Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12

Ahhh, proverbs. Concise! Nice! I like this one. Not preachy. Pithy-true. A cogent, crisp descriptive. I can relate.

A good proverb is like a good foot-bridge troll, short-statured, sturdy and armed with a vicious bite. The bite in this one. Let’s get at that.

Reading through world history recently, I am reminded of how millions — no it’s billions of women and lower classes and racial minorities and disabled persons — have been denied their dreams by the powers of government and law and force. Hopes have been shattered by invading or ruling kings, despots, tyrants, presidents, legislatures, aristocracies, oligarchies, property owners, CEO’s — there are too many forms of power that have been abused to name. By misuse of powers dreams for a good life have been shredded by laws and policies and governments that have enforced oppression, income disparity, poverty, hunger and loss. Consider our country’s institutionalization of slavery. Now gone, exploded, and yet a legacy and a set of enduring inequalities remain.

Uggg. And I hardly can claim to comment as one outside the system. While I have often worked to empower others, at the same time I have befitted from a system that unfairly empowered me.

When I taught (a position of power) American literature at a racially diverse school I learned more than I taught. But as a part of a unit I developed on the Harlem Renaissance, I taught my students the poetry of Langston Hughes. Hughes was on the same track as Proverbs 13:12 but with more bite. He parsed the first half of the proverb. His laconic, terse poem “Harlem” fleshes out the problem.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over-

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Hughes’ poem was and is prophetic. It explains, graphically what happens when we defer people’s dreams.

Current protests in the US are about this. They are about a long history of dreams deferred. Exploding has include a bit of looting and burning. I’m not one to justify or condone destroying property in a protest. That just creates more harm, injustice, victims. But only a few do that.

The vast majority of our protesters aren’t violent. They are angry, rightfully so, and they are exploding with righteous indignation. The best thing our country could do is listen. Both political parties know that. There is no getting around it. Things need to change. The oppressed need a hibernacula within justice. And the religious should know that most of all. The best, Biblical sermons I’ve heard lately have been sermons on social justice. Remember Amos! Remember God, who remembers the poor and the orphan and the alien.

It’s time to listen to the voices that have been shut up and shut down for far too long. There’s something really wrong when a protest sparks more reaction and resistance then the social injustice that created it.

Many in our country and our world have dreams deferred by systemic, legal, “acceptable” oppression. They have festered, they have rotted, they have waited, they have sagged, they have exploded.

Are you surprised that people are upset? I’m not. This has been brewing for a long time. Since Langston Hughes. Since George Washington. Since colonization. Since civilization.

Politicians, Americans, people with dreams, Christians, it’s time to listen, and change. It’s time for “a desire fulfilled” for everyone possible.

  1. Marilynn Calderon says:

    Love Langston Hughes. James Baldwin, Toni Morrison. WOW so many awesome voices of the other american experience.
    Wonderful contributions.

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