We are all afraid of something. We are able to manage some fears, but other fears take hold of us and will not let us go. When I was a child, I was taken by the story of “Peter Pan,” but the crocodile in the story caused me much angst. I had a bit bed – given to us by someone, I think -which was very high off the floor, and for some reason, I believed that a crocodile – as scary as the one which was in the story of Peter Pan – was hiding under that bed-only at night. (I felt that because I could see, of course, in the morning, that it wasn’t there.) My fear prompted me to make up a story about how it got under my bed, sneaking in when it was dark, waiting for me to put my feet on the floor so that it could devour me.
I was petrified and sure that it was under my bed. When I would awaken at night to have to go to the bathroom, I would break out into a sweat. I would squirm and wiggle, hoping my movement would make the invisible and fantastical threat go away, but because I couldn’t see the crocodile, I assumed he was braver than I thought.
It happened one night that I couldn’t squirm myself back to sleep and so I was forced to get out of bed. I literally prayed for I made the mad escape. When I got back to my room, I stood there for a long, long time, believing the crocodile was in a strategic position, waiting. I finally took a breath and ran as hard as I could to my bed, jumping up to safety. After that, though I was still worried about the crocodile, I at least believed I could outrun it. It took some time for me to believe that the crocodile was gone. I don’t think I believed had never been there. I just think I believed I had frustrated his efforts to eat me up.
If the opposite of love is fear, we are seeing that belief play out in the present day. Though we might think that what we are seeing in terms of racial tension is worse than it has ever been, that is not the case. White fear is their crocodile and much of what is going on now was predicted a century ago. W.E.B. DuBois said, referring to a poem entitled “Resistance” by Rudyard Kipling that referred to non-white people as “lesser breeds without the law: “In 1918, in order to win the war,” he said, “ we had to make Germans into Huns. In order to win the South had to make Negroes into thieves, monsters, and idiots. Tomorrow we must make Latins, South-eastern Europeans, and other Asiatics into actual “lesser breeds without the law.”
The crocodile haunting many whites was the fear of the “rising tide of color” in this country. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby, was seen to be a narrative and expose about how affluent whites believed that their beloved white race was under attack. One distressed reader said everyone ought to read Gatsby and said, “The idea is that if we don’t look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific and it’s all been proved.” (Jon Meacham, The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels, pp. 116-117)
We are all seeing the repercussions of irrational fear. The fight to “make America great again” is clearly a fight to put things back into place, where white people and hatred based on fear of people of color, including immigrants and Muslims, is in full gear. Many believe that the populist movement in which we are now treading water is necessary to “save America” from those who they believe do not belong here. People who are not white feel like intruders, objects which are “infesting” this country with their very presence. To them, this crocodile feels like a genuine threat, like my imagined crocodile felt to me. There was nothing anybody could say that could make me believe that my fears were unfounded. I was sure the crocodile was there. Likewise, much of the white culture is sure their power, attained by using people of color, violating their rights and attacking their dignity, is under attack. They are stuck in their beds in the middle of a night which never ends for them, having to go to the bathroom, but cannot get up. Their fear has paralyzed them.
The question is, “what do we do?” as we watch and experience what is going on? Rev. Debyii Sababu Thomas, years ago at Bethel AME Church in Baltimore, preached a sermon entitled, “What Do We Do While We Wait?” The fact that people of color always seem to be the ones waiting, under attack, feared and despised, yet used, is problematic. And yet, we wait, even as we pray and organize and fight back. What we cannot do is become as paralyzed as are they.
The fact is, we are in our beds as well. We are weary of fighting; we want to rest and believe that everything is all right, but we cannot. White supremacy is our crocodile, not an imagined evil, but very real. White supremacists have worked and continue to work to destroy us, those whom they fear. But over our frustration, disappointment, anger, and resentment at what they do, we have to get up and continue to make mad dashes toward freedom and justice. To “them” we, people of color, are crocodiles. To “us,” they, white supremacists, under the thumb of the white supremacist system, are crocodiles as well, captains who have stolen command of ships that were not theirs to steer. They are usurpers of a power that is not theirs. We are not afraid of them; we are tired of them.
In our battle against this evil system, we call on the God of all of us, the true bearer of power, the One who has heard people cry out for centuries. We are to “hold onto God’s unchanging hand,” looking up as we push back, determined that we will not be conquered or destroyed.
Amen and amen.