FEAR OF FEAR (Post #2)

November 27, 2006

The late President Franklin D. Roosevelt was so correct when he proclaimed that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." How graphically this concept has been illustrated this past weekend as police officers and citizens in Queens each reacted in fear of each other -- and in ignorance of reality -- with a most tragic outcome. A groom-to-be is dead for no good reason.

Another Black man died at the hands of the police. Yet while the pundits and community leaders sort out fact and fiction, one truth stands clear: we live in fear. Americans are terrorized by the fear of crime -- particularly violent crime -- and by the fear of unchecked authority -- particularly if you are a new American, legal or otherwise. Yes, we live in fear of failure and of the incredible economic uncertainty before us and before our children.

Polls show that South Koreans are less concerned with the nuclear testing of North Korea than they are with their economic struggles. One article quoted a South Korean as saying that, despite figures showing national economic growth, life for the average South Korean is getting more and more difficult. Where have we heard this before?

The gun violence that grabs headlines and steals innocent and brave lives in the Bronx or in Brownsville is much like the violence that undermines society in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. And, like Baghdad, the solution is not simply to get guns off the streets or out of the hands of thugs.

We have experienced a national election during which the American people declared their concern with the direction our nation and the world are headed. The details may be fuzzy, but Americans understand that their jobs are being lost to other nations, yet those nations are not, in turn, really deriving benefits from exported exploitation opportunities.

The details may be unclear, but Americans understand that international competition for natural resources breeds inequality and resentments. Global warming represents the extreme arena for this competition. How will we live the way we have -- or the way we wish to -- if climate changes lead millions to starve from droughts or lead entire economies to disintegrate as shorelines disappear.

Americans want to be secure at home. They understand, however, that borders alone don't work. And neither do oppressive and unwieldy attacks on new Americans. Enough alienated and TV-stuffed white children buy into romantic notions of rebellion and glory right here at home for us all to quiver in fear.

And Americans do not want to deal with the intersection of poverty and race. Hurricane Katrina highlighted the same ugly realities that gun violence do on an ongoing basis. Poverty injects fear ... and race provides a rationale to store that fear away. Black and brown people suffer disproportionately from the ills of American society -- both at home and abroad -- making the issue of "equality" -- not "democracy" -- the central issue for the 21st Century.

Our "new" Congress has much work to do. Talk will not be enough; there must be concrete action that puts people first. There must be courage exhibited by every new member of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as the more senior members. The new Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, needs to show courage -- not simply political gamesmanship -- to the American people. There cannot be justice without courage. And there will be no courage without a commitment to social and economic justice.

In the coming weeks, this column will hopefully be profiling courage.

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