White Privilege is just the Symptom. Fear is the Problem.

privweb What do we blame when we look at the spilled milk? The elbow that bumped it, the glass that broke,or  the floor the glass broke upon? Why is that floor so hard anyway? Who was supposed to be in charge of that floor?  What do we not blame? The real cause: gravity. It’s gravity that pulls the glass to the floor. In fact, gravity is the unrecognized, unindicted reason for all the spilled milk.  Why don’t we blame gravity? It’s too big, it’s too formidable. It’s the law.

In response to the tragic death of Michael Brown, the riots that followed, and continued pain and persecution on both sides – we have found plenty to blame. The officer who shot an unarmed young man, the few protesters out of thousands who wanted to cause trouble, the overly militarized and poorly trained police, or (the vilest claim of all) the young man himself.  In distillation, the blame coin has two sides: “criminal aggression” and “white privilege.”  What are we not blaming? The real cause: Fear.

There is no doubt this is a case about white privilege and criminal aggression. But the unrecognized, unindicted cause is fear. 

  • What causes an armed police officer to shoot at an unarmed citizen? Fear.
  • What causes the police department to hide his identity for a week? Fear.
  • What causes people to assemble rocks and bottles to throw? Anger, brought on by fear.
  • What causes you to bring a tank and war weapons to a protest of people carrying rocks and bottles? Fear. (Can you truly say a group that shows up in a tank armed for the apocalypse is NOT acting from fear?). 

Like gravity – it goes deeper, deeper, and deeper. 

  • Why does a police department in a community of 20,000 HAVE a tank? Fear (the ridiculous fear of terrorism, no less. Not even a statistically likely fear).
  • Why does a police department in a town nearly 70% African-American have a 94% white police department? Fear.
  • Why does white privilege exist? Fear. As we get closer and closer to the day that white people are not the majority – we get closer to both a reckoning of our ancestor’s past bad actions, and a challenge to deal with the new majority, for whom we have left nothing but the example of oppression. Instead of building bridges, we make walls harder to climb.

Fear based violence

Fear explains both the roots and the branches of this poison tree. One of the questions I see in the comments of articles (I know, I know – never read the comments) is – “How can the police not realize almost every person in the US has a video camera in their pocket?”  Why would a police officer harass journalists and NOT expect it to get out?  Why would a police officer answer the question “What is your name” with “Go F Yourself,” and think he wouldn’t be caught?  

Fear.  The wisest, most world building decisions we make as human beings come from love. The worst, stupidest actions we take come from fear.  

So instead of conservative media lambasting that we must bow to authority, or liberal hand-wringing over being able to recognize the destruction caused by white privilege but not knowing what to do about it – here’s my thoughts: 

Conservatives (looking at you, Fox News) – learn the difference between asking a question and making an attack. Questioning the actions of police in an event isn’t “lack of support” – it’s the presence of accountability. Only an idiot would suggest authority cannot be challenged when it is possible it is in the wrong. 

Liberals (Looking at you, Think Progress) – Get off the cross. Stop being the martyrs to the issue of while privilege and whining that you have it, but don’t what it, and don’t know how to get rid of it.  No one is blaming you, and no one cares if you feel blamed. Fight the fear and injustice around you. Speak of white privilege in terms of it’s wrongs – not that you have it. Do something real. 

Minority Communities – Recognize the fear, anger, pain and frustration building among you and refuse to turn it on yourselves. Stand together, walk together. When a fellow member of your community lashes out – reach to him or her with a healing hand that knows the pain and an inspiring hand to make a difference. Challenge the wrong, not each other. Celebrate your courage. 

Majority Community – Fight your fear and forego your addiction to power. Let others in. Be transparent, accountable, and responsible – whether you are a police officer, a store clerk or a journalist. 

Here’s a thought: Since the police department clearly needs some racial balance – put a white officer and a black officer in every patrol car together. That way – no one is alone, no one is afraid, no one is in a “He said/He said” situation and fewer people get hurt. Don’t have the budget for that?  I know of some tanks and weapons you can sell. You don’t need them or know how to use them anyway. 

Gravity – we are stuck with (unless you’re with NASA).  Fear is a choice.  Only when we challenge the fear that comes packaged to us every day – the Big Mac Meal poisoning our souls – will we see the end of white privilege, criminal aggression, bad decisions and grieving communities.

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2 Comments on “White Privilege is just the Symptom. Fear is the Problem.”

  1. brettfish says:

    Thank you for this Kellie. I have been reading a great deal about ferguson and related pieces especially in the last few days as i wrestled to put my own piece on ‘white privilege’ together: http://brettfish.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/im-not-sure-youre-against-that-thing-you-think-youre-against-white-privilege

    The fear perspective of your post is very different from most that i have read and i really thought it added a valuable piece to the conversation and hope a lot of people see this. This is such a necessary conversation for white people in particular to be thinking about and challenging each other on.

    Keep on
    love brett fish

  2. well written and thoughtful, yet, it stops short.
    If you go down the rabbit hole and look at the deaths resulting from police gunshots, you find that almost 50% more white people are slain by the police in any given year than black people.
    This generates mistrust and fear amongst all people.
    But fear is also a symptom.
    The culture of violence is the one god that rules the hearts of entire communities.
    Violence is justified and acceptable, and glorified in all forms of media.
    Arab vs Jew
    Black vs Black
    Black vs White
    Until mankind refuses violence as an acceptable response to “the Other”, Tribalism wins.
    Men vs Women
    Muslim vs All non-muslims
    Parents vs Children
    Humans vs Baby Seals
    Cattlemen vs Sheep Herders
    Management vs Labor
    It’s ISMs that destroy.
    We are all One.
    What we do to the Other, we do unto ourselves.

    It takes courage to look at ourselves and forgive the dragons that terrorize us, but until we recognize that they are our creation, that they are ‘us’, the violence between us reigns.


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