One of the toughest pills to swallow as a black woman moving through a world that is hostile towards me and insistent on controlling me, is how much of my existence is crafted around fear. It’s instilled, it’s implied and even insisted upon. It’s drilled into my head with the long lists of things I shouldn’t do for fear that something will go wrong. Don’t swim, don’t travel, don’t show weakness and mind your success because it might drive potential romantic partners away. What underlines all of it, is fear.
Fear that swimming means drowning, fear that so-called weakness makes you easier to suppress, fear that you’ll travel and never return, or travel and become a statistics. It shows itself in smaller, seemingly mundane rules like don’t get a nose piercing because you’ll look like a hoe. It’s all done out of fear!
How many expectations of black women are silently swimming in your head that don’t even come from you? Why is there a long book of laws that decide whether we’re worthy of being called “queens” when we are powerful enough to decide that for ourselves. Most importantly, why are we so afraid of hundreds of things and why do we let them govern our choices?
In every decision I make fear has a voice and whenever I take a step without fear it feels unnatural. Sometimes it feels like the ability to be carefree and even happy is impossible as a black person, and as if it’s impossible to have hope because what inevitably follows is disappointment and heartbreak.
This is obviously part of the defense mechanism we’ve built up to survive everything the world hurls at us. It’s how we manage expectations and avoid pain. We use fear to protect ourselves but I’m at the point of questioning if that’s doing more harm than good. I want to understand what the personal and collective cost of living in fear is. What is the legacy of this fear?
For me it has been anxiety, self-doubt and questioning every little move I make, sometimes to the point of sleepless nights and complete isolation from people I love and environments I thrive in. There are leaps I could have made that I didn’t, there are many situations I could have handled differently but didn’t because I was led by fear.
I want to understand why my blackness has to be defined by fear. Why must I be more cautious about taking chances than a person from another race? Right now, African Americans walk on streets afraid to be the next hashtag and protest inspiration. At this very moment, some people feel the need to water down their blackness for fear of facing the full extent of racism. I’ve witnessed people going against their own dreams and playing it safe. We all know at least one person who aspired for something ambitious but ended up going for the safety net because fear led them.
It’s not our fault. Look at what we’ve faced and how much we are up against it, but we shouldn’t naturalize fear and make it the heart of the decisions we make. It is possible to be black and look fear dead in the face and refuse its influence. We can be carefree, we can be happy and we deserve to be.
Living in fear is essentially living the lie that tells you to hope for much less and avoid taking chances because you don’t deserve them. At this point, I can’t afford fear because it’s presence in my path isn’t just a stumbling block - it’s a deep ditch that I’d never come back from if I fell in, so I’m choosing to step wisely.