Nothing is more intimately related to the emotional welfare of the black male than the sum of his fears. From the start, it would be rather amiss of e if I didn’t relate that what I have discovered about fear is that fear can be either a life experience or a life sentence dependent upon the torque and velocity of that particular fear. For example, my fear of fire has prevented me from foolishly thrusting my hand into an open flame, and it is precisely fear of this nature that has proven to be a life-affirming experience. Then you have, on the other hand, those fears that are so mind-numbing they are a “emotional” life sentence.
I am not certain about this, but I do honestly believe that fear is more of a threat to an introvert than to an extrovert due to the intensely brooding demeanor of an introvert. Anyway, my fears introduced themselves to me quite early, and one of my first fears was that I would not be allowed to be what I wanted to be. As a shorty, thanks to Perry Mason, I wanted to grow up to became a lawyer. but I remember clearly what I was quietly told by my beloved Grandmother. She sadly informed me “colored boys couldn’t be lawyers”. She told me that I needed to focus on becoming a brick-mason. I do recall that it was shortly after I had gotten this piece of bad news about my future vocation that I stood in front of the class, and when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I solemnly replied that I wanted to be a “flim-flam man!” I am quite convinced that I had no idea at the time what a flim-flam man was, but I had heard one of the older neighborhood boy say that that was wanted he wanted to be, and since I looked up to Greg, I thought that it might be nice if I became a flim-flam man as well. It was Greg who taught me how to steal out of stores after I had gotten busted at nine, stealing a horn out of Pep Boys, but more about him at a later time.
Despite the fact that I possessed other fears, such as the universal childhood fear of walking through a dark alley, or the more ethnically black fear of snakes, the one fear that was constantly being imposed upon me consciously, unconsciously, and subconsciously was the fear of the white man. Notwithstanding the fact that at that time in my young life, I had had zero experience with while folks, I got the message. Without even understanding the nature of the threat the white man posed to me, I was subliminally seduced into knowing, without any shred of doubt, that he, indeed, was one. One evening while me and the crew were assembled in the coal shed in my backyard, the subject came up, and one of my “play” cousins schooled us. He said that it wasn’t so much the fear of the white man that counted. What did count, however, was the fear of “what the white man could do to you.”
Given that scenario, it would be relatively easy for a young brotha of that era to entertain the notion that yes, the white man, could put “his black ass in jail” since all the police were white, as evidently were all the lawyers, not to mention the prosecutors and judges. Yeah, no doubt, the white man could rock a nigga’s world, but what about the other extreme such as the fear of needing the white man?
In the same tradition as all the police were white, so were all the fire men. If your house caught on fire, you couldn’t expect any help from brothas, so what if the white men–the firemen–didn’t come? How would you eat if the white grocers removed their stores from your block, What about if you got sick, or needed to catch a taxi?
The fear of needing the white man became an acquired taste that prematurely gave birth to the notion of the white as a “savior!” which black women instantly embraced. For the baby girl, it’s Santa. To the sista on the block, it’s Uncle Sam with his welfare check, and to the sista in the church, it’s Jesus.
It’s funny now, but when I was young, mannish boys didn’t get threatened with the bogeyman. We were told, instead, about the white man getting us. I sadly recall being told that by my Moms although she wasn’t talking directly to me. What had happened was that I was coming down pretty hard on my sister for wearing one of my jackets without my permission. My Mom ended the argument by telling my sister that she wouldn’t have to worry about me much longer “because the white people were going to get me” . I had been twelve. By no stretch of the imagination, did I, for one second, think that she meant that the white man was coming to rescue me as a savior. Nope, that wasn’t the intended message at all.
Let me tell you about another incident that happened to me when I was twelve that so aptly demonstrates how the magic of “white superiority” is so subtle that once it manifests itself in any form whatever, the results are so powerful that it is almost irrefutable. Now, this is my story about how I was unconsciously, and perhaps subconsciously, victimized by the fear and awe of the white man that begins to color the social perspective of black men from the moment of inception.
We were living in the projects by now, and for the very first time in my life, lived in a house with hot running water! Prior to this, in order to take a hot bath, we had to heat water up in a foot-tub by placing it on the pot-bellied stove. Having hot water was cool, but the feature of the house that fascinated me most was that I could cut the lights on and off with a flick of a switch on the wall rather that pulling a string attached to the light. Man, that was progress in 1964 for a brotha coming from First Ward.
Okay, the story is this. It was a wonderfully, pleasant fall evening, and I was simply roaming the neighborhood, having nothing better to do. For some reason, I stopped at the house of a family friend. Anyway, the Potts family were upstairs doing something which left me alone to watch TV. The nightly news was on, and when the news was on, it was on all three channels so there was no escape from the news. As it turned out, this was when they were getting ready to commence daylights saving time. I was visibly impressed, albeit a wee bit silly. You can laugh if you so choose, but I somehow thought that the white man was going to get into one of his rocket-ships, fly into space, and then to manually rotate the earth on its axis to alter time by one hour. Quite assuredly, if I would have stuck around for the rest of the broadcast, I would surely have learned that despite my fanciful version of DST, all that was required was that you merely reset your clocks. But I didn’t stick around. Why should I? How could I? After hearing this, I had first-hand knowledge of the white man’s absolute power. Damn, the white man was a bad man.
In a fit of stupid euphoria, I stumbled out of Miss Charlie Mae’s house, out into her front yard., and stood there, staring in the skies, transfixed. “The white man was going to turn back time.” You didn’t get any more powerful than that. At that moment, this was real. This, for me, was no fantasy, and I needed no more convincing: The white man was the shit.
Needless to say, it probably didn’t help matters much that one of the biggest programs of that era had been Superman, and there was this one scene, in particular, where I vividly recall Superman all up in space, twisting around one of the planets, probably earth to save it from i don’t know what. Emotionally, I equated the white man with Superman. And how could I forget that other bastion of white maleness, Tarzan. When I was younger, still living on 6th Street, I was cheering Tarzan on as he fucked up a whole tribe of brothas. My Mama got angry with me and told me that no white man could beat up that many ‘colored’ men.
There is perhaps a sizable number of black men from that era who absorbed lessons of this sort, “mythifying” the white man. After all, how can you defy a man which you had mythified.