Jason Reynolds noticed something about young people. Especially young boys. They hate reading books. At least, they think that they hate books.
His insight was that they don’t actually detest reading. They just don’t like being bored. The problem, he realized, was that these boys were being force-fed boring books. His solution was to write books that engage young readers by talking about their lives.
In an interview with Krista Tippett, Reynolds explained that he was not himself a book reader as a youth. Instead, he poured over rap lyrics as the poetry that they are. The poetry that—in addition to articulating his experience, his time, and his location—taught him to reflect deeply upon his own life and its wider cultural setting.
His books talk about being a young Black person growing up in America. He’s a number one New York Times bestselling author and a recipient of prestigious awards like the Newberry Honor. The Library of Congress named him Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
His compassion and his keen eye for things human have given him a wise insight into the key work we have to do in order to dismantle the racism tearing at the fabric of our nation. Speaking with Tippet, Reynolds observed:
“Anti-racism is simply the muscle that says that humans are human. That’s it. It’s the one that says, ‘I love you because you are you.’ Period.”
We have soul work to do.
Racism does inhabit many of the legislative, economic, educational, and social patterns of our common life. There is hard, important structural work to do. But to actualize the freedom and equality to which we aspire—the justice for which we yearn—we also need a spiritual revolution.
Frequently we say I love you because you agree with me, because you belong to my group, because you are my ally. Don’t get me wrong. Beliefs, affiliations, and certainly our actions matter deeply. We will have differences, often very sharp ones.
But as Reynolds says, we will overcome racism only by learning to say, “I love you because you are you.” To everyone.
A commitment to justice requires a devotion to and the pursuit of the common good. And in what may seem a contradiction, the good of the whole is rooted in our recognition of the infinite worth of each individual. Conversely, the worth of each individual is actualized only by the community’s commitment to the individual’s dignity.
As it turns out, this is a basic Christian principle. It is rooted in our doctrine of creation.
Drawing on the wisdom of Scripture, Medieval theologians like Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus emphasized that God’s love is the power that brought everything into being. That same love sustains the whole cosmos at every single instant.
Duns Scotus went on to say that each and every creature has a unique thisness. He called this its haecceity. (Here’s how to pronounce that.)
In other words, God doesn’t just create humans in general. Or hummingbirds or azaleas or stars in general, for that matter. God creates each person as a singularity. None of us is interchangeable. Each of us is irreplaceable.
You, dear reader, are you. There is no other. And you were made this way by the infinite love of the author of all things. God loves you because you are you.
Scripture also teaches us that we were created in the image of God. To be fully human is to love in a way that reflects the divine way of being: to love you because you are you.
In other words, I need my neighbor in order for me to be truly me. That’s because I am my true self only by loving my neighbor as myself. Remember, Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Reynolds says that it should come natural to say, “I love you, because you remind me more of myself than not.” Of course, he knows as well as we do that it doesn’t come so naturally.
In other words, we have spiritual work to do.