Note to my readers: In yesterday’s post I penned an open letter to White Americans, questioning their fear of my community. In today’s post guest blogger Emelyne Museax explores the issue of white racial fears more and adds her spin on it.
Fear: (noun) An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat
(verb) To be afraid of someone or something as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening
Habit: (noun) A settled or regular tendency or practice, esp. one that is hard to give up
“I was afraid.” “He looked dangerous.” “I needed an address; I didn’t think that he belonged here.” We heard these phrases from George Zimmerman and variations of them from his defense team and many supporters in the year since the killing of Trayvon Martin. We have continued to hear these phrases parroted as if they somehow justify the stalking and killing of a child, as if fear is enough of a motivator to induce any and all reactions from the person who is frightened.
But let’s ask ourselves a question? Just how dangerous is a person’s appearance, really? If someone seems to you like they may be a rapist, a killer, an abductor, would this justify you then proceeding to follow them, while armed, in order to “prove” this assumption, to validate this fear? In actuality, Zimmerman did not think that Trayvon was anything other than a neighborhood punk and petty thief, which only made his actions all the more unnecessary and asinine.
But what it it, exactly, about Black people that makes White America so intensely fearful? Is it the thought of having to live near us? Black people only make up 12.6% of this nation and the vast majority live in predominately Black neighborhoods. Let’s also remember that, once upon a time, slave masters and mistresses (along with their offspring) felt absolutely no fear living in a situation where they were literally surrounded by tens, sometimes hundreds of Black bodies who certainly had motive to harm them. Young masters in their toddler-hood already knew the power that they had over even the oldest or strongest slave and learned to exercise that power early on.
Perhaps White America is just afraid of our appearance. Maybe the increased melanin, kinky, coily hair, broad noses, and thick lips generally associated with the West African phenotype are just downright alarming for those of European descent to behold. But if this is the case, why is it that European empires, explorers, and colonists had no qualms about invading the African continent and exploiting it for every resource from precious gems to people? Slave masters certainly did not fear seeing more and more Black faces as they bought, sold and bred more “property”.
The “problem” started when slowly but surely, enslavement of non-Europeans in the Americas was eradicated and White people were left with the by-product of their oppression. In the United States of America, those people were the descendants of the men and women from Africa who were kidnapped, beaten, raped, mutilated, humiliated and killed on this soil. Institutionalized racism is not a by-product of any fear of Black people, but a force of habit. African-Americans are the “other”, those known within the context of slavery, those who were quickly tossed aside to live separately, whose full participation in American society was vehemently and violently opposed. In all generations, the oppressed Black person is the only one that American society knows and acknowledges, and the only sort that it will tolerate.
Power is incredibly hard to let go of, especially when living, breathing reminders of “the glory days” are all around you, afforded so many of the rights that were once either special privileges or futile hopes. Despite living in a society where their manner of dress, speech, socio-economic status, intellect, and family structures aren’t under constant observation, mockery and criticism, despite being able to enjoy the privilege of being able to create and execute the laws of this nation, so many White people are still so incredibly resentful that we no longer have to ask their permission to work, get an education, to live.
The decades in post-Jim Crow America have been polluted with White America’s loud outrage over the quest for Black equality and meek claims of “fear” being the provocation behind racially-fueled crimes. The fear is not fear of Black people, but an inherent sense of somehow being wronged, resentment over having to share living space with people who have the gall to see themselves as equal to those that the ancestors of White Americans would have owned. You see, the good “house negro” who speaks with perfect diction, behaves with impeccable manners, dresses “inoffensively”, and makes an active effort to take up as little space as possible, speak as softly as possible, and remains silent when he is abused is well-tolerated and never “frightening” to White people, even if he is still very much oppressed. It’s always those “field negroes” or “uppity negroes” who deign to view themselves and their offspring as worthy of respect, a place in American society, a voice, that are always so scary to White America.
Zimmerman followed Trayvon to get his address and that teenaged boy had the nerve to turn around and confront him. What year is this? And what country is this, where seeing a Black person out after a certain time gives anyone the right to follow and try to detain the,? This is not Nazi Germany and, to my knowledge, Black people were not under any local or nationwide curfews. Zimmerman assumed Trayvon’s guilt and begged jurors to assume his innocence and yet no one felt it even necessary to ask him why he thought it was appropriate to follow a teenager to ask where he lived. What if Trayvon had not felt justifiably pursued and he had not defended himself? The only alternative would be to tell Zimmerman his name and address. On what planet would an intelligent teenager ever give this sort of information to someone who is neither a cop or a teacher? And yet, post-verdict, the nation was subjected to the ramblings of Juror B37 as she tried to mask her racism far less effectively than she covered her face as she told the world that George Zimmerman was a “good man” who’d gone “above and beyond” what was necessary. Of course, the cat got her tongue when journalist Anderson Cooper asked if she’d like to have Zimmerman on her neighborhood watch, and it was in those long seconds of silence before her reply that Juror B37 managed to be truthful. Her silence spoke eloquent the fact that every Black person already knew: George Zimmerman is not a hero, he is dangerous.
You see, George Zimmerman is a Hispanic man. He was labeled as being “White Hispanic” when he killed a Black child, but had the victim been White, the same Conservative, pro-gun advocates, and biased jurors that defended him would have pointed to him as an example of what happens when you let “them” (Hispanics, a.k.a. the “other negroes”) into this country. But this is how much Black people are despised by White America, so much so that the unlawful pursuit and execution of a Black child by anyone other than another Black person can elevate the status of the perpetrator, who’d rid the nation of another Black person, thereby reinforcing a centuries old legacy of persecution. White America is accustomed to Black oppression, Black outrage, Black subservience and Black struggle. Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin, and all of the cases where the lives of Black people meant little more than the inconvenience of sitting in a courtroom, are primary examples of how this mentality refuses to die, how racists like George Zimmerman (who self-identifies as White) refuse to let go of the bloody past and try to seek a peaceful future with the same race of people that they brought here. It’s not fear, it’s a habit. And this habit needs to be broken.