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White Fear: The Single Greatest Killer of Black People in the US

news-missouri-shooting-1-slWhile writing a piece yesterday about John Crawford – the 22-year-old killed in Walmart for playing with a toy gun – I became aware of another story of ‘homicide by cop’ inflicted upon an unarmed black teenager. Michael Brown, 18, was seen running in his home town of Ferguson, Mo, a suburb of St. Louis, and moments later, he was shot dead in the streets by Ferguson Police. I am just so tired of covering these stories. And I feel overcome with powerlessness as white fear claims yet another innocent life in the black community.

Explanations as to why Brown was killed abound. According to the AP, the FBI is already looking into the causes of his death. But, initially, police authorities were not releasing any information regarding the homicide to anyone including the teen’s family. Following the shooting, police sectioned off the area and left Brown’s body lying in the streets for hours as the community looked on in anger, hurt, and rage. As the crowds grew and organized into a protest, over 100 cops with assault rifles, shotguns, and dogs were called in to ‘protect the crime scene.’

While watching this horror unfold, all I could think about was the multitudinous historical events of terror inflicted on blacks since the 1790s. From the mass beheadings and maimings on the heels of Nat Turner’s Rebellion to the destruction of private property in the 1920s burning of Black Wall Street conveniently called the “Tulsa Race Riots” (although only whites were rioting), white fear has taken the form of terror for black folks attempting sanctity and mobility in their own lives.

White fear has manifested itself in outright violence post-slavery through the imposition of Jim Crow segregation. White fear has manifested itself legislatively via redlining laws and cruel lending practices barring blacks from owning property in ‘white neighborhoods.’ White fear has manifested itself in so many structural ways that it has become part and parcel with the fundamental functions of every private and governmental institution in this country. White fear is inescapable.

The fear that black people would become too wealthy or accomplished was what caused early twentieth century southern whites to strategically lynch some of the most accomplished black families, the ones who owned a horse and buggy or a nice suit jacket. The fear that black women would steal white ‘massas’ from their whites wives resulted in the intentional objectification of black women’s bodies and hair, demoralizing them, beastializing them, making them into sexual beings rather than human beings. The fear that blacks were thinking too highly of themselves and threatening white business ownership was what caused them to burn it down on June 21st, 1921. White fear has systematically and by design demolished and suppressed black wealth, mobility, and familial progress for over three centuries. What we are witnessing today is no accident.

When black families were lynched, whites would congregate, often taking pictures with the corpses of black bodies post-mortem. They would leave the bodies for days – and sometimes weeks – hanging in trees birthing the phrase “strange fruit.” This was a primary point of control for whites because seeing the swinging corpses both struck fear into other blacks, potentially dissuading them from rocking the boat, and also made clear that whites deemed blacks absolutely worthless. While we rarely see hanging nooses now, we often see dead, dying, or demoralized black bodies struggling for humanity in streets, Walmarts, apartment hallways, etc. We see them and their purpose is identical.

White fear doesn’t just exist on an individual level. Yes, it was to blame when Michael Dunn shot and killed Jordan Davis, when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, when Theodore Wafer shot and killed Renisha McBride, when Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant, when Officer Randall Kerrick shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, and even now as we discuss John Crawford and Michael Brown. But it is much graver than individual animus.

You don’t have to be white to suffer from white fear. White fear causes upper-class black people to whitewash and downplay their own blackness just to achieve social ‘success.’ Perceived social benefits of ‘acting white’ cause many blacks to also fear ‘the other’ black people who might harm them or their families. But, make no mistake, it is a tool of oppression created by whites seeking unrelenting and perpetual dominance in the US.

Many (white) people believe it only exists between people because they choose to ignore its tentacle-like influences on public media, popular culture, education, immigration policy, and social welfare programs. They use their fear to justify their senseless aggression toward black and brown bodies. Then they sit as judge and jury indicting black teens for eating snacks, smoking weed one time, or running fast. Meanwhile, white teenaged boys live fruitful lives after mowing down entire groups of people while under the influence of stolen alcohol because they suffer from ‘affluenza.’ A drunk white murderer is worth more than a dead black honor student. Such is the function of white fear.

White fear is killing us. It is causing us to fear black skin. It is segregating neighborhoods. It is closing public schools. It is cutting welfare benefits to mothers and children. It is undermining a presidency. It is criminalizing black bodies. It is incarcerating black identities. It is limiting black potential. It is sexualizing black girls. And, it is shooting black boys in the streets of their own neighborhoods.

White fear is the single greatest cause of death for black people today and has been so since this country’s inception. White fear.

 *Writer’s note: The post image has been changed as the Brown family has requested the social media removal of Mike Brown’s lifeless body.


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Jenn M. Jackson is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. She is a native of Oakland, CA and has resided in sunny SoCal ever since she met her second half, Daren, at USC in 2002. Bringing the bourgie and good measure of the nerdy, she fearlessly writes about politics, pop culture, and whatever other topics in black America have firmly planted a bee in her bonnet.
  • Lashuntrice


  • ATLmom

    Thank you Jena for this insightful piece. I would add one more source to the cause of White fear. In the plantation era south, black slaves outnumbered their white owners 4:1 in the general population. However, on a large plantation, the slaves might outnumber the owner and his family by 20:1. There was a constant fear that if they allowed the slaves any power at all, they could easily uprise and overtake their owners. So, to maintain control and appease their fear, they used terror and intimidation to ‘keep the slaves in their place’ I think this fear – and the desire to keep black folks down – continued on in Southern culture well into the 1970’s and still exists in rural areas of the deep south. And the remnants of that fear linger on in anyone who was born before the 1980’s – it was taught to us by our parents and grandparents. For instance, growing up in a small southern town, my mother would not allow me to go downtown on Saturdays because this was the day the black folks did their shopping. As if some black man was going to attack a little white girl at the bakery in broad daylight! I have witnessed this white fear in myself, and I hate it. So I work hard to acknowledge it and try to overcome this unjustified fear….but I think too many white folks don’t even accept that it exists, much less attempt to correct it.

    • Mskby

      Exactly right. If we deny it’s existence we can think better of ourselves and live in our bubble. It exists, but most deny it’s existence and fail to realize when they are acting upon it.

  • Mary Burrell

    Glad to find you, This is a great blog.

  • Mary Burrell

    Yes and Yes to all of that. Well said. So glad i found your blog.

  • truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

    This is a very excellent article that people should read.

  • Ara Marliala

    Well written piece. I wanted to write something but I’m filled with too much anger towards Whites at the moment to be objective in my writings so my question is: WTF do Whites have to be fearful of? They invaded Africa, killing, stealing, enslaving and dragging the people out of their continent for hundreds of years, brought them to a land they stole from Natives, torture, raping, our children, men and women. We’ve had years of apartheid, Jim Crow, racism, mental and physical abuse, denigration, humiliation at the hands of these SAVAGES but they’re fearful of us? WTF do Whites have to be fearful of? TELL ME!!!

    • jeanette

      Because karma is a B#$%h! That is why they fear us!

    • Scottlowther

      > they’re fearful of us

      No, we’re really not.

  • Jimbo Franks

    what a fucking load of horse shit this article is.

    • http://www.digipotent.com/ Damir

      Do you get paid to be a dumb troll?

  • Mark Bryant

    White fear? Another racist idea invented to supposedly solve racial issues. Whites kill blacks, but blacks kill more whites, and blacks kill more blacks, so should we also go around discussing “black fear” and “double black fear”?

    No. The reality here is, anytime anything goes wrong and a white man and a black man are involved, absurd ideas like “white fear” are posited as the root cause. You have no idea what went wrong in this individual circumstance with this man/policeman. You think you can solve racial issues through broad generalizations and stereotypes? You are part of the problem.

    • TheZuluNation

      Thanks for proving the point of the article LMAO

    • http://www.digipotent.com/ Damir

      You seem to live on some other planet dude… Just have a look around the world about how many innocent people has your white government killed so far. More than nazis. Let’s not talk about your history of slavery, and you still dare call other people a problem? Yes, you have proven the point of the article. I just wonder, if you are armed enough to fight your own shadows once you kill everyone else?!

      • Crystal Thomase

        Omg! This guy is my hero for this one. Well said.

    • donlon77 .

      It’s odd when white males play victim. Doesn’t seem genuine. Reverse racism is a myth. Not saying only whites can be racist. But white males run the world, unfortunately.

    • Crystal Thomase

      Stfu you blued white devil. You whites are murderers, from back then to. Through out history, you murdered raped indigenous peoples of earth. Even my Latin America u stole, you damn thieves!

  • Linda Gonzalez

    This was the result of the hate started by our Republican leaders. It is time we took them out of office before the create any more damage. We must vote them out of office and out of our Nation. We must let them know this is our Nation and not for sale. We can not allow them to continue spreading hate and fear. It has to stop. We demand Human Rights laws be followed by other countries yet our own Nation leaders are slowly but surely trying to take every right we have. Enough! We must get them out of office! OUT! Show them the door and don’t let it hit them on their A.. on the way out!

  • True Black

    Wow such dynamic writing, I can see the tears of our ancestors and can feel that pain Unfortunately whites could never see nor feel it as you nor I , maybe that is also a part of white fear acknowledging their ancestors also but not in the same way and have to face themselves.

  • Susan

    What a horrible state of affairs that white people could have kidnapped black people from their homes of origin in Africa and drag them against their will, in great fear, and in terrible, even death-dealing, circumstances across the ocean to another continent, treated them as animals, sold them at auction, owned them, worked them, beat them, deprived them of the comfort of family and culture, only to eventually be forced by a devastating war to free them. Then, and still to this day, to continue mistreating and abusing the modern descendants of those earlier enslaved black people is even more horror. I agree with this author that FEAR is at the basis of not only the historic behavior, but lies at the root of today’s hideous present ongoing demeaning and assaultive behavior and murder of black people – killed just for existing.

    It is utterly WRONG to treat our fellow citizens in this way. No matter that the original black people were forcibly brought here against their will…their descendants are citizens of America by their very birth and are entitled to each and every freedom and every bit of human respect and decency accorded every white citizen. This SHOULD be reality, but it is NOT YET the reality.

    I am ashamed of what white people have done and continue to do in their horrible actions against our fellow black humans. What could possibly ever be the thinking that would elevate the color white above any other color?? Whatever it is, it is all fear-based and I reject it. I refuse to fear my black brothers and sisters. Refuse to do it.

    Those of us who are white and do not support and condone this heart-rending, tragic assault on our fellow black countrymen (or for that matter our fellow countrymen of any non-white color) have a special responsibility to get off our asses and start standing up to the bigots with power, as well as the small-minded, mean-minded white trash in this country, who continue to live in fear of black people. We must stand together with our non-white fellow countrymen and demand and work for an end this senseless violence and killing. We simply MUST STOP IT.

  • John

    The term “white fear” does not apply to all whites and could do a lot of harm if it catches on and pi**es off the crusty, pathetic old white billionaires that control the media and government. All stereotypes and labels need to be dumped and ignorance on both sides needs to stop. Skin color does not matter at all, we are all part of the HUMAN race. If you are white, talk to a black person and be polite. I promise they will not bite.. After a while you will not even notice the color of their skin. We need to come together to peacefully fix our broken, oppressive system and biased media ASAP. Race and/or religion (or lack thereof) does not make anybody a monster. We all came from the Earth and will return to the Earth. Sooner or later all humans will have “mixed blood” as well. If we unite we could make America greater than it ever has been and advance faster than ever thought possible. The whole world would benefit from the results of a truly UNITED States.

    • phil

      Yet you are the pathetic troll that is trying to start s**t in the CNN
      comment section… I am sorry that your mommy does not love you, but
      being rude to others is not the way to go. There are more healthy
      outlets. Take care of yourself, champ. You will overcome the
      d o u c he baggery and make us all proud…..

      • John

        Good job copying and pasting a response that I made to your post, and was deleted by the mods I am flattered that you think so highly of what I said that you try to make it look like your own post. You are a special guy.

        • phil

          Yawn…Thanks i am special. You? Not so much

  • Dottie

    There are days I pray, the average white person would be able to step into my shoes. The stereotypes they are feed each day by television will become obsolete. They would recognize the lies they have been feed by the people (family, friends and teachers) that are supposed to present them the truth. When they actually come to terms with what it’s like to be in a world that was created for them. They would seek to destroy it as it goes against creation.

  • Get Off The TIP

    water cooler HELL… Integration full of tricks… come on ova… SYKE… just fooling… gv me a few more years in power… SYKE… Black President… SYKE…. Strange Fruit now Road Kill… u feel ME…