Seeing the World as it can be, not as it is

12/10/2009 11:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I recently attended a media round-table for World AIDS Day specifically focused on the African American community, hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Bay Area Black Journalist Association.

The situation, as it relates to African Americans and HIV/AIDS, remains dire.

According to the CDC, African Americans comprise roughly 12 percent of the nation's population, but represent 46 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS and 45 percent of new infections annually.

The most startling figure, given the more than two-decade battle against HIV/AIDS, every 9 minutes and 30 seconds someone in the United States becomes infected.

These findings led the CDC to conclude there is a pervasive societal complacency about HIV/AIDS. I was particularly struck by comments offered by Maeven McGovern, Community Health Education Manager for Youth Radio.

McGovern opined that for many of the young people she works with, it was not complacency, as the CDC suggested, but a sense of fatalism. She also referred to a conversation she had with her mother indicating the stark difference in generational perspectives.

"I told my mother that her generation looked at the world as it could be, my generation, and generations behind me, see the world as it is," McGovern said.

If the aforementioned observation has any merit, is America moving in a direction whereby younger generations have ceremoniously waved the white flag of surrender accepting whatever consequences are presented to them by the status quo?

The problem with the "world as it is" perspective is it reduces the already-scarce number who are willing to carry the banner for change.

If Susan B. Anthony accepted the world as it was, there would have been no need to commit her life to women's suffrage. Under this perspective, one might also conclude her life wasted given that she died 13 years before the 19th Amendment passed granting women the right to vote.

One might offer a similar critique of Martin Luther King. Had King accepted the world as it was, he might have been one of the leading theological voices in Montgomery and Atlanta, but not much more.

Accepting the world as it is means, in retrospect, Richard Nixon's "enemies list" and "plumbers" should be viewed through the lens of political pragmatism, while Abraham Lincoln's appeal to the "better angels of our nature" were merely the musings of a utopian dreamer. In a cinematic context, "Wall Street's" Gordon Gekko is right and "To Kill a Mockingbird's" Atticus Finch is a fool.

Under the world-as-it-is philosophy, apathy, complacency and even fatalism are logical choices.

Whose interests are ultimately served if those who are in the best position to advocate for change are instead comforted by their fatalistic impulses, content to exist in the world as it is?

As the Founders crafted the preamble of the Constitution, in addition to their calls for a more perfect union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquillity providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, they also sought to secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity.

Embedded in the preface of the Constitution is the charge to future generations to continue the commitment to "a more perfect union" -- a commitment to a world that can be.

It may not have been her intention, but in McGovern's statement, my middle-aged ears heard the renunciation of the words that withstood a civil war, political assassinations, constitutional crisis, attacks on Pearl Harbor and 9/11, a suffrage movement and a Civil Rights Movement because a more perfect union is not possible in the world as it is.

Moreover, acceptance of the world as it is could also mean the bleak data offered by the CDC about HIV/AIDS in the African American community will definitely worsen in the years to come.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor, a syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him or visit his Web site: