Posted December 10th 2015 at 7:28 pm by
in Love in These Times

A Note on Love for Those with their “Backs Against the Wall”

Howard Thurman P1010420Howard Thurman in Called to Rise sculpture in San Francisco. Photo Credit: Flickr/rudisillart

For the poor, disinherited and dispossessed in the US, dehumanization feels ceaseless and unrelenting right now. Anti-Muslim protests and attacks are on the rise. State-sanctioned violence against black people are increasingly recorded and undisputable, but still persist. Immigrants, from the #Freedomgiving hunger strikers, to refugees fleeing political violence and danger in their home country, are confronted with more violence from various arms of the American State.

I find myself sliding into feelings of fear and even hate when dehumanization reaches this high of a fever pitch. Sometimes these emotions feel medicinal: fear, a vitamin, reducing risk because I’m now on guard; hate, a vaccine, immunizing me from my own ethical frame.

But, the sickening degeneration to hate and fear on a collective scale that has brought us to these atrocities, are one reminder that these emotions do not aid in bringing about the world I want to live in. And, even in the middle of my own hate and fear, I’ve felt the side effects to be grave: more anxiety and despair, and a bitterness that sometimes can’t be confined to the initial target.

I’m learning that fear and hate are the oppressors tools. And as Audre Lorde beautifully articulated, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, which knows only the oppressors’ tactics and relationships.”

Love offers a way to unlearn the oppressors’ tactics and relationships. Love is at the base of the blueprint for changing oppressive structures that aim to suffocate and deny a shared humanity. Love keeps fear and hate from overtaking and determining the quality of one’s inner life.


In Jesus and the Disinherited, published in 1949, black theologian Howard Thurman writes about the necessity and potential of love. Based on a consideration of the person of Jesus, an oppressed, poor Jewish carpenter, denied full citizenship by the Roman state under which he lived, Thurman writes:

The religion of Jesus makes the love-ethic central. This is no ordinary achievement…What, then, is the word of the religion of Jesus to those who stand with their backs against the wall? There must be the clearest possible understanding of the anatomy of the issues facing them. They must recognize fear, deception, hatred, each for what it is. Once having done this, they must learn how to destroy these or to render themselves immune to their domination. In so great an undertaking it will become increasingly clear that the contradictions of life are not ultimate. The disinherited will know for themselves that there is a Spirit at work in life and in the hearts of men which is committed to overcoming the world. It is universal, knowing no age, no race, no culture and no condition of men.

Post by Nse Umoh Esema.


As we reach the end of 2015 and continue to see crises upon crises mounting both in the US and abroad, CoLab Radio invites readers and contributors to pause and reflect on the theme: Love in These Times. We invite you to submit a post surfacing sage insights around love that inspire you and that might offer hope in our current moment. Insights might be an excerpt from a book, a meditation, a poem, a short video excerpt, an image etc. Please include a short reflection (300 words or less) on the piece. You can make your submission here.

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