The Answer is Fear

Today’s Zoom sermon was entitled, “When Haters Hate.” Now, many of us have encountered haters. Jill Scott said it in her song, “Hate on Me” (which I hum to myself quite often as a kind of mantra): “If I could give you the world/On a silver platter/Would it even matter? You’d still be mad at me…” You know haters, like that person who wants to undo everything you’ve done just because you did it ? (So-called President Trump, Hater of actual President Obama). Or, that person who abruptly hangs up on you just because you’re speaking the truth on a touchy subject? (Most everyone who has family)!

I finally watched I am not Your Negro last night, a 2016 documentary directed by Raoul Peck, based on an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin. The proposed book was to be about the deaths of Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Talk about having haters. These three men inspired so much hate by the lives that they led that they were murdered for living. I was thinking how often those who are hated end up coming back to us as heroes, or martyrs. They return to haunt us, to point out our weaknesses, our fears, to hold up a giant mirror to the hateful world in which we participate.

Haters hate because they are afraid. All destructive human behavior emanates from fear. So, for example, the police officers we see (and the ones we don’t see) murdering Black and brown humans on a regular basis are afraid — so afraid that they have turned to hate for protection. But what are they afraid of, we might ask. They already have the power, the weapons, the capital… Well, once upon a time in America there were White landowners who purchased African humans to work their land. These landowners had the power, the weapons, the capital… But they were scared of “revolts” because they knew somewhere deep inside (or not so deep down) that owning humans was an aberration of morality. But, man, the living was easy. So, anyway, because they were afraid of uprisings, they made sure to nip things in the bud, show the enslaved who was boss, get them before they were got. See where I’m going with this?

White folks have been practicing this hater-ade consumption for centuries. It’s the “safest” place to put their fear. And, okay, I’ll take a moment now and say not ALL White people, yes. But certainly enough that our country’s sordid history has led up to today’s sordid news where we are still seeing Whites — and even non-Whites who feel they have some tenuous semblance of power — wielding violence and turning deaf ears to those who have been marginalized by the power structure. ICE officers who kidnap formerly incarcerated immigrants, drop them outside U.S. borders, and ignore court decisions are doing so out of fear that “we” will become overrun with “them.” Law enforcement officers who kick in doors of sleeping African-American citizens and just start shooting, are afraid that something nefarious is happening in that neighborhood. Fearers turn into Haters.

James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time (a biblical reference in case you’re not familiar): “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” Haters hate out of fear of pain. For some of us, hate comes in the form of being undermined by a coworker, or cut off in the middle of a sentence. But for others, hate means torture, violence, and death.

What if we were to embrace our own pain? Then maybe somebody next to us would feel emboldened enough to embrace theirs. And then, just like that, we could eradicate hate. It’s just a thought. Don’t hate.

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