Dictionary.com defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat”. Fear has been known to have many implications that leads to decision making that impacts something as little as a family or as large as an entire population.
Medical experts have studied fear and have found it to be causes of mental issues such as panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and intimidation. Writer Tim Newman in his 2018 article for Medical News Today, argues, “Everyone can get scared; fear is an unavoidable facet of the human experience…people often refer to the physiological changes that occur when experiencing fear as the fight-or-flight response.” There is much to be said about the science behind fear and there is much to be said behind the culture of fear.
The culture of fear is a recurring theme when it comes to matters of the Black community. Black families having to explain to their children about the dangers of being outside late at night. Black women having to explain away a feeling of discomfort when receiving unwanted attention from a male counterpart. A young married couple having to face each other’s insecurities during marriage counseling. An adult who has come into their own and beginning to live their lives on their own terms absent of the perceptions of their friends and family. These are just a few of the many scenarios that make up the culture of fear.
Obviously, fear is not only an issue in the Black community. Everyone, regardless of race, gets scared. But it is almost as if fear and Blackness go hand in hand in the most controversial way. Writers of history and cultural studies have argued that the Black community often find themselves in the role of the “feared” and not the “fearer.” Collins Airhihenbuwa argues, “fear of and, therefore, dislike of Black people, especially African Americans… has been at the center of conversations and research on police brutality and use of deadly force…” He goes on to argue this fear stems from the dehumanization of the Black body.
What happens when this fear becomes internalized? What happens when the hunted begins to see themselves as nothing more or nothing less? What happens when it becomes a defense mechanism and a way of life to live in fear? Beyond the familiar faces of fear, how does one person and one community deal with the unfamiliar faces of fear?