On Realists and Wildflowers
Society is like a field of wildflowers. There are flowers that tower above the rest with thick roots, flowers that grow in bundles all looking exactly the same, and others with petals that have welted. Even though the soil is the same, many of these flowers are not allowed the same spot under the sun. As they grow, they look forward to the budding of new life, shedding of stale leaves, and for the wind to caress away the flu of winter. While Spring will come, many believe it won’t. Given the soil of these disheartened plants, it is easy to see why they feel that way. Such is the case of people of color in America, where despite varying experiences, we feel as if we are “in the same frying pan.” The struggle to have hope for change is stunted by varying experiences, and by a wrestling to be under the sun. With this struggle, comes a cycle of life that never seems to get better. However, life is a geometric line that continues whether we have good experiences or not, meaning that change can happen no matter how big of a storm there is.
In no way do I want to suggest that this thought process comes with ease, because many will reasonably disagree. I respect those experiences and only hope that those who can come to the same conclusion do so without these negative experiences happening to them first.
The Arab-Muslim-American flower is one that is royal blue with orange tiles, a strong and thick root, one that seems to stay rooted no matter what. Recently, this flower is had its petals burned at the edges, but not for staying in the sun. As hard as it tries to regrow its tender leaves, they fall to the same battle. For decades the image of Arabs and Muslims in America, as well as other peoples of color, have been subjected to scrutiny and racist tropes that never seem to go away. Speaking from the perspective of an Arab American and Muslim, there are tons of images that do not represent me and my values. They have been around for so long…they are ingrained. These tropes shake our core, and remind us that life can always be made more difficult than it should. However, even though hope can sometimes be the most destructive piece, it can also be the most motivating. That one day, others in the field will see me for my roots, rather than just my petals.
In A Raisin in the Sun, Beneatha argues with Asagai about how life and destiny work. Beneatha, a young and determined African American woman, is stunted by her brother’s careless choices and bad luck achieving her dreams. She asks Asagai, “Don’t you see there isn’t any real progress, Asagai, there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us our own little mirage that we think is the future.” Beneatha can be empathized with because it does feel that way when we are born into struggle or disadvantage. People of color are constantly dealing with the struggles of their histories and the limitations society has put on them. There is a systemic issue that exists that will take a long time to uproot-but there is room for work. Asagai himself is a native Nigerian who is literally living all that Beneatha is afraid of manifesting in her life. He explains that he is the only man that is formally educated in his village, that he is from a village that has been pillaged, and exploited. He refutes Beneatha’s argument by saying, “It [life] isn’t a circle it is simply a long line…one that reaches into infinity. And because we cannot see the end we also cannot see how it changes. And it is very odd but those who see the changes who dream, who will not give up are called idealists . . . and those who see only the circle we call them the ‘realists.’” In seeing life as a line rather than a circle, Asagai acknowledges that we truly cannot see the future despite how life seems now, and that because of that uncertainty, there is room for change, and more importantly, hope.
To couple the study of this exchange between Asagai and Beneatha, my mentor and I found a quote by the poet and diplomat, Pablo Neruda. He said, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.” We read Spring as being the symbol for hope and change, which has truth. It is important to realize that many demographics may never see this “Spring” happen, or at least they have been taught they cannot or that it does not apply to them. Each plot has been given its nutritious privileges. Each plot needs different food and care. But each plot resides under the same sun, same night sky, and can suffer-and bear-any change in weather. Our petals represent either the lack of struggles in our lives, or present the successes and privileges. There are flowers that grow, and they have their petals taken off, or they do not get enough to feed their dreams. So even though they appear in the field, it does not mean they look good, or that they are even noticed among the rest. This is how some social justice causes are treated in regards to who they concern. The following questions are for us as educators and as people, to think about.
- How many people suffering would it take for us to care? Does this matter in the grand scheme of the field?
- Are there some cases where people do have to give up or trade their dignity in order to survive? What are those cases? Is it worth it?
- What are things we can do as humanity to better serve and uplift each other?
These questions are questions that do not have a right answer. The fact that is that we are able to read texts, and become more understanding and empathic people. Asagai’s infinite line of life, where the end is unknown, provides me with great comfort knowing that I can be an agent for change no matter how difficult life gets for myself or for my students. As we continue to grow from our plots, it is important to remember that others deserve to blossom and know that they are just as deserving of success and sunshine.