Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Five Words I Encountered Today

What frustrates me the most with [the Michael Dunn] case is that it further institutionalizes the exculpatory power of fear. I fear the person knocking at my door, so I can shoot them through it. I fear black male teens, so I can shoot them in their cars. I fear terrorism, so I can shoot these pixels I see on my screen via drone. Of course, the privilege of fear is not uniformly extended because of the political and legal power it grants.
"bear report" Comment on "Black Boy Interrupted"
"The exculpatory power of fear." It's a phrase that I had never seen before, yet it immediately resonated. We have granted fear a status akin to victimization, and thus, as we have with some other forms of victimization, we have also granted it certain privileges. And with good reason. I fear the person who has entered my home with a weapon, and so I may use deadly force against them. We privilege fear because we understand that otherwise, all we are left with is avenging wrongs that have already happened. But the possibility of privilege brings the potential for abuse.

When I was young, I was taught that fear was a weapon. That people would fear me, not because it was reasonable, or rational that they do so, but because it gave them the cover that they needed for abuse. That disobedience to their whims and dictates would be taken as a threat, because while being tyrannical, murderous or petty were indefensible, being fearful was accepted and thus the latter was always suspect as a cover for the former. Only those who were like me had any legitimate reason to fear me. But the privilege of fear was closely kept, and so, I was warned, I could never allow my fear to push me into defending myself from the ever-present threat, lest I provide them an excuse to be afraid, and thus to punish me.

But as I grew older, I came to understand. "The privilege of fear" is not uniformly extended, not because of a deliberate hoarding of the power attached to it, but because it is diminished by familiarity. The places I most encountered fear were those places were I was a completely unknown quality. Where the local environment provided no first hand frame of reference. As I stood on a sidewalk in northern Minnesota and watched a woman nearly trigger a serious collision through her inability to attend both to me, and to the road, it began to dawn. When asked to picture the average American, who do you see? Who do you think that your neighbors see? Who does your family see? Now - where can you go in the United States, and not see anyone who looks remotely like them? That ubiquity, that familiarity, makes them for the most part nonthreatening. Especially to one another. And fear is granted privilege mainly when it is shared. And that is why people pander to the fears of the mainstream. That is where the critical mass that can grant privilege resides. It's easy to see them as dishonest, because we do not fear what they do, and so the privilege that comes with fear seems unwarranted, if not completely inappropriate. And that leads us to denounce fear, rather than seek to eliminate it.

We may have nothing to fear, except fear itself, but sometimes, I think, that's more than enough.

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