Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 18 seconds

An Honest Look at Fear

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 18 seconds

I came across a tweet today with a photo of a poem by Nikki Giovanni (whom I will follow from now on)

It tells the story of a spider…and how it has harmed no one and we don’t have the right to kill it just because we are scared of it. Full poem also uploaded here.

I don’t know which year this poem was written but it has clear resonance for #Blacklivesmatter

I am thinking. The message is clear: no one has the right to kill another because they are scared of them. Obviously. Right? But wait

  1. What about self-defense? Isn’t that the most universal allowable reason to kill someone? If your life or life of a loved one is threatened? But what counts as a threat? I remembered the movie Crash, where a white cop kills a black guy because he thinks he is reaching for a gun. Does self defense begin when the gun is pointing at you, when you physically see the gun, or when you just sense a gun is somewhere nearby? Obviously those who use the self-defense “excuse” before they see a gun have an irrational fear of the person in front of them (clearly this fear unfortunately is directed at African Americans – I bet you anything a white woman reaching into her pocket will be totally unthreatening to anyone). The poem reminds us that the spider is NOT harmful. It has not done anything to threaten us. It does not deserve to be killed by us.(note: I remember in England once telling hotel reception i had a spider in my room and they said “so?”. It’s also cultural, you know?) 
  2. Police are not normal citizens. They are trained professionals whose job it is to protect us. Whose job it is to know when is an appropriate time to use a weapon. Who know how to use a taser before a gun. Who know how to point a gun at an arm or a leg instead of a chest or a head. (they are not Oscar Pistorius and cannot claim they were feeling vulnerable. They have POWER). Who should have regular psychological screening to ensure they don’t have mental illness or have racist or other discrimination tendencies to irrationally accuse a particular group of people unfairly
  3. We do fear insects and arachnids and even some mammals and reptiles. And we are insect racists. I would not kill a ladybird or a butterfly but I would not bat a lash at killing a cockroach, ant, mosquito, fly, spider… I am a bit more squeamish at killing geckos/lizards/mice but i don’t tell people not to kill them when they enter their house. Pests we call them. Thet don’t threaten us yet they make our lives uncomfortable and we prefer not to have them around or share our space or resources/food with them (gosh, I’m thinking Brexit, aren’t you?).

All I am saying is that while the poem is really powerful and touched me deeply, the analogy actually breaks down. We kill living things ALL the time. Innocent living things. To eat them (plants are living things too). Because they are pests, in our judgment (it’s relative not necessary to see them as pests). Because we are conditioned to be scared of them (itsy bitsy spider and Mickey Mouse notwithstanding). And therefore conditioned not to feel guilty killing them. And while I love animals, I can sort of understand the killing of some of them. I cannot understand the unnecessary killing of human beings…

  • Because we are scared of them because of the color of their skin (Black lives matter. They matter dammit) 
  • Because we disagree with their lifestyle (think Orlando)
  • To make a political point by killing civilians (all terrorism)
  • To take revenge on a group based on the actions of a few (Dallas police killed for actions of a minority of incompetent and racist brutal police officers)

But wait. That last point. “based on the actions of a few”. That’s exactly what police are doing to black people. A few police are stereotyping black people based on the actions of a few – up to the point of killing them. And someone(s) killed a bunch of black people to avenge the actions of those few.

Killing breeds killing. At some point something needs to change in humanity because what it means to be human is no longer something to be proud of. I still think empathy is the way forward. In person or online. Because that innocent death could be you next time. Or your partner or child or neighbor or friend.

It stopped being anyone’s local issue when every week (sometimes every day) it’s near someone’s heart. It could be near yours next time. It could BE yours. And while we may have different ways of responding we need to continue to stand on the side of social justice and support each other through this. There’s nothing left but hope. And our role as parents and educators to raise citizens who know and can do better.

4 thoughts on “An Honest Look at Fear

  1. I too was moved by the simple powerful poem. It taps into a common human experience most can relate to.

    On the other hand, the fear of police black people are living with I can understand but it’s not what I have to live with. I’ve driven around with broken lights on my vehicle. Being pulled over by a cop is a concern but being shot in the prices is so small a probability it does not exist.

    There is also a huge differential in the power between a human and a spider; at maybe hundreds of times larger and more powerful, the spider has much more to fear from us.

    Spiders are common in my home. While there are potentially dangerous ones the majority are not. I don’t want to make this a metaphor, but in the past iwhen I spot on in my bathroom or kitchen it was easier to grab a paper towel, smushed it, and discard. Once at a friends home, I watched as she noticed an annoying fly. With a smooth deliberate motion, she cupped the insect in her hand, walked outside and let it go. When she saw me watching, she shrugged and said, “I’m a Buddhist. All life is scared.” Since then, I keep a plastic cup and a thin piece of cardboard in my cleaning supply closet. When I see a spider now, I put the cup over it, slip the cardboard underneath, and I can then take the spider outside and let it go. It takes more time and effort, but I feel better than just killing it.

    The poem is a beautiful entrance point to discuss empathy.

    1. I did that w a ladybird once and developed the concept of insect racism (why can’t I do that with beetles, cockroaches etc). During Hajj Muslims on pilgrimage aren’t supposed to kill anything not even an ant. But then it all ends w slaughtered sheep so it’s just temporary

      1. I admit not extending my attitude to roaches and thus am a hypocrite. But maybe the point is to try examining that notion and at least try to imagine a different point of view.

  2. Hey uh my mother just cooked me grilled cheese for dinner and i hate grilled cheese like really hatebit and whats next she gave me soggy cereal which is very yucky i dont like it at all worst of all the cereal brand is cheereios and i hate taht stupid bee on the paxkaging box if u can can u tell my mom to gtt we me actual edible food i want cookies and milk and fried snake penis please and thanks

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