The Bible’s admonition to be not afraid is more relevant than ever. Fear is a powerful emotion that can shape our actions and our lives. Fear can come in various shapes and sizes. While personal fear occurs when an individual believes his or her life is in danger, there also are cultural and social fears. Cultural fear can pit ethnic, national, religious or political groups against each other. This begins once a group believes it is under attack by another group.
Various studies have indicated that knowledge of demographic changes alone can alter perceptions. A study reported in Psychological Science suggests that participants became more conservative when affirmative action, immigration, defense spending and health care reform gained prominence. The threat of demographic change and the loss of status can provoke a need to protect social identity. In various experiments, white Americans of all political backgrounds, when confronted with the loss of status, became more conservative.
The people who stormed the U.S. Capital were not poor unemployed blue-collar workers from red-states; many were middle-class professionals motivated by the “great replacement” conspiracy theory. Every day we see multi-racial images on television commercials, in magazines, and social media. These images give the impression that America has changed and race no longer matters. According to a study conducted by Reuters/Upso and University of Virginia, the idea of racial harmony has not been attained. While most white Americans do not support far-right ideology or white nationalism, opposition to interracial marriage and the importance of protecting “White European heritage” resonates with a significant minority.
Old ideas die hard, and old ideologies die even harder. The belief that America achieved its greatness because of the efforts of white men is deeply rooted in the American psyche. For some who read the book or watched the movie Hidden Figures, the idea that physicist and mathematician Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, a black woman, was smarter than white male physicists and mathematicians was inconceivable. The story of Katherine Johnson did not get wide spread notice until the film was released. While portions of the movie were fictionalized, it was rated 74% accurate by Information is Beautiful a visual data blog.
Reader’s Digest published in 2021, an article entitled, “35 Black Americans you didn’t learn about in History Class.” There are reasons when people other than white invent, produce or develop items with wide spread benefit, they receive little attention. Every accomplishment of People of Color reduces the idea that all good and lasting things come from those with lesser degrees of pigment in their skin. While the 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones won her the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, it generated a firestorm of criticism. Some of the criticism came from noted and well-respected historians James M. McPherson, Victoria E. Bynum and James Oakes. The criticisms that challenge various assumptions and positions deserve examination and reflection. However, much of the popular criticism of the 1619 Project was its reframing of American history from triumphantly courageous, fearless, and brilliant European men and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States national narrative.
The idea that slavery and the nation’s subjugation of African Americans played a significant and defining role in shaping the United States was unaccepted. The United States is not the creation of any one people; it developed within the framework of cooperation and conflict among a variety of people who populated the land. We must come to accept this reality because it is true and reflects the depth and complexity of our nation’s history. We must walk together and “Be Not Afraid.”