“The Fear We Feel”: A Reflection
August 28, 2020
Summer 2020 has been one for the history books for many reasons, including a monstrous wave of Black Lives Matter protests. But it’s also been an extremely emotionally draining time. While the growth of BLM and its continued impact on society give me a reason to be hopeful and inspired, the government’s response and ongoing instances of state-sanctioned Black death rip that hope and inspiration away from me at times. I’ve gone back and forth from wanting to be involved in the fight in any way possible to just trying to emotionally survive the racial reality of the United States. Some days I donated to racial justice organizations, signed petitions, spread knowledge about the movement and racial inequality through social media, dove into my anti-racist research, and hit the streets to protest. Other days I withdrew from these same activities, tried to center my own personal well being through exercise and other forms of self-care, cried after tough conversations about race and BLM, and decided I needed to go back to therapy. This journey of thinking about, living through, and reckoning with American racism and white supremacy is never ending and has many highs and lows.
This past week, a big part of my journey has been thinking about fear. Black fear. The fear we endure as we are living while Black. In a recent interview, LeBron James spoke on this topic and highlighted that it’s an everyday part of the Black experience. Among other things in his response to the police murder of Jacob Blake, he said: “Why does it always have to get to the point where we see the guns firing? … Quite frankly, it’s just fucked up. … And I know people are tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as Black people in America. … We are terrified. Because you don’t know! You have no idea how that cop that day left the house. … Maybe he just left the house saying that, “Today is gon’ be the end for one of these Black people.” That’s what it feels like. His words made me think of multiple times I have felt this fear, but one in particular that I’d like to share. This blog post is my personal effort to illustrate his words through my own experience in a way I hope resonates with or educates others.
At the end of May, I drove across the country from Maryland to visit my family and friends in California. We drove as a caravan – my brother Michael and myself in my car and my brother Kyle and his girlfriend Cheyenne in his car. On the first day of our journey, we drove late into the night on our way to the hotel we booked on the border of Illinois and Missouri. For a while, Kyle and Cheyenne were ahead of Michael and I on the road. As we drove through the dark and saw someone pulled over by the police, Michael said, I hope that isn’t Kyle…” We both craned our necks as we slowed down to pass by, only to see that it indeed was my brother on the shoulder with a police car behind him. I felt all the hairs on my body stand up as we pulled over a few hundred yards ahead to wait.
I tried to call both Kyle and Cheyenne, but at first neither answered – my anxiety increased. Finally Cheyenne got back to me and said the cop was talking to Kyle outside the car. As we sat and waited for more details or for him to be let go with a ticket, a few tears escaped by eyes and rolled down my cheek. I stared at his car and the cop car behind us in my side view mirror intently. I had my window rolled down, hoping that I didn’t hear any kind of altercation. What I was really listening for? Gunshots. I sat in silence mulling over the fear of this police encounter going wrong as we know so many do, resulting in me losing the closest person in my life. I prayed silently to my higher power, pleading for my brother’s safety and begging them not to let him be the next BLM hashtag./ As time went by, Cheyenne stopped responding, renewing my crippling anxiety. I freaked out. I told my brother Michael that I wanted to get out and walk to Kyle’s car with my hands up in hopes of seeing with my own two eyes that both he and Cheyenne were okay. But in the pitch black night he reminded me how dangerous that would be – that if they perceived my silhouette moving toward them as a threat, I could be the next hashtag instead. So we waited. In silence. Both intensely hoping he would make it out of this encounter safe, but plagued with fear that he wouldn’t. I held his hand as I trembled and more tears rolled down my face.
The hour that we waited felt like a lifetime that could’ve been shattered at any moment. But thankfully, it wasn’t –Kyle called. As soon as I heard his voice and him say that they were being let go, I felt most of the life that had drained out of me in fear of potentially losing him flood back into my body. I have never felt so much fear, or so much relief, in my life. I asked him to pull up and stop where we were. All I could think about in that moment was how desperate I was to see his face and hug him to convince myself that everything was okay. But as I was trying to dispel my fears, he still had fears of his own. “No let’s just go. I don’t want them to know I’m with anyone.” His response stopped me cold in the realization that perhaps we weren’t safe yet. That if they saw us together, maybe they would feel the need to stop and search us as well. So we kept driving until we reached our hotel for that night.
When we finally stopped, I hugged him longer and harder than I can remember ever doing before. Simultaneously, I profusely thanked my higher power that I didn’t lose him to the state-sanctioned violence our community loses people to all too often. This was the first time I had to literally, physically sit and wait for an end to a situation that consumed me with fear. But it’s far from the first time I’ve felt that fear in general. And unfortunately, I know it’s far from the last. Because the fear we feel …
It’s like the feeling of hairs standing up on the back of your neck, but across your entire body.
It’s like a stab wound to your heart that has to be stitched up a million times because new events are constantly ripping it back open.
It’s like the realization that you’ll never reach the safety of waking up from your darkest nightmare, because the nightmare never ends.
It’s like repeatedly trying to reach the safety of the shore, but every time you’re almost there a crushing wave pulls you back under where you can’t breathe.
The fear we feel – it radiates through your heart, it paralyzes your body, it steals the sanity from your mind, and it tortures your soul. And it never – ever – ceases.
An Introductory Guide to #BlackLivesMatter
June 15, 2020
The heinous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and more have once against pushed #BlackLivesMatter back into the political spotlight. But despite the inescapable marathon of protest videos and photos on social media and in the news, many people still don’t have a good idea of exactly what Black Lives Matter is or what it does on a regular basis.
Disclaimer: I’m extremely invested in this movement. As someone who is studying social movements and Black Lives Matter in particular, grounds their academic work in critical race theory, has donated money to the cause, and has participated in BLM protests, meetings, and other events, it hurts my soul when I see people with negative views of the movement based on false or manipulated information.
In an effort to increase awareness and understanding of BLM in the American public, I have constructed this Introductory Guide to Black Lives Matter. It is a collection of information about how the movement was formed, its initiatives and programs, and its impact based on my own reading, research, and participation. I also included a list of other sources to turn to for further information about the movement and the issues it tackles. It is not 100% comprehensive, but I tried to be pretty thorough in including as much information I thought people might need or be interested in forming a baseline knowledge and opinion on the movement. It is also a live document which I plan to update over time.
I hope the information helps! #BlackLivesMatter
– SND –