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Can Fear Be Justified??? by Jonathan Lykes

This is in response to my good friend “Supernerdjlh” who chooses to remain nameless due to his “fear” that in the future his career could be jeopardized by the events written in this very blog. (I think I’m getting good at “opening up a can of worms”)

Can Fear Be Justified???

During College Orientation week in my first year at University of Chicago, the students had “forums” that were geared towards opening discussions about the various views on race, gender, and political background. In one of these sessions, this question was posed, “If you see a black man walking towards you at night, would you cross the street?” I of course was the only black student in the room and struggled not to be offended when I heard the shocking wave of answers. “Of course I would cross the street, I could get raped” One student answered. Another Student said, “I would be afraid of what might happen so I would cross the street to protect myself.” Being the person that I am, I spoke out and said it is ridiculous that someone would automatically stereotype a person by their skin color and justify their stereotypes because of some unjustified fear that the media and our culture has deceived them into believing. 

When walking across the mid-way on my campus throughout the school year at night, I would notice many individuals literally attempt to avoid me. I would see people walk towards me, look at me, stop and awkwardly walk in another direction. Is this right? Is this fear justified? 

The idea of “Unjustified Fear” extends beyond just the black race. In 9th grade I wrote a poem called perception. Here is a short excerpt from that poem. 

You see an Arab man sitting next to you on a plane. 
Your heart is pounding; your mind is going insane. 
You automatically you think he is there to bring pain, 
out to terrorize all for Allah’s gain. 
But what will put you to shame is that he never hurt a soul in
his life 
has three kids and a wife, 
and on forth of July with everyone else he sings “Im proud to
be American” 
Wrong perceptions. 
(If you would like to read the entire poem or see it performed
go to this link: http://www.facinghistory.org/node/175)

Many of what I like to call “Sheltered Groups”—or groups that have not interacted with different environments and people—will fear the set of individuals that are unfamiliar to them. Some students on my campus fear me walking close to them at night, an American on a plane might fear someone of Islamic association—or someone Mexican for those who are extra-ignorant—and “Supernerd” fears crack users on the Roosevelt bus. This fear is dangerous. This fear is the very same thing that waters the roots of Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, and Not-So-Patriot Acts. This fear is what starts wars and ends peace. When one group starts to fear another without trying to understand that every individual is different, it becomes a dangerous bomb waiting to explode.  

I am not sure if I can judge other peoples fear, if I did I suppose I too would be guilty of the same offense that the fearers have committed against those who they fear. However I do offer this, always ask questions. Why do I fear this person? When did I start to fear this group? How would I feel in their situation? It is so amazing how things we learned in elementary school—like the golden rule—apply to our lives even more once we reach adulthood. Unfortunately, by that time, many of us have forgotten the lessons that would actually change the world beyond having an African-American president.