumbbob, McCarthyism, Eisenhower's Cold War policies, nuclear testing today, the Atomic Energy Commission, etc. Share your findings with others in the class. Did you find out anything that surprised you? Explain.

Has anyone told you "just let it go" about an injustice you later regretted not acting upon?

Tempest Williams asserts, "Tolerating blind obedience in the name of patriotism or religion ultimately takes our lives." Explain what she means. Do you agree/disagree? Do you see examples of this today? Explain.

What did the women mean when they talked of reclaiming the desert for their children?

When she is handcuffed, the officer finds a pen and pad of paper, which Tempest Williams says are weapons. Explain how a pen and a pad of paper can serve as political weapons.

How does the dream portion of the essay contribute to its overall meaning?

The Tempest Williams essay includes a number of references to the deaths of women the author has loved. The essay also expresses anger toward the nuclear testing that almost certainly destroyed their lives. So where is the theme of hope? Why do you think so many activists passed this essay around when it first came out? Why does Loeb consider Tempest Williams such a powerful hopeful voice?

"Next Year in Mas'Ha" by Starhawk

When Starhawk describes the settlement residents who could be her aunts and uncles, explain the tug of loyalty she feels. Have you ever tried to question the actions of a group in which you were raised?

What do you know about the history of the Israeli West Bank settlements? About the life and death of Rachel Corrie? About the nonviolent resistance efforts she was part of? Have you ever seen a map of the Israeli settlements? Americans for Peace Now, the US counterpart of the major Israeli peace group, has of the current map on their website. If you visit it, does it surprise you to see the extent of the settlements compared to the core West Bank population centers?

Starhawk describes the stark contrast of two realities, the California-like homes of Elcanah and the zone of destruction beyond the wall. Does this kind of "two realities" exist in America as well? Explain. What are some of the root causes of two realities within the United States?

What is the "slight sweet hint of hope" that Starhawk tastes in a situation that might seem unimaginably grim? How does it connect with the book's theme of the power of generosity?

What would it mean, in our own situation, to open our hearts to the children of the enemy and ask for help?

Why does Starhawk close with "Next year in Mas'Ha"?

"The Gruntwork of Peace"
by Amos Oz

Where would Oz and Starhawk likely find agreement despite some of their obvious differences? What is the over-arching theme for the two essays?

Were you surprised by the span of people that participated in the discussions on the draft peace plan: Israeli generals and Mossad officials, and long-jailed Palestinian leaders, including leaders of guerrilla groups? How they were able to overcome the history of bloodshed on both sides, in which many had participated? What do you think they had to let go of to come to the place where they could even talk? How did each side give up part of its identity?

What do Starhawk's and Oz's essays suggest about the possibilities for peacemaking in very conflicted political situations? Do you think it necessary to get to know the other side face-to-face as people? How can that approach be applied to conflicts in our country, or our everyday lives?

Do you feel there's anything you can do to help reverse global climate change? Are there things that major institutions, like corporations, governments, or universities and colleges can do? If so, is and anything you can do to affect them? If you have taken action, how do you deal with the issue of hope in the face of scientific reports whose prognosis seems to get steadily bleaker? If you haven't acted, is a sense of hopelessness on the issue part of why you don't act?

Do you agree with West that the percentage of Americans who believe Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim is an indicator of continuing racial divides in our country? What about the disparate racial responses to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for shooting the unarmed Trayvon Martin?

In his essay West refers to past struggles for Black Americans, yet still offers a sense of courage and hope: "Our courage rests on a deep democratic vision of a better world that lures us and a blood-drenched hope that sustains us." What does he mean that a "blood-drenched hope" sustains them?

In your own words, describe West's perspective on the difference between optimism and hope.


"Road to Redemption" by Billy Wayne Sinclair

Sinclair describes his decision to do the right thing in order to maintain his self-respect based on the moral framework he had developed. Describe a time when you were faced with a similar decision to "do the right thing." What did you decide? What factors helped you decide one way or another? If you had the opportunity to make the same decision again, would it be the same? Explain.

Could you imagine taking a stand like Sinclair's, knowing that it might leave you spending the rest of your life in jail? What kind of moral courage would it take? Is it surprising that this courage developed in someone who once was a destructive criminal?

What do you think gave Sinclair his core strength? Did it come on suddenly, or did it build as he took different risks of courage?

What role did personal loyalties play in his conversion?

Based on Sinclair's story, what do you think makes the difference between situations that give criminals a chance to be redeemed, and ones that make more likely that they'll continue with a life of crime?


"Resisting Terror" by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall

Did you know the story of the Rosenstrasse Jews? Or the Mothers of the Disappeared? Why don't we learn about these immensely hopeful stories?

What do these stories say about how some people manage to act even among the most extreme and intimidating circumstances-such as the threat of being shot by the Nazis? Do they suggest lessons for us to take the risk of courageous actions in circumstances where the consequences are often no more than having to deal with someone disagreeing with us? Why don't we act when we have far more freedoms and latitude?

Azucenda de Villaflor de De Vincente was an "ordinary homemaker, never looking outward until 1976.." What is meant by the phrase, "never looking outward"? Do you mostly look outward or inward?

De Vincente became an activist after her son and daughter-in-law disappeared. What allows people to act if they haven't been directly touched by oppression or tragedy? Is it a sense of feeling someone's story, whether or not you know them personally? Interview someone working in a group like Amnesty International who acts even though they may never directly know the people they work to save.

How important is it for ordinary citizens to look outward and become activists before they're challenged to do by tragic events?

To what extent do you feel you look outward and/or consider yourself an activist? What would help you look outward on a more consistent basis and/or become more of an activist?

The essay describes stories of oppression in both Berlin and Buenos Aires, where the power of women to initiate change was underestimated. What skills, traits, or attributes did the women bring to those situations of oppression that helped initiate change? Do you think the power of women to initiate change is underestimated today? Explain.

Research other examples of nonviolent resistance, like the others in Ackerman and DuVall's book, or in the sections in this book on the Arab Spring. How do these stories support the thesis of the essay?

Are there lessons from "Resisting Terror" about how to deal with brutal dictatorial regimes like Saddam Hussein's Iraq? You could look up DuVall's Iraq-related essays on the internet for his perspective on what we should have done instead of the path we took. Explain whether you agree or disagree.

Whatever one thinks about the possibilities of nonviolent resistance, what do these essays say about the possibilities of human courage and hope?

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What do you think Palmer means when he says that winter "clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being"? Have you ever experienced a loss in a way that left you stronger or seeing more clearly?

Palmer calls abundance "a communal act." According to him, how is abundance created? How does the world of nature teach the human world this same principle?

What lessons does Palmer suggest the natural world teaches about keeping on for the long haul in working for change?

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"The Dark Years" by Nelson Mandela
Mandela describes how authorities attempted to "exploit every weakness, demolish every initiative, negate all signs of individuality-all with the idea of stamping out that spark that makes each of us human and each of us who we are." How can individuals promote the opposite in each other-that is, how can individuals or authorities encourage "that spark that makes people human and each of us who we are"?

Why would Mandela and his ANC colleagues go to such lengths to get news of the outside, like passing it from cell to cell on scraps of toilet paper? How does a sense of political isolation foster despair, while being connected with an engaged community encourages hope? How do you break down your political isolation?

Most of us will not face the hardships of imprisonment like Nelson Mandela, but in what other ways can we be imprisoned? What qualities does Mandela suggest help human beings surmount even the greatest of challenges?

Loeb writes, "Those who make us believe anything's possible, however, and fire our imagination over the long haul, are often the ones who've have survived the bleakest of circumstances. It's the men and women who have every reason to despair, but don't, who may have the most to teach us, not only about how to hold true to our beliefs, but about how such a life can bring about seemingly impossible social change." Do you agree or disagree with this why? What lessons can we draw from people facing the most difficult situations for our own more modest challenges?

How can courage be multiplied? Can you think of a time in your life or a situation you've witnessed when courage multiplied? Explain.

"It was ANC policy to try to educate all people, even our enemies." What was the point of this policy? Have you ever reached out to someone with whom you radically disagree on an issue about which you felt passionately? What was it like?

"An Orientation of the Heart" by Vaclav Havel
In the beginning of his essay, Havel describes how hope is "a state of mind, not a state of the world." And he distinguishes hope from optimism. How would you distinguish the belief that things will turn out well from the deeper sense that guides us even when we are unsure of the results of our actions. Have you ever faced a personal situation where you acted even though the outcomes were uncertain?

What states of mind and approaches to the world do you think nurture hope? Do you know someone who exemplifies a hopeful approach to the world, and not just an optimistic one? Describe this person.

Have you ever heard people label activists "exhibitionistic" or say they were just trying "to draw attention to themselves." What was your response when you realized this same charge was being levied at a later successful democracy movement that challenged a Communist dictatorship? Did this make you question the way our own society so quickly dismisses our own political dissenters?

Would you agree with Milan Kundera that the petition circulated by Havel and others was futile? Why or why not? Compare Havel's description of people being brought together to challenge the regime in an apparently futile context with Paul’s friend Lisa standing in the rain and realizing she'd later helped inspire famed baby doctor, Ben Spock. How do these examples suggest that the impact of our actions may only be clear in hindsight?

How did the petition help keep the prisoners going? Have you ever witnessed a situation where the supportive actions of others help courageous individuals keep acting? Do you agree with Havel's judgment that small acts of resistance can still matter--even if they don't have the desired immediate outcome?

Since the dictatorship was still in power when Havel wrote his essay (and according to global consensus likely to remain so), what allowed him to see the cracks in the walls of their seemingly unchallengeable rule? Is it possible for us to look similarly beyond the horizon to see what might be possible in changing unjust situations in our own political context? What does it mean to "make a way out of no way"?

Havel describes resistance against a dictatorship that seeks to control every aspect of daily life in a way that prevents questioning the prevailing authorities. Does our dominant culture ever function in a similar way? If so, how? If much our culture avoids talking about the real and urgent questions of our time, what would a culture look like that challenges this? What signs of it do you see in today's America?

“Reluctant Activists” by Mary Pipher

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Douglass publicly announced his change of opinion in the spring of 1851, but his most powerful statement of his revised view appears, fittingly enough, in his speech at an Independence Day celebration in 1852. In that speech, often considered the greatest of all abolitionist speeches, he excoriated America’s injustices no less vigorously than he ever had, but he took great care to distinguish America’s practice from its first principles and the actions of its subsequent generations from those of its Founders.

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"Last Night As I Was Sleeping" by Antonio Machado

What does Machado mean by "marvelous error!"?

What is the main point Machado is expressing in this poem? List some of the seemingly ordinary things that both poets, Berry and Machado, seem to recognize as gifts of the everyday world. List several "everyday gifts" in your own surroundings.

Section Four Introduction
What is the difference between "capitulatory imagination" and "rebellious imagination"?

How often have you heard the phrase "There is no alternative" used to explain-and justify-a troubling political choice or situation? Is there a link between loss of imagination and resignation? And between recapturing our imagination and being able to act?

"Childhood and Poetry" by Pablo Neruda

"To feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know," Neruda writes, "widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things." What does Neruda suggest about how this power of affection shaped his life? How do we widen the boundaries of our being to really see the lives of those whose worlds are unfamiliar, hear their stories and begin to understand what they experience? How do we develop a a sense of human solidarity and connection with those we've never met?

Have you ever felt the kind of love Neruda is describing, an unexpected moment of generosity from a stranger? What opportunities do you have to extend it to others who you do not know?

Neruda talks of the need "to pass to the other some good things of life." As citizens in a community, what specific things should we pass on to others? How do we accomplish this?

"To Love the Marigold" by Susan Griffin

Griffin writes of the critical role of dreaming and imagination in working for change What distinguishes dreaming as escape, fine in its place, from dreaming that opens up new possibilities?

In the fourth paragraph of her essay, Griffin refers to the skyscraper before her as "an icon of an anonymous power, in whose shadow [she] feels powerless." What other icons of power do you see in American society today? Who or what created and maintains the power behind them? Who might feel powerless in the face of them? Why? Is it important for all citizens to feel empowered in their lives?

In paragraph five, Griffin contends that "there is distrust and dissatisfaction with any form of politics.." Do you agree/disagree? Explain. Why do you think there seems to be increasing distrust in politics today?

"To see what exists freshly and without prejudice clears the way for seeing what might exist in the future, or what is possible," Griffin writes. Do you agree? Given all we've been told and taught, what are some ways of learning to see the world with fresh eyes? Have you ever experienced something, heard a story, or seen an image that helped you do this?

"The camera's eyes," Griffin writes, "also catches a tender quality of innocence and hope, an expression one so seldom sees any longer even on the faces of any but the youngest children" Do we live in a time where innocence is scarce? Does our culture disparage efforts toward a broader common good as idealistic or naive? What do we lose by assuming there's nothing we can do together to improve the world for others? What's the difference between wishful thinking and genuine hope?

Griffin speaks of the failure of political dreams: How do we work for fundamental change when visions of grand social transformation have often have ended up in destructive betrayal? As Griffin writes, "Where once there were societies that served as models for a better future, grand plans, utopias, now there is distrust and dissatisfaction with any form of politics, a sense of powerlessness edging into nihilism." Are there other ways to view social change that acknowledge the limits of past alternatives, but still let us dream beyond the boundaries of the present? Can you think of any contemporary examples?

How does imagination generate hope? Can we even imagine the image of Desnos reading people's palms in a concentration camp? If we can't translate wild hope directly into politics, can we use play and creativity to sustain our spirits? Can you think of a time when this has happened?

Griffin finds her answer to how Desnos keeps a sense of hope, his recognizing the "larger possibilities of life," by reading a line from one of his poems. Explain your understanding of the passage from the poem Griffin quotes.

Can you give an example of the paralysis of "realism?" What does Griffin mean when she says social movements are driven by imagination? How does a society cultivate imagination in its citizens, especially the young? What are some of society's greatest needs today that the power of imagination might help address?

Griffin concludes her essay with the imperative: "Let us begin to imagine the worlds we would like to inhabit, the long lives we will share, and the many futures in our hands." Identify one community of which you are a part, such as your dormitory, college campus, or hometown. Using your imagination, describe the community in terms of one you'd like to inhabit. What will have to occur in the present community in order to make these changes a reality? What role can you have in enacting change?

"Walking With the Wind" by John Lewis
Do you have core childhood memories that help you through difficult times? Or ones that hold you back and make you hesitate to act on your deepest beliefs?

Lewis asserts that in the 1960s, "people of conscience" never walked away from the weakest corner of the house; rather, they joined hands to gain strength where they were weak. Identify some of the "weakest corners" in society today and identify possible causes. Whose responsibility is it to strengthen the weaker corners of society? What responsibility, if any, do individual citizens have to the house as a whole?

Are the core myths of our society communal--about joining together--or individual, based on lone heroes? If the latter, does this make it harder to act together on larger concerns? How can we recover the stories that help us act in common?

We think of our families as bastions of love--or would like to. Can we extend the way we treat the bonds of common kinship and apply it to how our society should be run, or to how we could work for social change? In this context, what would it mean to treat all human beings as fellow children of God?