“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
~ First John 4.18, NRSV
I’m tired of being afraid, exhausted by conversations of possible insult or ill- treatment due to race, racism, prejudice and/ or stereotypes. I am worn down by the recurring thought that imperfect strangers, whose intentions are somehow revealed by the socially coloring of their skin, do not love me or could not ever come to love me if we were to become known to each other. I’m worn out by conclusions like “People never change”, “That will never happen” and “That’s just the way they are,” which are more often than not personal decisions to disengage from tough conversations on race and racism, to not acknowledge our ignorance of and disinterest in finding out more about other cultures and to retreat from those cultures that are not similar or have not assimilated into our own, segregating ourselves without the assistance of the law, familial pressure or societal norms and expectations.
We do this not as a courtesy, not out of habit but due to fear. We have racial phobias and there is a name for every one of them: Negrophobia (i.e. “fear or contempt for [socially colored] black people and their culture; behavior based on such an attitude or feeling”), Anglophobia (i.e. “fear or contempt for [socially colored] white people and their culture; behavior based on such an attitude or feeling”), redpeoplephobia, brownpeoplephobia, yellowpeoplephobia and so on. But these phobias are not due to real danger or the threat of physical harm. Instead, it is an irrational fear not rooted in present and often times historical reality or experience. It is the fear of the unknown, the potential threat of change, to us not having things our way, to the possibility that we will have to share the land and its resources.
Still, this fear brings dread, anxiety and terror. In fact, fear was first associated with flight because of the innate reaction of persons who felt threatened. Running away, fleeing from the area, leaving the situation was a survival mechanism. But, what are we attempting to survive when we flee because of socio- cultural construct of race? The connection between fear and flight is clearly demonstrated in the racialized reality of white flight (i.e. the desire to move due to the fear of the possibility of increased crime and subsequent loss of property value due to the influx of neighbors from different cultures who are associated with all the things that are wrong about humanity). I have often heard the fears of such persons: “They are going to take our jobs, take our men, take our women, take over our schools, neighborhoods and government.”
The perceived loss is great and so is our assumed ownership. We want to have everything, every person, place and thing whether they claim us or want us at all. And we don’t want any one who is not a part of our group to touch or benefit from anything. “The earth is ours and the fullness there of (Psalm 24.1).” We are selfish gods, self- regarding idols who create only for ourselves and those we like and who supposedly look like us.
Despite this ongoing and abundant supply of fear, I have decided that I am going to fear less. I’m not going to live in fear and fear is not going to live in me. It just doesn’t fit into this house of love; it won’t clear the doors and I can’t squeeze it into the window. If it were possible to cut it down into moveable pieces, fear would still clash with the furniture. It doesn’t go well with grace, mercy, peace and hope. Fear’s style is outdated and is not functional. It doesn’t work anymore and when it did, it didn’t work well. There was always something better available: love. But, not just any old kind of love but God’s perfect love.
So, I’m cleaning house but I’m not donating my fear to others. I’m not going to have a yard sale on Saturday to sell them at a discounted price. No, I’m going to bag up my fears but I’m not going to throw them in the trash for fear that someone find them and believing them to be valuable take them into their own home. No, I am going to cast them out because I am living with God in perfect love. I am fearing less.