“This Far: Notes on Love and Revolution” by Daniel José Older Summary
In August of 2015, Daniel José Older is settling into married life in New York with his new wife, Nastassian, who is Jamaican. Natassian suggests he write a letter to their future children telling them about her worries about bringing children into “a world that doesn’t value” them and about Older’s work as a writer and activist toward the “kind of world he wants to build for them.” Older assures her that he’ll eventually write the letter she suggests, but first he wants to write Natassian this letter expressing his love, admiration, and gratitude for her.
In the year between the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Sandra Bland in police custody in Texas, soon after which Older writes this essay, protest movements have been growing across the country. What began in the Ferguson demonstrations as an oppressed community’s expression of rage and desperation spread to New York, where Older joins in mass “funeral marches,” demonstrations, and occupations in support of the lives of Black people.
The present movement seems to Older to have the quality of a revolution, a term of which Older has long been wary. While his father and uncle were both participants in, and victims of, the Cuban Revolution, Older’s life as an American has proven that the term has more value in popular culture than in politics. But the events of 2014 and 2015 crystalize for Older what James Baldwin meant when he foresaw the time when the “most abject and ruined accomplice” finally took a stand to say “This far, and no further.”
In joining the growing community of people grieving for Black lives, Older realizes how much he has benefited from the status quo and that he is one of those “accomplices” to racial bias that Baldwin calls out. As a “straight cis man” and “a Latino who isn’t black,” Older has “profited from the crime” of American inequality while also enduring its dehumanizing and corrupting effects. Older’s joining in the emerging Black Lives Matter movement is thus an attempt to purge his racial conscience as well as an act of public resistance and “collective mourning."
In order to move past this challenging stage of his “journey,” Older must examine and let go of the myths he holds onto about American history and his own complicity in maintaining them through silence. Older understands that his father’s and uncle’s revolutionary politics influenced his interest in postcolonial power dynamics, which has culminated in this historical moment letting him “discover his voice.”
Older compares his revolution, “which took place on the page and in the streets,” with Nastassian’s more “personal” one in her decision to confront her fear and despair about the United States and to be hopeful as she embarks upon her new life there. Once checked into the waiting area for their flight from Kingston, Jamaica, to New York, they are confronted with nonstop news coverage of Sandra Bland’s July 2015 suicide, which they are unable to avoid due to the “closed circuit nature” of international travel. Once they arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport, they must make their way through US immigrations and customs, with its “forever fallout from 9/11.” Older knows firsthand the indignity of being “randomly” selected by TSA agents for a thorough search and understands how threatening the “cold machinery of the state” can feel, even if you have “nothing to hide.” Older turns to his wife, expecting her to be anxious but instead finding her smiling, signaling the hope and happiness to which she has resigned herself.
Weeks later, when Older is faced with doubts about beginning this essay, Nastassian suggests that he tell their future children the story of her personal “revolution”: her decision to remain hopeful. Nastassian’s story inspires Older to write this letter and gives him hope of his own for...
(The entire section is 979 words.)