Fear is the nature of what is expected of Black people.
It is the only thing tapered to the end of these conversations: on Black Lives Mattering and the boundaries thrust upon us and our expectations. It is the conversation we settle upon this weekend as not five miles away from us, Downtown Columbus, Ohio rings with the outspoken resistance to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor. And in the end, I cannot say that I believe that I am afraid. I can’t say that I can ever be afraid again.
We’ve been afraid before in Columbus. The Franklin County Police Department flows in and out of the Westside with the same brand of unchecked confidence. I’ve been stopped outside a Walgreens sliding my way to school but two blocks away and questioned if I was really heading to school on the coldest days of the year as the sidewalks iced over an inch thick. The last time my mother obliged when our house robbed in our neighborhood, the responding policewoman (two hours late) pulled me to the side and questioned me on which of my friends did it. Even the officer trusted to waste our time in the school halls was only so nice as he could be appeased that he was a part of the solution.
We have been afraid to break curfew before despite the numerous white classmates violating the deep dark hours. We plunged a high grass trench as a police car sped up Franklin Manor walking to the store for frozen pizzas and snacks because our mothers didn’t have bail. And as we sit together, an hour after Seth Towns, a hometown activist and Harvard graduate, was arrested downtown while peacefully protesting, we reflect on fear’s hydra.
One of us, a boy with his own history of outspoken misbehavior and immediate swift punishment from every possible authority figure, fears being beaten by the police altogether — the fear of retribution. This is the fear I imagine Justin Colby’s family experiences through the night as their son is missing in the hands of the Chicago Police Department.
Another of us fears going broke, and sees his value strictly in the business of money and the blood that bleeds in green. This is the fear I see in the faces of Atlanta’s millionaire elite who move to outrage and condemnation before outreach and aid. This is the shame I smell when they pull up to protests not to help, but to feed a vanity left barren and deceased during a pandemic’s mandatory shut down of ego and opulence.
…but many of us are not afraid — we have replaced panic for rage
The outlier is the one who fears only inaction — standing in the confusing mist of the circumstance with the burden of having been too afraid to move at all. This is the fear I find across my timelines as millions are confused about if they’re doing enough. The dreaded panic swapped for a furious frenzy swapped for a long two-hour pause as pain turns to trauma, and then they do it all over again. And we, in turn, take another shot, partake in whatever else we have on hand, remember Marshawn McCarrell and distract ourselves again.
And as I sit with them before a fire that burns all night — like the cities across America and the pain of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s family — I think my inability to sympathize comes from numbness. And then the sun rises, and we are all awake and I realize that it wasn’t numbness that walled me from fear, but simply I have stopped being afraid.
What is fear really but a moment? It lasts as long as you need to remember it, and then it stains. That fear is the manifestation of an outlier –an alien body flowing through a formerly undisturbed habitat. But this fear we have today is not foreign. It is a familiar predator. George Floyd knew the lion on his body. It wasn’t a boogeyman. He knew full well what he faced in his final moments, and I’m so sorry for that to be true. So, how can I still be afraid? The adrenaline may surge, the endorphins may intoxicate, my heart may race, but many of us are not afraid — we have replaced panic for rage.
And to call these protests violent outbursts of fearful people is to undermine the amount of time such events as George Floyd has been manifest. The house of racism has always been built on haunted grounds. These ghosts do not scare us. They’re friendly, and they’re mean, and I have given them names according to size and familiarity.
In times like these, to fear questions the very nature of my Blackness and I have never questioned such a thing other than to understand the gifts imparted to me by elders who’ve suffered in silence but loved in the open. The Monday following the adverse late May protests across the country, my grandfather, Robert “Flu” Fluellen, sends a simple, heartfelt message to the family group chat. He says, “You should know I’ve personally seen [the] KKK marching with burning crosses. Fortunately, they didn’t see me, and this was in 1966 in VA. The hatred for Blacks continues.”
He continues to remind us the education is never complete until we have read and studied the Bible. That such was different from religion. “You may find out its Black history. Since we’ve been whited out.”
It’s such a simple statement, but it speaks volumes to the nature of what my elders have taught me all my life for me to be so resilient to the parasite of fear. Flu has always been stoic, silent, and smarter than anyone in the room. He has always been closed off and mysterious. And all my life, I knew it was all trauma hiding behind a steel trapped door that the military imparted to him.
“You may find out its Black history. Since we’ve been whited out.”
It wasn’t until I was 22 before he finally discussed the war with us at a Denny’s. My uncle and my mother stared at each other agape for twenty minutes when he said he reflected on the drugs he took in Vietnam. My grandfather survived the war to have both of his children, and never once said a word outside of the supreme Fluellen doctrine: No men will serve ever again. He has never verified that this restraint was a vessel of fear.
This same fear is the expectation of my grandmother, Maureen “Kandy Kane” Fluellen, to remain silent online and off on the atrocities I face. There is a conflict we experience at all times that we as Black people know that shouldn’t be spoken of — it’s anathema, a taboo of biblical proportions. If they do not pay here, they will pay later, as life itself is the supreme challenge of Jehovah. Such is a similar belief of most Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose concern with Earth is the appeal of becoming good enough. It is the appeal of virtuism.
And yet, I remember my time in Kingdom Hall as a child. I remember the few times where I committed to outreach and pilgrimage with my brothers and sisters and wandered door to door to face the most absolute worst of humanity. My Aunt had a large dog sicced on her on a bright Sunday. Fathers spat at my grandmother. TV shows mocked us to the voracious laughter of millions — and the next week, we got back up and did it again with the same smiles.
It wasn’t that this ever stopped. But the nature of fear is that it cannot exist forever. I will not allow itself to. The human spirit will not allow such an affront to its existence. Not just God. Not just Faith. Humanity, in its hues of brilliance and in its moral ambiguity.
A year ago, my grandfather said he loved me for what I now acknowledge is the first time in my life. He has always shown me what his love was — a computer manual when I was eight as an acknowledgment of my blossoming intellect or a loving Saturday lesson of kung-fu movies and spaghetti westerns. But the very act of saying “I love you” was an embodiment of something different, a refusal to fear.
As much as being a writer during these times is a psychic maestro, an attack upon the para-psychological spectrum that is Blackness, which empowers us to love ourselves completely; which inspires us to distrust absolutely. Always justified in both, but satisfied in neither.
I am not afraid to use my voice. I am not afraid of police brutality. I am confident, like my elders, that decisiveness will persevere.