By Esther Kim
I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes lately.
I’ve been thinking about how heroes are brave in the face of adversity. How heroes make us feel safe. How heroes inspire us to think, act and see differently. How heroes make us want to be better people. But heroes are complex, flawed people, just like the rest of us. I would argue that the best superheroes are the ones with the most complicated histories. And the heroes we love the most are the ones we see ourselves reflected in. So why is it—for all the change we fight for, dream of, want to see in the future—that we we work so hard to keep the ideas of our heroes static, unchanging, frozen in time?
On this trip, I witnessed a hero show their humanity by sharing a controversial but honest opinion about immigration in the U.S. As I talked to my fellow riders in hopes of processing, I heard many different responses, ranging from disappointment and frustration to apathy and excuses. I kept hearing that it was the age of the person that formed their opinion, as if age and ideology are mutually exclusive. This is a dangerous excuse because it assumes that ideas and opinions can be controlled and that we can control how we’re affected by them. In fact, ideas do the exact opposite – they’re able to seep into our minds and are impossible to remove.
It’s a mixture of things that keep us from seeing our heroes as everyday people working in collectives to make change. Living in a world that can sometimes seem so ugly and hopeless and the ease with which violence, hatred and fear are used to oppress and maintain power is hard. The romanticized image of a hero helps us deal with the hard parts. But it also takes away that person’s ability to be flawed and our ability to separate the great work accomplished from the troubling beliefs that we need to be critical of.
Just because you admire someone doesn’t mean you must accept everything they say as truth. We as activists need to know the history of the Freedom Rides because the unheard alternative narratives empower us. But we also need to seek out and understand the experiences of other minoritized communities and movements. The world we live in isn’t just about us as people in the United States but as global citizens with a responsibility to see that our struggles aren’t our own, but all of ours.