#Negrophobia, Spiders, and America's Fear of Talking About Racism

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So rather than have an actual conversation on race, the editors of Time magazine decided to publish a post on their Web-exclusive online site entitled “Negrophobia: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and America’s Fear Of Black People.” A number of persons on Twitter suspected that Time magazine was taking aim at #BlackTwitter, and I think they’re right to suspect so. This article was so atrocious, however, and hardly persuasive at that, that I would have to call this one of the worst attempts at being both anti-racist while trolling for hits.

Let’s start with the actual content of the essay. Mr. Hill starts out with some basic Carl Jungian psychology 101, talking about “phobias,”: “Phobias are extreme aversions embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with the thing we fear. Some people are afraid of black people.” True to the classical liberal fashion of our society, Mr. Hill opts to discuss racism on an individual level. Anti-Black racism and violence is a problem of interpersonal interactions between powerful individuals and black persons. Our psyches, our subconsciousnesses, our very souls are for the most part, unknowable, and we are left often times to irrelevant pseudoscience. Hill repeats, “Phobias are extreme aversions. They are embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with with the things we fear. For me, spiders trigger overreactions. For others, it can be people.”

A couple of problems with this sentiment. First of all, when we talk about personhood and face-to-face confrontations, what Hill avoids discussing is the number of practices that make black persons remain fa celess subjects at the bottom of the well. The “triggering” encounters that individuals with anti-black phobias (supposedly) have is not one of face-to-face, but of face-to-faceless, the citizen shunning the fugitive, the civilized keeping the barbarian at bay. Secondly, the comparison of Black people/anti-black racism (even on the individual level) to arachnophobia is highly problematic. Black people are not animals. White supremacist narratives animalize Black bodies, especially Black men as Wild Bucks, in order to justify racist practices such as police brutality. Lastly, if I may make myself an example and come clean. I am not afraid of spiders, or roaches, or bees or wasps. These insects do not BUG me. What insects do scare me, especially when I was in third grade, are crickets. That’s right, crickets. I would see them everywhere in our back yard, and when our basement flooded back then during tornado season, I had crickets in my room hopping around, not leaving me alone. I had not learned anything about what crickets actually were, and what value they had in the food chain. However, I did find out one day that in some cultures, crickets are signs of good luck. From that day on, I tried really hard not to bother them. Who wouldn’t want to have good fortune?

Just as #NotAllSpiders are dangerous, #NotAllCrickets are scary. The thing is, is that I had been socialized to ignore the crickets’ worth. Coincidentally, when Mr. Hill highlights the police officers calling Ferguson residents “animals,”

“I hate to think this is what the police see when they approach any unarmed black person- a predator that has escaped captivity that must be tranquilized before he or she wreaks havoc.”

It is because the officer has been socialized to be anti-black through White Supremacist story-telling, and the practices that reinforce those stories. The idea that there is a “lens of phobia,” a fear that is natural as the hair on our head that plays a major role in anti-black racism is actually a FALSE MYTH that sustains the story of White Supremacy. Racism is not natural and is immoral. It is not a “deep aversion” to be excused for, but a set of practices and beliefs to be torn down. The liberal notions of “diversity” that Mr. Hill refers to at the end of his article will not suffice; only a complete rejection that blacks and the difference we represent have to be “intimidating” in order for justice to pave the way for greater human intimacy.

0 thoughts on “#Negrophobia, Spiders, and America's Fear of Talking About Racism

  1. Brandon Hill

    I wrote the piece.

    Please note that TIME edited much of the analysis and nuance out of my original writing. Reviewing this article it is easy to see how people could think I am uneducated on the long legacies of entrenched institutional racism, centuries of bigoted policies, and long term media campaigns to demonize the image of African Americans. Trust me I know these things. I study them as a student. I live it as a Black young man.

    I would never dismiss this and in fact my aim was really to investigate the root cause of the racist mentality. But I see how it could get lost in translation.

    What I was trying to say in this article is never that phobia is an excuse for 400 years of oppression but rather just one small outgrowth thereof. Fear is the product of misunderstanding and fear is also correlated with hate. Phobia is irrational, unjustified, and potentially lethal. Just like racism. Fears and phobias are not innate but learned from the indoctrination of centuries of racist misportrayal in the media, by elected officials and other sources. People should be held responsible for failing to educate themselves with real knowledge which would cure their own fears of Black people. In fact, knowledge helps reduce the effects of a lot of identity based phobias, like homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, Negrophobia.

    And, aversions perpetuate the very caste system of institutional racism.

    What is housing segregation and red lining but a fear of suburban White Americans, elected officials, and realtors against Black families populating White neighborhoods?

    What is Stand Your Ground but a law protecting and arming fearful people from a non existent Black threat?

    What was the mechanism behind Reagan’s “Get Tough” era of politics which broadcasted deviant images of Black bodies and behaviors in order to stir latent White fear against our entire population? This resulted in the war on drugs, the birth of welfare queen and thug caricatures and many other disastrous policy outcomes.

    What was the destruction of Rosewood, Tulsa, and Black Wall Street than a fear of Black cooperation and Black wealth?

    This is just to name a few institutional examples. On a situational basis:

    Even Obama has alluded to these. When a woman clutches her purse when a well dressed Black person enters the elevator–fear.

    When a Black person walks down the street and hears car doors lock and people move to the other side–fear.

    When police officers shoot unarmed Black pedestrians when no threat is present–fear.

    We know this.

    Again, fear/phobia is NOT an excuse for racism but a component or offspring of racism.

    For example, when a women clutches her purse in the elevator when a Black person enters, she is not acting in accordance to some racist ordinance in that particular moment, HOWEVER her fear was ingrained in her by a conscious and consistent effort by racist super structures–or ever her own family–to teach and mobilize fear of Black people.

    On a separate note, I understand that using a spider analogy to dissect the killing of actual people is crude. Yet, racism is an illogical phenomenon and might take uncomfortable mental leaps to come to understand. I would never “equate”, as some reactions have put it, the life and worth of a spider to that of a Black man. The analogy was only pertaining to the specific instance of violent overreactions that fears/phobias release. Just like my senseless reflexive slaughter of the spider, the police officers’ killings of Black civilians is, likewise, attaching some hyperbolic threat to a non threatening source and is also senseless, brutal, and entirely the fault of the aggressor.

    Maybe I’m wrong though. I welcome disagreement and discussion.

    In all, I just want to see how we can investigate the origins of racism to see how we can eliminate it. Maybe that’s not possible, but my hypothesis is that phobia and misperception are at the root.

    Reply
    1. h00die_R (Rod) Post author

      Hi Brandon Hill,

      Thanks for checking in, I appreciate it. Also, I understand why Time would edit your piece in a way to scratch any of your mentioning of institutional racism, since it would fit the mainstream agenda. Please do not take my criticism personally. I had not come to a conclusion about your education concerning the history of institutional racism. I only addressed that it was missing in your post, which you informed me was editted by Time, which, I get.

      I don’t think we are really that far off, personally Brandon. I do believe that racism can be eradicated. We can’t go back in time and destroy its origins, but we can destroy anti-blackness and the Prison-Industrial Complex, cut off its head, and wait for whatever dragon replaces these systems.

      As for the events you mentioned, yeah anti-Black phobia may be part of the causes, but also with the case of Rosewood, monetary greed was a factor, and Reagan was aided by the fear of the loss of the Black Beast as slave (athletes) and he was helped by Democratic congresspersons, like Tip O’Neill. So more than the phobias, there were other factors at play, they intersect, for sure.

      Reply

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