Series: WPH: Fear (6)

Note: this is about white people’s fear, and measurement of fear: the existential fear of BIPOC is real, systemic, and daily. As white people work toward equality and abolitionist actions, we must look toward our privilege, beliefs, faith, and values. If we have privilege, and white people most certainly do, what ways can we confront our fears toward action?

What are you willing to die for? We all die. In fact, it’s our mortality that may be at the heart of our conflicts. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What an incredible philosophy. Because the “willing to die” question could be the most personal, catalyst and human of questions? It comes with huge judgment and zealotry. It’s confrontational and ill-equipped for love. And for clarity: I’m talking about BIG LOVE, love from the universe, gods, goddess, and creation. Love that is patient and kind love. Asking someone what they are willing to die for asks too much, and I’m not sure it’s infused with BIG LOVE. Saints and sinners alike have their own thoughts about mortality, from sacrificial martyrdom to uninvited interruption of work and purpose.

“I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” King concluded.

I had my own existential crisis and fear bargaining this past week. A dear friend and colleague posted a confrontation by one of her former acquaintances. This acquaintance turned out to be a racist, bully, and all-around garbage human. There have been plenty of groups who’ve been posting pictures of racists caught in the act, and the charge to “get ’em!” And I had to confront my own cowardice when one of those lives metaphorically next door. Most of the ones people post are those who lives miles and states away. Or, outing big corporations for their heinous acts. And since the internet has long given us a false sense of anonymity and safety, in these days of important and monumental shifts, will we begin to judge one another on how we use our physical (not metaphysical) lives to continue this change? I am confronting my own cowardice for not outing this woman. White nationalist scare me. I am in flight, fight, or freeze mode. And I had to work through my own power and privilege to determine how I can keep myself, my sons, and my husband safe.

In other words, if I am not okay with dying in a protest, what can I do that considers multiple factors that decenter my privilege or uses it for abolitionist causes? Zealotry of any kind makes me skittish. I did post the question on Facebook, and received many responses. One woman, the mother of one of my students, said to leave her be, pray for the racist, and go with grace. I’m still grappling with it, but that was where I left it. And in later conversations received a somewhat pedantic lecture on the Holocaust by another friend. And I think I would have been the person to hide people in my house kind of person. But I don’t know. I am here and existing now: so what am I doing now? Because anything I do walks the line between performative and silence. There will be criticism, no matter what. And so what? So how do I balance fear of physical, emotional, and spiritual safety when nothing is truly safe? We all die: so how do I make choices in my life?

What can I give: I have a gift for creating curriculum. I have a gift for friendship and love. I have a gift and talent for creativity and art. I attempt to write and communicate. When I have funds, I share them. I look for legitimate resources. I listen to new information and facts and adapt. And if there is a higher being, I recognize that these gifts are a blessing. And I will strive to keep my pride in check, and not be baited into conversations of ‘who’s more of a warrior.’ (And to be clear–it was my own pride that baited me, not anyone else.)

And I’m still learning from others, every day. Nearly every hour.