• willadubois

Speaking to Fear

in the beginning was the Word

For several centuries, many people in what is now the United States who have been classified as “white” have been taught to fear people who have been classified as “black,” or under the name of some other color.[1]

The original purpose of this education was to perpetuate an economic system that depended on slave labor for its survival. A pseudo-scientific intellectual machine supplied the justifications needed to legitimatize the underlying theories.

What fear does is enable dehumanization. If the perceived source of the fear is not human, committing violence against it becomes not only possible, but necessary for the protection of the self and the “natural order of things." Fear is where the beating, torture, and dismemberment of non-white families and individual bodies in this country began.

In her recent book entitled Yellow House, Sarah M. Bloom calls out the “pillared splendor” described in promotional materials for a former plantation on New Orleans’ River Road (see p. 14). I have heard someone say “I was married at B------- Plantation. The gardens are beautiful there.” I have never heard anyone say “I was married at the B------- Forced Labor Camp.” What, I wonder, is beautiful there?

A No Agenda participant said that we need to learn how to “hold the discomfort.” One way to do this is to call things what they are.

According to the feminist novelist Angela Carter, “[l]anguage is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.” If this is true, then the name of The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration located in Montgomery, Alabama has the potential to move us toward freedom. Freedom from the fear of uprooting plantation and other myths. Of looking each other in the eye. Of finding out we are afraid to try.

A parting thought. Some individuals in positions of power have rediscovered America’s deep vein of racial fear. They think they have struck gold. Perhaps, this time, the people of this nation will use their words to declare, out loud, in one voice, that what they have found is worth nothing.

[1] For an explanation of how these terms were constructed, see Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.