The Scared States of America!

Rejection?……Death?…..Aging?…..Being judged?…..Lonliness?

What’s your innermost fear readers? I posed that question (with the options above and others) to some folks whose views I value. Those are the fears that bubbled up. Their answers follow. But to make this personal, ponder your answer to that question.

Now before we get to the responses from those I “surveyed,” I’ll start with a conversation with an African American friend who, like me, is the father of sons. We were talking about the recent spate of gun deaths sweeping the nation and the dispreportionate impact on African Americans. Here it is:

ME: My sons live on the east and west coasts. I talk by phone to both of them two or three times a week. If I don’t call them, they’ll call me.

HIM: Me too. I talk to my guys every day.

ME: But, in all honesty every time I get a call from one of them I automatically ask, “is everything okay?” and pray for the right answer.

HIM: Oh man, I thought I was the only person who reacts that way. 

Okay let’s state the obvious; America is scared. And it seems that we’re getting more, not less scared. Daily doses of bad news, nastiness in politics, mass shootings, you name it, for whatever reason we’re just plain scared. Throw “fear mongering” to the mess we’ve found ourselves in, so calling ourselves “The Scared States of America” is not hyperbole.  

Of course, we know what it’s like to be afraid of something, whether it be a visit to the doctor, a stranger at your door (especially these days when guns outnumber people in America), shopping at a local mall, or losing someone to death. But first, let’s unpack the difference between “rational” versus “irrational” fears. 

Rational fears occur where there is a real threat, say, for example, a fear of poisonous snakes or fear of failure. For many African Americans, the fear of being shot for pulling into the wrong driveway is a rational fear. 

On the other hand, an irrational fear (or phobia) is something many fear – flying, heights, claustrophobia, etc.) although statistically it’s little or no threat to us.

In, “Why Are Americans So Afraid?” by Guy Saperstein and Kelsey Abkin, published in August 2017, they write, “It (America) is a scared country filled with scared people, all desperately wishing they weren’t so scared all the time. It is a place that was built on fear, thrives on fear, at times excels because of fear.” 

Now one could argue that not much has changed in America since that article was published. 

Let’s return to those who responded to the question I posed at the outset: 

ART: Aging is my biggest fear. Look, I caught a glimpse of two more strains of gray hair that were not there the last time I looked and wondered why Mother Nature didn’t text me for my permission get older. 

JEN: My biggest fear is not listed. As a decades long outdoors person who has hiked over 300 miles over the past decade, I fear drowning in a lake or river more than anything. 

GENE: As a white guy, my biggest fear is somehow offending an African American because of my racial conditioning and blind spots.  

KIM: Had you asked me this question when I was much younger, say in my twenties, I’d probably have said death. But since I just turned 72, death is less of a fear since I realize that I’ve lived most of my life already. 

SHELLY: Although you don’t list it as an option Terry, I fear the printed media and how it fosters fear by seemingly darkening the images of African Americans accused of crimes. Most of the time they’re pictured with menacing faces and unkempt hair, images that rarely match their actual faces; images that can strike irrational fears in the reader. The bigger and darker they are the more frightening.

EDDIE: Wow Terry, to see loneliness listed as an option resonated with me. Hope you will consider writing an article on that one.

Now here we are, year 2023, and the hunch is that we’re a scared nation, arguably even more than we were six years ago when that article was published. We seem to be much more on edge these days, quick to jump to conclusions and snap at perceived slights. One could point to social media, vitriolic political attacks and hearsay among other drivers of fear.

Inarguably, fearfulness and stereotypes can  form a deadly reality in which a knock on the wrong door or approaching the wrong car can be a fatal mistake. When people are scared, they make decisions they may later regret. And more and more these days, they shoot first.

So how can we deal with our fears? 

First, name your fear. Like my friend in the restaurant, you may find kinship in that you aren’t alone in that fear. “Coming clean” with your personal fears and how you’ve dealt with them could motivate and encourage others to do likewise. Know that personal style and the nature of a particular fear – rational or irrational – should dictate how to respond. 

Do your research. There are lots of resources on dealing with fears. Running away from your fears won’t do you any good.  Here is a quote I leave you with: 

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed      until it is faced.”   –  James Baldwin

And that includes our fears!

© Terry Howard is an award-winning trainer, writer, and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel,, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and 3rd place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.


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