Saturday, September 09, 2017

Overcoming great fear

This is not an easy post for me to write.  

But I'm going to own up, here and now, to racism and prejudice. Not abstractly, not artfully in that "as a person of privilege I realize that I must be racist in ways I can't perceive" way.  No; concretely and specifically. As in, "This morning I was racist and prejudiced."

I was walking home from the farmer's market (where, I note, while lots of the crowd was waiting in line for food stamps to try to feed their families, I was buying my 26th through 30th houseplants, while swallowing a $7 piece of quiche).  

Staggering under the burden of my floral swag, I was surprised when a tall young black man swung around a corner heading in same direction.  He wasn't really paying any attention to me and there wasn't anything objectively threatening in his demeanor other than his sudden appearance. But I was startled and a little scared anyway and my first thought was; "Is this someone I need to worry about?"

It's not something I am proud of ... but neither is it something I intend to apologize for.  I grew up in a rough neighborhood and being wary was just necessary self-preservation; habits of youth do not disappear just because the circumstances that spawned them do.  More essentially, we are all animals and as such we are designed to use fear to keep ourselves alive.  Despite being social animals -- or perhaps because we are -- we have a natural fear of people who are different or people who are physically imposing (and an even bigger fear when those are combined).  And I had been startled by someone who was different than me (black) and physically imposing (younger and bigger).

Those feelings are natural; but so are a lot of negative feelings.  The impulse to be violent, or greedy, or cowardly are all perfectly 'natural'.  Shame doesn't really lie in having those impulses.  Shame lies in giving in to them.  Our virtue lies not in the absence of such feelings, but in controlling them rather than letting them control us.  Isn't that why the Green Lantern legend evolved? Green Lantern is no longer simply a person without fear... because that just means you're stupid.  Green Lantern is a person with the ability of OVERCOME great fear, which is much more impressive and wise.

So I am not here to damn myself for my own racism and prejudice (there are always people who will do that for you).  I am here to point out what helped me control them almost immediately:

Those. I noticed he was wearing those. [He was also wearing a Spider-Man button, but I've read in the Bugle that he's a masked menace, so that wasn't comforting at all.]  Thanks to the icons of DC comics being part of the common culture I share with someone "different", I immediately realized that this was someone with no interest in villainy; it was someone who wanted to be a hero.  

And that his main obstacle was people like me.