One of the most prevailing common denominators in the human race is fear. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s iconic line from his first inaugural address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” resonates as much today as it did in the deepest throes of the Great Depression. Our innate sense of fight or flight is an intrinsic response that has not dissipated even in what we regard as the modern age today. And we saw in the midterm elections of this year that fear can be used as a weapon (Republican ads about Ebola virus or ISIS as being apocalyptic) to mobilize people to vote. Through the ages, fear has driven the vehicle of humanity to some of the greatest “pile ups” in human history. Today the gripping power of fear has once again raised its hand above reason, optimism, and compassion.
The senseless violence and misuse of deadly force plagues America as police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, and just last week in Cleveland, Ohio, have determined their role to be expanded from peacekeeper to judge and executioner. Whether this is a question of police brutality or societal acceptance of racial hatred in America, the noble statute “equal under the law” has been replaced by the convenient “stand your ground.” One can argue in each of the incidents above, and the many others that recur all too often, if there was justification for police to use deadly force, but that ignores the essence of these American tragedies. Many Americans — white, black, brown — are afraid of each other.
Studies abound on the origin of this behavior. Is it something we are born with, is it learned from the family one grew up in or the peer pressure that accompanies the journeys of the young in school or elsewhere? Certainly our history, when it comes to enslavement of people who are black, has added a dimension to white prejudice against black people that seems to know no bounds. And religion, for all the Christian platitudes of “love thy brother as thyself,” fails to make a dent on those who are determined to believe that their race is superior. With every passing day we witness perhaps the greatest witch hunt of a president in modern American times. And it not only extends to Barack Obama but First Lady Michelle Obama and their children. Can it just be a coincidence that he is the first African-American president? Every major action President Obama takes or attempts is met with racial innuendo and cries from the right of un-American, dictator, king! This frenzy of casting Obama as not one of “us” along with his skin color has demonized him for those already residing in their own echo chamber of bigotry.
Trickle-down economics has nothing on trickle-down hate. An atmosphere poisoned by politicians to fail to call out blatant racism has filtered down with deadly results. It has made for some Americans a foregone conclusion that young black men are to be distrusted and feared and all brown people who have crossed our boarders for shelter should be treated with antipathy and shame, not understanding, for seeking a better life. Misguided and misplaced fear is fostered by those who wish to capitalize on their political fortunes or facilitate their innocence of misdeeds even when evidence (video tape) speaks to the contrary. A nation of people who live in fear of each other has not only created a moral dilemma but has divided a country that is sorely in need of healing after over 200 years of deadly violence. Racism that carried the United States into slavery and dispossessed native Americans of their land and dignity is a card far more powerful then the race card. It’s the fear card that has almost nullified the phrase “all men are created equal.”
The Fergusons, the Sanford, Floridas — cities across this country are paved with suspicion. All Americans white, black, brown must be able to look at each other and see through color rather than be blinded by pigmentation. Color neither unlocks a person’s character or defines the DNA code of their heart. Until the meaning of racism is antiquated, out-moded, or discredited by changes in the age we live in — to be absorbed and replenished with acceptance for all — fear will be a perpetual sidekick.