This is a confessional piece. And before you judge the title, selected because of its titilating effect, please take the time to read the whole thing. Some of you have already figured it out. Some of you are wrong.
This confession was prompted by two things. First, I saw the movie Paranorman today. It’s a good flick with a great message about fear. The second is a piece written by a “gay dad.” It was very motivational for writing this.
First the confession. I’m scared of black people. It’s completely irrational and I can’t explain it, but just seeing a black person makes me feel fear and get tense. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a part of town practically devoid of them. My high school of 2400 had 6 black students. Once of my best friends in elementary school was a black girl. We even dated in middle school. Doesn’t matter, I still get a shudder seeing someone who is black.
One person who I consider a good friend, and hope after reading this still considers me a friend, is a black man. He’s as kind and gentle a person I’ve ever met and I adore him. But if I see him before I recognize him, that same sharp stab of fear grabs me. To add to it, he’s also gay. Which I find funny, because I know some many people who are afraid of gay people. I’m not. Which is good, since that would be two fears I’d have to overcome to be his friend and I really do like being his friend.
When I read the blog post about homophobia, I had a gut reaction to something the gay dad said. He said,
So… is being homophobic ok too? Naw, not really. People who are afraid of others or put others down make life miserable. They want to make everyone the same as them and they will claim things like “Long ago people decided this…” or that they personally know what God intended. They don’t. But they will try to make other people unhappy while they try to prove that they do. They claim to know what all cultures have believed, but they ignore ones that believed other things. Did you know that there have been cultures that were mostly same gender couples, and ones where one man had lots of wives? There were. None of the past cultures were perfect. Far from it. So that is why we were given the gift of thought—to think out what is best for our culture today and make it fair for everyone.
I had a gut reaction to this. There is nothing wrong with being homophobic was what my gut was telling me. Then I realized, that being homophobic isn’t the same thing as being afraid of gay people. Being a homophobe is being afraid of gay people and acting on it in a negative way. My gut reaction was coming from admitting to myself that I’m afraid of black people.
Until I could see that a homophobe wasn’t just afraid of gays, but actively tried to hurt them, I couldn’t accept that I wasn’t racist. If fear and fear alone defined homophobe and racism, then I had a real problem.
Yes, I’m afraid of black people. And when that sharp tang of fear shoots down my spine and tell myself, “Self, stop being scared.” As a result I have a very good friend who is both gay and black. And I dated a black girl. And I have no problem calling people out who act like racist jerks. And, I truly believe, makes me human and not racist.
That’s where the movie Paranorman comes in. In it, Norman, the main character, is afraid. It comes from the fact that he can talk to ghosts. One of them is his grandmother, who gives him some really good advice. “It’s okay to be afraid, just don’t let it change who you are.”
I’m a nice guy. I’m afraid of black people. But I’m not going to let that fear change me from being a nice guy. I know that fear is based on some weird wiring that I developed a long time ago and just have to deal with today. But I’m not going to let it keep me from being a nice guy. So I bury the fear, and have been better for it. Better, because I have good friends who, had I let the fear win, I wouldn’t have today.
So I dedicate this confession to my good friend who is black and gay. Not that either of those two characteristics defines him at all, but because those two characteristics instill much irrational fear in so many people. He’s a hero in my eyes because he doesn’t let the fear in others stop him from being a class act, a great friend, and a damn fine human being. And I’m proud to call him my friend.
So I’m here to tell you that being afraid isn’t a bad thing. Irrational fears affect us all. If you’re afraid of black people, gay people, tall people, silly people or just about anything else about people… that’s fine. What’s important is not to let that fear keep you from meeting people, being nice to people and treating people, even people you are irrationally afraid of, with respect. That’s the difference between a human being and a bigoted jerk. People can and will be afraid. Doesn’t mean fear has to make you be something you’re not.
Now, how many of you figured out where this was going, and how many of you are disappointed in where it went?
Just in case my message wasn’t clear, I found this post on the evolution of an ally. Perhaps it says it better than I do.