I share this very personal message from a place of fear because we all know fear on some level. Women know fear from just being women. Surrounded by men in a male-centric world where “rape culture” is actually a thing. Think about that – we have something called rape culture. Men, White folks and others who hold privileged spaces are not immune to fear either. Fear is universal. Why we fear is not. That we should fear because of who we are should never be.
We were driving from Louisville, Kentucky to Destin, Florida yesterday to start our vacation and family reunion. It was me, my little brother and my daughter. Before we even got on the road my cousin sent the warning:
“if you can, try to leave very early, that way you aren’t going through AL (Alabama) at night. No lights and there are police every where so be cautious. Love you guys and big HUGS!”
That warning came before any Ferguson verdict, and would have come long before Mike Brown was murdered. It’s a warning I have heard my whole life as a Black man. And one we still tell our children and students and even strangers with whom we share a brief moment. The message is simple, and horrifying: be careful where you are, because of who you are.
We literally warn each other to not drive through certain parts of our country, (my country, my home) because we fear what might happen to us. What may seem like a general warning to “be careful” is really laced with an insidious subtext that continues…“because you are black…and they will hurt you.” When someone hates and targets you for who you are, there is not much you can do to anticipate that. It defies logic and normal precaution. If someone is robbing me because it’s dark and they want money; I give them money and they go away. What do I do if I’m targeted, judged, pulled over and they hate my skin? They hate my very being. I have no defense. No escape. Nor should I need one. I have accomplished a lot, and care about people, and have much to contribute; yet before I can even open my mouth – I’m hated by so many.
It wasn’t just my cousin’s words that were terrifying. It was the realization that I didn’t even need to be told that. I already knew. As I drove through the highways of Alabama (and be clear it could have been almost any state) I was fearful. Birmingham…Selma…Montgomery. Each invoking their own sense of history, anger, and fear. As I passed the trees that lined the highways, I thought about the strange fruit that used to hang there. And I remember it wasn’t that long ago…and they were hanged for looking like me. I am acutely aware that the kind of hate that existed then doesn’t easily die. It has a long memory, and continues today. It is everywhere. And I’m scared all over again.
Then came the verdict.
Real fear is not being hurt or murdered. It’s realizing that it can be done so easily. It’s realizing that “they” will get away with it. And that even in death and suffering my family wouldn’t see justice. I can be erased. And that’s all. That’s real fear. No one deserves that.