We have nothing to fear but fear itself
It’s gonna be a rough weekend to be a good ol’ boy in East Tennessee.
Now lest some of you think I’m casting a blanket statement over all country folk around these parts, I’m not. The majority of East Tennesseans are good and decent people who harbor no hatred in their hearts for others of a different skin color. They may not understand or know any homosexuals, and those of a different sexual orientation may make them uneasy, but that’s based more in misunderstanding than it is loathing.
The good people of East Tennessee may no doubt find themselves in the middle of this weekend’s festivities in downtown Knoxville — Kuumba Festival, celebrating African-American culture and the arts; and PrideFest, a day to herald unity and diversity by and for the area’s gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender population — and will do little more than scratch their heads and wonder what’s with all the rainbow flags and drumming. They’ll go along their merry way, perhaps enjoy some music or some of the more outlandish entries in the PrideFest parade, and keep in their hearts that old adage, “Live and let live.”
That’s what most people will do. But there are a few — thankfully a minority — who may find themselves experiencing chest pains, cold sweats, uncontrollable quivers of the lip and other signs of disdain and disgust at the throngs of blacks and gays celebrating who they are in the middle of downtown Knoxville.
For whatever reason, those individuals — call them racists, call them homophobes, call them frightened little men and women who fear what they don’t understand — look at the celebrations taking place this weekend, and they feel anger in their hearts. Perhaps they view such festivities as a “threat” to their “way of life,” whatever that means. And that fear is justified: Earlier this month, the U.S. census revealed that last year, the white American population declined for the first time in history. It wasn’t a huge number — just 12,400 more deaths than births — but when you factor in the tide of 188,000 immigrants who came to this country last year, demographers believe that over the next three decades, white Americans will become a minority group.
That horrifies some people, although I don’t understand why. This nation was founded on the idea that all men are created equal, and from what I remember, no document penned by our Founding Fathers says that the race with the largest slice of the American pie has a special place in this country. Personally, I think it comes down to fear: On some irrational level, those who fear the loss of relevance by whites in this country fear that once white people become a minority, they’ll be treated as unjustly and unfairly as American whites have historically treated blacks, Native Americans and Japanese Americans. Perhaps they envision some future form of white slavery or internment camps, I don’t know, but that’s the only thing that makes any sense to me when I witness racism or read about someone lamenting the loss of majority status by whites.
That same fear, I believe, drives those who express disgust and disdain for gay people. They hide behind Biblical quotes and claim that gay marriage will threaten the sanctity of traditional marriage; they refer to gays as abominations and say things like, “Love the sinner, hate the sin!” That’s not to imply that all religious folks are anti-homosexual, but I think it says a lot about the relationship between churches and homosexuals when, in the wake of the Boy Scouts of America deciding to open its ranks to gay Scouts, many church officials refused to allow Boy Scout troops to meet in their buildings.
Fear: It’s an ugly thing, and it’s more prevalent than any of us realize or want to admit. It controls so much of our actions, often without even realizing it. If you’re white, how many times have you passed a black man (or men) on a sidewalk at night and felt a moment of panic? If you’re black, how many times have you felt the same thing when you see a group of young white guys getting out of a pickup truck with the Confederate flag emblazoned on the window? How many times have you sat next to a Muslim in an airport terminal and prayed that he or she wouldn’t be on your flight?
How many people of different races, sexual orientations, religious creeds and ethnic backgrounds do you know? How often do you get out of your comfort zone to get to know those people, to educate yourself and open your eyes and hearts to ways of life other than your own?
Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s bad, or evil. Just because someone doesn’t look like you or kiss the same gender you do or pray as you do doesn’t make them any less American or any less human. There are a lot more things that unite us in this country and on this planet — love of our family, hope for our future, the constant struggle to be a better individual today than we were yesterday — than those that divide us.
Fear, unfortunately, would make us think otherwise. Don’t give in to fear, or racism, or homophobia. Get out this weekend and experience other cultures and ways of life. I promise, you’ll have a good time, and you just might come away a more enlightened individual.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.