origin of fear

One of my first questions coming back from spending a week on the West side of Chicago doing urban ministry and spending a weekend in Madison, WI leading worship:

Which garners more fear: being alone in the woods or a dark field at 3 AM or being alone on a city block known for gang violence at 3 AM?

It seems that one of the dominant feelings that are elicited when encountering cultural difference is fear, though I know I’ll never publicly admit it (except in the safety and obscurity of the blogosphere).

[On a side note, isn’t it strangely ironic how we don’t admit our fears because of fear — fear of how we will be perceived, fear of how admitting weakness?]

As I was driving from Madison late last night, I squinted my eyes to look beyond the sprawling wisconsin fields and see decrepit buildings, desolate farm house, creaky old silos, rusted, bent gates doubled over near collapse. I imagined myself pulling over and walking around exploring. But before I could get lost in my thoughts, all these scenes from various horror movies– signs, the reaping, children of the corn, etc — leaped into my mind. Scenes where some random disfigured, hairy, overall-wearing, monstrosities ate my flesh and mutilated my body.

You know who that was? A combination of the alien in Men in Black 1 and the guy with the hot wife in Harold and Kumar goes to white castle.

It reminds me of some of the ways Asian Americans were frequently cast as the antagonists in various books and movies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most famous among them the Fu Manchu:

“Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, … one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present … Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”
— The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer

[Hey doctors and pre-meds, are you reading this?]

Anyways, it got me wondering on the difference of stereotypical depictions of rural americans and black americans or Asian Americans. And I have to say its not much, they are all meant prey upon our ignorance, leverage the unfamiliar for fear, to insert into our malleable psyches caricatures, phantasms that have very little basis of reality, but just enough that it will divide people.

Who does this? It is too simplistic and ultimately unsatisfying to say “the man” or “the establishment” or whatever ambiguous and unhelpful cliche you want to insert in its place. Besides, for every media executive who is some combination of racist, ignorant, greedy,short-sided, there are many of us who gladly inhabit those systems, play into them and even confirm them with our attitudes and behaviors.

My easy (but hopefully not simplistic) answer: Satan. There are forces and powers and principalities that seek to divide, oppress and ultimately destroy. Its not a cop-out for taking real and substantial action in the physical realm, but perhaps an important foundation to lay that should guide any action– an admission that there are spiritual forces that are responsible for the crooked, tangled up world we live and breathe in.

Not much clarity on these issues yet… and not much expected anytime soon. But I guess the past few weeks have taken a lot of the issues I read online and taken them personally deeper and closer to home.


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