Putting Away Childish Things (White Fear and Growing Up)

(Read The Race Game to understand why I’m talking so much about whiteness.)

After I (a white person) published “Grown-Ass White Folk” earlier this week, it occurred to me (a white person) that fear is another developmental angle that has something to do with well-meaning white folk “growing up.” My proposition was that we, well-meaning white folk, are often immature in how we respond to white supremacist events in society.

Meanwhile, events in Minneapolis have escalated alongside white reactivity–both from the police state and from arm chair critics. So let’s think about white fear as a developmental issue.

Children are afraid, but they are not always afraid of real-world threats. Actually, children are often afraid of imaginary threats (like the monster under their bed) and not afraid of real threats (like falling off the edge into the swimming pool). So, part of growing up means sorting out what anxieties we have that are real and useful — and what anxieties are false and counter productive to our goals or values.

White folk are human–and we (white people) get to be afraid. It’s not inherently wrong or even immature to be afraid. Feelings are feelings. However, letting our (white) lives be shaped fundamentally by unfounded fears, by anxieties that breed among white supremacist caricatures, does make us (white people) an integral part of the larger white supremacist system that is designed to make Black and Brown folk into servants or monsters.

To say it differently, we (white folk) may consent to certain immoral behaviors in our society because we (white folk) have been led to believe that those behaviors are somehow justified in order to “protect us” (white people) from the “monsters under the bed.”

You know the ones. The “monsters” who are coming to take “our” (white) women, “our” (white) stuff, “our” (white) schools, “our” (white) country. There is a whole system of signals designed to stoke white fear.

When the white nationalist-in-chief tweets about “thugs,” he (in his whiteness) is invoking a “dog-whistle,” a not so veiled word choice that names the Minneapolis protesters as Black, urban, and criminal–which is to say a threat. He (as a white person) thus contextualizes his (white) call for a violent response, by naming his (defined-by-whiteness) monsters–fully expecting his (white) audience to play along.

Indeed, (white) folk who say they are upset about the murder of George Floyd may even bemoan the (white) President’s tweets, but go on to kvetch about the danger of civilians responding to police violence and lack of accountability.

 I agree that some demonstration is often necessary, but not when it destroys other people’ lives and endangers society not even connected with the original problem. Martin Luther King’s method was much more effective and long-lasting.

An actual Facebook comment, name withheld

Of course, there is so much more to be said about riots, protests, and uprisings–and about Dr King.

For now, I (a white person) want to focus on the fear of destruction that is embedded in such a critique. We (white Americans) valorize the Boston Tea Party as a political protest (despite property damage) and speak matter-of-factly in classrooms about the slave trade (despite harm to real people).

We have seen (white) militia men carrying the flag of a vanquished (Confederate) enemy combatants into state capitol buildings being treated with more kindness and reserve than unarmed Black protesters. Indeed, 21-year-old Dylan Roof was kindly apprehended even when all involved knew he had slaughtered 9 church members during Bible study and was likely armed. There are endless examples.

In stark contrast, all manner of Black uprisings against the status quo are derided as “inappropriate” if not “dangerous.” Whether peacefully “disrupting” the National anthem or peacefully “disrupting” traffic for a Black Lives Matter protest or peacefully “disrupting” the attempts of the Minneapolis Police Department to avoid accountability.

Black folk are derided for disrupting the status quo, irregardless of how “nice” or “polite” they may be–and that is some white bullshit.

To put it another way, these are also our (white) kid fears playing out

The first night of peaceful, unarmed protests in Minneapolis this week were met with tear gas and rubber bullets by the same police force that had just killed a man. Help me (a white person) understand how it is remotely rational to critique the civilians for such an escalation? (white) Kid fears.

We (white people) are more afraid of those who are simply calling for justice than we (white people) are concerned about an armed police force (or white President) with no accountability. (white) Kid fears.

We (white folk) frequently can’t see the swimming pool of danger because we are so busy talking about the imaginary monsters under our beds. (white) Kid fears.

Our childish (white) imaginations frequently seem unable to tell the difference between an actual (white) threat to our (white) lives and those who would simply call us into our better (white) selves.

We (white folk) must put away childish things. We (white folk) must put away our (white) kid fears and sort out our (white) racist caricatures from actual threats to our (multi-racial) communities. We (white folk) must question (white) authority. We (white folk) must grow a deep-seated sense of cross-racial empathy. We (white folk) must grow the {expletive deleted} up.

See Also:

Compiled by Mx Chris Paige on May 29, 2020.

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