Pulse's motto used to be “Bringing you good news.” You would enter in your favorite news sources and topics of interest, and it would scour the internet and put relevant information on your homepage. It would then take the top headlines from every major publication and put them under the typical headings: Breaking News, Global, Local, Politics, Entertainment, Environmental, Sports, and so on. It became something of a ritual, every morning, I would sit down with a cup of coffee, open the app, and see those four words, “Bringing you good news.” The news was rarely good, but Pulse seemed to at least try, and occasionally, in between the frustrations and setbacks, there was a feel-good story: a cat that rescued a toddler, an inner city barber offering free haircuts to kids who came in with perfect report cards, a wealthy man using his powers for good, little stories like that, but mostly the news was what news tends to be, bad.
I read the news so I can know what is going on and so I can make informed judgments and decisions. Those who don’t know their history and present, are not only doomed to repeat it, but they are probably going to make things a lot harder for a lot of people in the process. As a dance teacher, my influence is small, but I am determined not to be one of those people, and so I read the news. The headlines I see usually read something along the lines of: A white man with an audience said something stupid, offensive, and/or racist. I know I should care. I know I should be enraged. I know I should take to the streets, or at least to Facebook, and quote Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, or whole cornucopia of freedom fighters that came before and fought the same battles, but, more often not my first thought is, “And in related news, ice is cold.” I cannot find the energy to be angry. Here is a lesson I have learned: if you intend to be angry every time someone, either intentionally or unintentionally, says something he should have kept locked away in the deepest corners of his mind, you will be angry every day of your entire life. Being angry is exhausting.
It isn’t apathy that I am struggling from. It is burnout. I am tired. Speaking loud enough to be heard weighs on the vocal cords, walk outs, and picket lines are hard on the soles, and holding up signs causes damage do the shoulders. Every sociopolitical step forward demands two steps backward, and it is not, as the meme suggests, a cha cha. It is an incredibly inefficient way to go about making the world a better place. No one ever moved forward, by traveling backwards.
There is a speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave in 1967 called “Dr. King’s Entrance into the Civil Rights Movement.” He talks about getting home one day and receiving a phone call that threatened him, wife, and his newborn daughter. He says that this particular phone call bothered him more than the others. He says, “Then I went to the kitchen and started warming some coffee thinking that coffee will bring me a little relief.” I’ve always loved the speech for that moment. I know that moment. I know what coffee tastes like when you are less than a second away from giving up. “I think I'm right,” he whispered into the night. I imagine the steam rising up to caress a face too discouraged to hold even onto defeat. “I think the cause that we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now. I'm faltering. I'm losing my courage.”
It is easy to see leaders in social change as strong and steadfast. It is inspiring to see them as smooth-skinned and stone-faced. It is harder to imagine them in a moment when they chose to make coffee because they could make coffee and succeed. It is even harder to acknowledge the whisper that the road to justice will probably never end. Dr. King stood behind a podium in 1965, asked, “How long?” and answered, “Not long.” That was fifty years ago, and we are still walking.
These days I get my news from a service that delivers top headlines to my email inbox every morning by 5 AM. Their motto seems to be that if you must bring bad news, be funny about it. It’s not incredibly intelligent or through-provoking, but it informs without depressing. The other day I entered Pulse’s address into my internet browser, searching for the comfort of an old ritual. “Error,” said the screen that should have read “Bringing you good news.” “Not found.” I pushed the computer away, leaned over my fresh cup of coffee, sat quietly, let the steam rise.