The ever-elusive safety problem or a culture of fear

On a very basic level, everyone wants to be safe but one person’s safety is another person’s fear…or even terror. Americans of a certain ilk spend a great deal of time focusing on their personal safety. People will stretch themselves to live in “safe” areas with “good” amenities; others will amass an arsenal of weapons to keep them and their loved ones “safe.” Yet despite this quest for safety, never has a group of people been so fearful and felt so very unsafe.

I am old enough to remember a world where even when one did wrong, you just didn’t cross certain lines. Walking into a school or social service agency and going on a murderous rampage just wasn’t a thing that happened. The worst thing that used to happen at the holiday office party was that someone got a little “too” happy and maybe a few people were caught grumping in the corner because the holiday gift seemed a little skimpier than usual. “Sheltering in place” was a foreign string of words for most of us, not a grim new reality that today’s school kids must be drilled on. Test preparation, fire drills and sheltering in place drills. These are the things that happen at today’s schools. It’s a very different world than it was even just a few years ago. One where even the most mundane activity could very well become your last activity in this life.

We are living in a time where hucksters and demagogues play on our fears and rather than seeking our shared humanity as inhabitants of this dusty rock, far too many of us are driven to further divide ourselves. Whenever a mass shooting or terrorist act involves one of our Muslim brothers and sisters, the demagoguery machine lights up and the fears against Muslims ramp up at the same time. Meanwhile our Muslim brothers and sisters live in fear of those who unnecessarily fear them and seek to harm them due to their faith. Women who must decide whether to wear the hijab or not; men who must decide how to discretely pray lest some scared person decide to do them harm. If it weren’t real life, it would almost be too funny but there is nothing funny about scared people harming other scared people. Yet it is increasingly our new norm.

Xenophobia, anti-Black racism and similar sentiments are the norms that many use to justify their need for safety from certain groups (that are mostly peaceful) at the expense of those millions of marginalized others having to live with the collective feeling of not being safe from majority groups and society itself. I know a little about feeling unsafe. I spent over a decade in a community where on the deepest level, I did not feel safe. Every time I left my house, I had to gird myself up to receive the attention that comes with being an “other.” People are not meant to live in a state of never feeling safe, it takes a toll on you, it strips you of your essence and it robs you of your own humanity. The twisted irony is that I lived in a place that felt very safe to most of the other (almost all white) inhabitants. People moved to the area because it was “safe” and affordable with “good” schools. It’s where I learned that what defines safety for some does not mean safety for all.

However, despite the desire for this ever-elusive safety, it seems even less likely that we will ever see a collective security anywhere on this dusty rock. Since the attacks on American soil in 2001, America’s attempts at keeping her people safe has lead to much sorrow and pain across the globe and despite the various attempts at safety theater that we must all play at, it feels like we have propelled ourselves back to a very dark place.

I write about race in part because living as a Black woman, especially in Maine, I feel that I have something to say and that I am an adequate writer. I have been accused many times of dividing people and being an egotistical shit starter. Depending on the day, my ego may come out to play, as all of our egos do at times. However, to talk about our differences is not what divides us. It is often our inability to see what our fellow sojourners are facing that keeps us divided. It is easy to judge and assume when we don’t know what others who are different than us face, especially when they are not part of the mainstream racial and/or socioeconomic group in an area. However, for all that divides us, we are all worthy of living lives that are not burdened with fears and shadows. This sweet ride we call life is too short to live in a silo of fear. Perhaps breaking down the walls of fear starts with us and not the others.
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2 thoughts on “The ever-elusive safety problem or a culture of fear”

  1. Hi Shay, Thanks for your post. Coming after picking up on POTUS’ Oval Office speech this evening on the replay, I was a bit skeptical at first that you might have finally raised my hackles, but not at all. Your acknowledgement of how inconceivable a mass shooting at a school or party would have been not so long ago was on point, especially since I’m agreement that this was because there was a point beyond which one simply did not go, even in wrong doing! As I was reading, I remembered a train of thought I’d observed moving past the previous evening as I was coming home from work. It was a kind of defensive train of thought, as if I felt that I needed to insist that despite the fact that I feel daily rejected for both my religious in-clusivity, that this was NOT born of brainwashing, nor being macked nor pimped, nor unbalanced, nor unconcerned, but rather because I was brought up that way and was both taught and exposed to the notion that there is a human family greater than each of our separate families. The way I learned it, this family is supposed to be stronger than feuds, which, since most Americans (white anyway) LOVE a family feud and would happily wage war at worst and cheat at best on behalf of family, certainly is a reflection of the diversity of perspective I came up in. And I learned in an atmosphere of love of fairness and respect for idealism as a window for envisioning a better future. I am even a bit older enough than you are and I can remember when it seemed a force for peaceful co-awareness and co-existence blossomed after the Vietnam War, then faltered in the face of the Cointelpro War On Unity and lapsed into a coma on the disco dance floor, but somehow never died. So much change yet some things remain. While I could almost hear the groans from the Trump followers as POTUS reminded us of our Muslim neighbors and friends, and I cringed at the fascism inherent. Yet after reading your post, I am so grateful to remember how much I love my President for not shrinking away from reminding us to love the good in our neighbors, to not be fearful of any of the ways that people worship. While I guess it might have been out of place, I wish he could have slipped in a discussion of the richness our different tapestries of faith bring to the bigger tapestry of faith. What your post did was ensure that I remember the strength and necessity of his message, not go to bed wondering if the fascists will win because so many seem so stuck in stupid mode. So, like I said, thank you! I promise to buy you another coffee drink in the New Year! Happy islanding! 🙂

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