Tag Archives: apathy

Always tense, but reasonably so

For about as long as I can remember, at least a little fear of people has been woven into the fabric of every backdrop.  If I started to think the world was welcoming as a kid, a bully would quickly emerge with the shadow of a giant.  There was no space a bully couldn’t get to, and I suppose the place they most get to is one’s head.  Your places with a lot of people that aren’t considered the typical definition of scenic — long-term residents either try to live around the natural result of a lack of elbow room/resources, or they become part of the problems that, outside of these places, defines them entirely.  Make this space one full of dark-skinned people of color, and it is typically deemed to be quite scary, a land of bullies, by people whom consider themselves in sync with a “natural” notion of what is picturesque and peaceful.

Lots of people want to live in a world where they’ve minimized the presence of people whom are somehow as scary-looking as they are bad, but that notion is at the expense of anything remotely fair  — and it’s certainly at the expense of people whom happen to be “scary-looking.”  I’m sure some people don’t care, because these are scary-looking people we’re talking about.  “And **** ’em.”  Right?  Well, the last six months or so has seen the tragic slayings of a few people looking for help while happening to be black (And these were just the ones with a relatively high profile).  The kind of paranoia and rampantly internalized fear that often leads to these events is what’s really scary.  Can you imagine being lost and needing to ask for help in a place where you looked “scary”?  Your confusion, your reaching out to someone else for help, somehow warped into something “monstrous.”

If one were lost, one would reasonably feel a certain level of fear, too.  It’s strange to think such a fear can misconstrued, but it’s hardly surprising.  While some level of fear is a boon in a world full of myriad possibilities, it seems like there’s so many people so existentially lost they’re always afraid of anything that doesn’t share the hallmarks of the funhouse mirrors making them look otherwise.

Fear, quite simply, keeps us on our toes, wards off from potential dangers.  We have the kind wrought via personal experiences and, more often it sometimes seems, stereotypes from the twisted strain that is most media (yes, even the one you like that’s the good one).  How much of a reign is one giving these forces in one’s head when someone else is doing wrong by just looking like those bullies?

If someone “scary” gives you the stink eye, or if they make a rude comment, I know that’s not fun and that it can easily set a harsh tone.  But your not-joyful day should not be the ultimate signifier of someone else’s worth as a human being.  Someone being a jerk or terse hardly makes them someone who would do harm to one’s person, but just looking a certain way can result in those attitudes being interpreted much differently.  There’s a cultural conditioning to be afraid of violence from scary people — often easily chalked up to people of color.  One should certainly be wary of certain kinds of behaviors and looks, but in order to even be an effective judge of these in people, shouldn’t one be able to talk and listen to others who happen to not look quite so much like them?   Or, at least, such seems like it’d be quite vital to discerning humanity beyond people we’re conditioned to have an inclination for.

Here’s what some people in diverse areas do every day.  They keep their guard up¸right up until the actions of a person they find scary is or isn’t detrimental.  Guard up around all kinds of potential dangers, including a kind of violence that’s more likely to be inflicted on someone else who is a person of color.  So much violence results from some imagined slight that’s amplified by how insecure someone else is, and such a mindset often seems to regard these imagined slights even more when they’re from someone that’s not supposed to be “better” than them.   So people of color have to fear generally messed up human beings, generally messed up human beings who can see a bit more of themselves in them,  and being seen as scary when they’re in the wrong place and perhaps look like they’re having a bad day, or just look like a certain way at all.

One of the many reasons people in some loosely classifiable groups have a short life expectancy is because they live in the thick of it — of good and bad, from all sides.  There’s no strain to wring out the easiest or the “best” of this or that for them.  On top of such, it particularly wears one down — always trying to be strong enough to both discern danger and still be human.  But people still do it.

Something to be mindful for

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There’s smiling by the serene waters of a lakeside village.  Or in some welcoming place tailored to what you look like.  And then there’s smiling in what’s generally considered a not so nice place.  The kind of smile I’m writing about isn’t because someone’s simply passing through that spot, either.  No, it’s the one that emerges on the face of someone for whom that not so nice place is ordinary.

I see this sometimes, and it always gives me pause.  It’s far from unusual to see two or more people smiling in camaraderie over something anywhere that isn’t supposed to be a great place to live, but, being by one’s self and smiling is a different matter altogether.  It requires one to stand out.  It’s an old, mushy sentiment that smiles are contagious, but any such transference usually happens when people are already in sync anyway.  But what if you’re not in sync, or you’re not that reflection of a part of the world someone else wants to see smile back at them when they look in the mirror?

Sometimes a business will have someone whose job it is to stand out on the street and hand out fliers.  Usually people with this job have cultivated a light stoicism, but a while back I saw an exception to that.  I passed behind a woman whom was doing this job just as a bus inched past her at a red light.  She smiled warmly and waved emphatically to the passengers.  I’m pretty sure not one of them waved back.  Blank stares all around.  After that, the woman was all slumped shoulders and there was a twinge of regret.

It could be said that such a level of unabashed enthusiasm is rarely met well on any plain in a society where people are trying to get through the day with minimal being one-upped.  Someone I knew once expressed the sentiment that in a particularly ‘good’ neighborhood, people will extend themselves with enthusiasm because they can afford to.  If you can’t buy your way in to such a place on any long-term basis, you’ll shuffle off stage quickly enough.  And if you can, well, some kind of obvious positivity is a hallmark of the good life.

But that’s the good kind of neighborhood that isn’t so terribly concerned with being cool.  A gentrified neighborhood would have likely offered the same blank stares for someone who didn’t look the right way.  Back on the other side of the tracks, though, there’s usually enough reasons to remember why one goes about stoically or with the equivalent of a samurai’s mask–a face that’s supposed to be formidable.  The by-one’s-self smiles seem to be like a flower in concrete.  Rarer and stronger perhaps than one from some garden, but there’s always the chance of being trampled on.

As hard as they may be to sustain, I think the world of smiles that appear so keenly where it’s hard to keep smiling.  Makes me always want to check my own face–that it’s not hardened like one of those old samurai masks.

All Robert Pinero art

All Robert Pinero art