Powell: The other ‘F word’

Several words are known by their first letter. Most stand for a racially offensive term or an obscenity. The letter “F” is one of them. When you hear someone refer to the “F word,” I suggest introducing them to another one: fear.

John Powell

Many of my friends on social media say they are afraid. They mention unlawful and profane acts of governmental officials as major concerns. The proliferation of violence and attacks on citizens who don’t agree with power brokers are the scariest.

Fear became a major weapon when presidential candidate Donald Trump said in 2016: “When Mexico sends its people, they are not sending their best. . . . They are bringing drugs, and they are bringing crime, and they’re rapists.” Racists began to feel they had a spokesperson who articulated their concerns and fears. The president’s continued rhetoric and policies against vulnerable populations have further emboldened them.

Almost everyone is afraid of the unknown. The demon of fear has been loosed to run wild.

The growth of the nonwhite population and decline in the birth rate among Anglos have caused many white people to fear that they are headed toward minority status. University of Minnesota psychologists Hui Bai and Christopher Federico say their study suggests some even worry that they will cease to exist. We are witnessing a resurgence of white supremacy and violence against racial, ethnic and religious populations.

Lawlessness and injustice at the highest levels of government encourage the dominant power base in our communities to keep white folks in power. People of color who step out of the space assigned to them and into “white space” are met with violence and retribution. Leaders stoke fear to energize their followers.

Disenfranchised people are distressed over the rise of white supremacist activity. They distrust government agencies due to a lack of response to such activities. In fact, many in these agencies are engaged in oppressive actions themselves. Everyone, except the perpetrators, worries about the violence.

Several years ago, I sought help to overcome a fear of heights. I learned my fear was an emotional response to danger. It was normal. We are wired for self-preservation. I felt the need to maintain control and survive. In fact, it may be a sign of brain damage if we can’t feel fear.

When someone challenges our positions, fear sets in. This may lead us to think we have the right to deprive other people of their rights. We fear losing privilege and power.

Some events may be so scary they are paralyzing. Trauma wounds us emotionally and physically.

We need to know how to respond to fear. So:

— Face your fear. Everyone who doesn’t look or act like you isn’t your enemy. You have allies from all ethnic and racial groups. Embrace them.

— Connect with people who are dealing with similar issues. It can be empowering and help you know how to respond.

— Use your faith to combat fear. Jesus tells us whom to fear (Luke 12:4-7).

— Participate with others to address the issues causing fear.

Only you and our Creator control your life. You have gained much wisdom over the years that has kept you safe. That wisdom for survival and supportive structures will keep you moving in positive directions.

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.

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