Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Being afraid isn't racist

Being afraid isn’t racist.
Being afraid at the wrong time is suspect.

Barack talked of his white grandma admitting to clutching her purse when seeing a young black male on the street. It was an example of her irrational fear of black males, despite her raising one. Fear is an emotion. It usually works separate from one’s rational mind and occasionally quite contrary to it.

You can learn a lot about yourself by your emotional reactions. I challenge everyone to look honestly at themselves and think about when, and of whom, you are afraid.

Let me give some examples where race played a part.

I once lived on Bankhead Highway in Atlanta. My roommate and I were the only white people we ever saw there. This is where I saw my first dead body, a man shot at the entryway to our apartment complex. People laughed at me when I told them where I lived and I had police officers, on two separate occasions, tell me I was stupid for living there and not to expect any help when “they” came after me.

I never felt afraid. Why?

Because I knew the people. I was there as a religious missionary and knew that I was respected for that. All my neighbors had a deep respect for religion, even the “bad guys.” In addition to that, I was never alone, there were always two of us.

A few years later I came back to visit and found myself surprisingly nervous. Why?

I had been gone from that neighborhood about two years and no longer knew everyone. I was no longer a religious missionary but a white guy who was dressed nice, looking like I had money. I found myself leaving a friends place after dark, and realized I was alone. I got nervous because I knew that I was a mark. People around here were all broke, that hadn’t changed, and broke people tend to get a little desperate. I looked like I had money, was alone, and yes I am white. Sure race could play a factor. If some broke and desperate young black man, angry at the world, was looking for a wallet to take, what better mark than a symbol of historic oppression… the white guy?

I did not loiter.

Compare that with a work meeting I attended in D.C. not too long ago. About six or seven of us were walking back to the hotel after dinner, about two blocks off the mall, right by the capitol building. I’m six foot one and usually weigh in at about 250lbs. I’m not small. The other guys were an athletic looking bunch, all white guys, admittedly all past our primes, but not a bunch of chumps… so I thought. It was early evening. On one particular block there were a number of rough looking black folk mulling around. We didn’t know it at the time but there is a homeless shelter on that block. There were women and children looking dirty and sad, and a number of shaggy men looking at their feet. All were black. Everyone stopped at the curb like they had hit a wall. One even grabbed my shoulder as I stepped off the curb. I looked around for the car I thought I must have missed, didn’t see one, and looked at the guy and articulately said, “dude!?”
One of the other guys said to us all, “maybe we should walk around.” I think our hotel is only two blocks that way, it won’t take that long if we get there by going over to the mall and then cutting back across,” said another.

I told them to relax and walked on, not waiting for a reply. They reluctantly followed, looking like scared hobbits expecting demons to come flying from the shadows. They all thought I was trying to be some sort of tough guy.

Why would they be afraid?

There were seven of us, all able bodied men. These were families and famished looking men. They were black and they were poor. Two things I learned none of these guys had any experience with.

If any of them took two seconds to think, they would realize that even if any of these people did have bad intentions, we would be the LEAST likely bunch to go after. But they didn’t think, they just felt. Emotion outweighed rational thinking. Why such a natural jump to fear?

I now live in a city that averaged more than a murder a day last year. That only counts the people who actually die, not the ones who simply get shot or stabbed.

Should I be afraid? I know plenty of people who are. They avoid the city and get nervous when forced to certain parts of town.

None have taken the time to think, or looked things up, to realize that out of over three hundred seventy people killed, only three looked anything like me.

Ask yourself, why are you really afraid?


Corbie said...

It seems to me that this is just xenophobia. The only way to get over this fear of the 'unknown' is to make the unknown the 'known'. Talk, interact, and reach out to someone 'different' and usually you will find that they are very much the same.

tristanjh said...

Being a woman, not a 6 foot, 250 lb. guy, I'm usually afraid because I couldn't defend myself if attacked by any man, black or white. I deal with this fact by simply taking appropriate precautions. Parking under a light in a dark parking lot, being aware of my surroundings and using common sense caution. I did this when I lived in Idaho where crime is virtually non-existent compared to Salt Lake City and I would do the same where you live.

I like that you made a point of saying that of all the murders in Philadelphia, only three victims looked anything like you. That totally dispels the belief that black criminals target white victims, a seemingly common belief in my neck of the woods.

Good post!

Amber said...

A few homeless guys (of various shades) set up camp in an empty garage in an alley I used to walk through on the way to work. I first saw them when they were gleaning some grapes hanging into the alley. "This would make fine wine!" The man said. "I wouldn't know," I responded, "but they are delicious."

It became a hobby to look for them on my way to work in the mornings. Occasionally, I would bring extra food along with me to share.

Then, one day I saw a news report that showed a high number of homeless men are sex offenders... an unfortunate consequence of transparency laws. Now, suddenly I was afraid of these men whom I had friendly conversations with every day. On the one hand, I'm still a complete bleeding heart for the homeless (I have been known to cry about it), but on the other hand - a young single woman walking alone through an alley where she expects to find several men who are possible sex-offenders...

Another anecdote: It was late at night, and I wanted to go somewhere in D.C. I was unfamiliar with the territory, and a bit unsure about being out late alone (with my young son). Dalyn pointed out to me that a young mother would be a very unlikely target. Duh!

Most murders, kidnappings, and other such scariness happen where the offender actually knows the victim. VERY VERY few are completely random. (I should look up stats on these so I can support these statements.) But, unless you have a vindictive ex-husband who is angry at you for cheating, or something like that, you really shouldn't be worried.

There is a reason I don't watch evening news.

Jake said...

I'm with you on this one Dalyn. I grew up in small town Idaho, only about 250 people in the small town. My brother in law is black, and I still remember the first time he came home for thanksgiving.(he is totally not scary by the way. He is a computer geek, and more of a goof than anything, which makes this story even better) I was probably about 16 yrs old and we needed some things from the grocery store. Steve and I went together. He probably made history as the first african american to set foot in the store. As we walked into the store, I could literally see the fear come across peoples faces. I felt uncomfortable in my own hometown grocery store because suddenly everyone was staring and seemingly avoiding us. People are afraid of the unknown. We are scared of what we don't understand. Add on top of that what we see in the news and in the movies, and the anecdotal experiences that is all we see, and our irrational fears become enhanced. When I lived in Philly and got some first hand experience, my own fear subsided. I think knowledge and experience would greatly benefit us all in overcoming our fears, but taking those first steps outside of our comfort zone to gain those experiences is the hardest part.

uglyblackjohn said...

Your first two sentences say it all.

Anonymous said...

Where I live, the thing I'm most scared of is Grizzly bears (the reason I won't go on any long hikes in Glacier Nat'l Park)Mountain Lions, who will actually stalk their prey (humans) to learn their habits before they attack, and two-year-olds with parents who don't lock up their guns (the latest (not fatal) shooting was by a two-year-old) and creepy old men in the library reading parenting magazines, which was a totally justified fear on my part which I learned when I saw on the news that a sex-offender (said creepy old man reading a parenting magazine at the library)had been caught. Most of the non-white people here are either indiginous, or moved here to get away from the big cities and the crime that goes along with it, they are the last people here that I'm afraid of. I'm more afraid of the drunk rednecks who have the irrational fear of black people. Drunk people aren't very good shots.


brohammas said...

O.K. part II

Outside of sports (on a field or in a ring) I have NEVER been in a fight. I've never had a good reason. I'm just not that guy.

In high school coach asked the football players to all sacrifice our hair as a symbol of unity and commitment. My hair was a little long at the time and I decided to leave a braid of hair coming from the top/back of my head and shave the rest. I got the idea from the movie "Bloodsport".

Then I grew goatee.

I'm not, was not, a small guy.

During this "phase" I had every knucklehead in the world bumping shoulders with me and getting in my face. Big dudes, angry at the world, seemed to follow me around trying to randomly start fights. It was dramatic and unexpected.

then I looked in the mirror and realized something. I looked just like all the guys who were trying to start junk with me.

All I had to do was shave the goatee, cut off the braid, and "presto", no more static.

How you present yourself matters.

Marketing matters and unfortunately BET, MTV, and the evening news have combined to paint a visual of dangerous young black males.
All sorts of rappers have worked hard to paint their own image as being dangerous tough guys... with money. It is big business and the image has stuck.

If you try to look like the tough guy in the video, you'll get treated like him. Trouble is, real life aint "big pimpin".

now I know there is more to this, we'll get to that. The point is every person should realize how they present themselves and be prepared for the reaction or consequence.

It is a sad reality that black males have less control over this than most anyone else.

Beautifully.Conjured.Up said...

Nice post.

I must first commend you on your honesty, for not too many people would go there...if they did, a lot of negative social ideologies would be non-existent.

On a lighter note, I was born and raised in Atlanta, and I commend you for living off of Bankhead...even I couldn't do that.