A Guest Post by Jayei Akilimali
The Black African experience in America is a spectrum painted with pain, hope, struggle, betrayal, loss, strength, and difficulty. I live in the 6th most racially segregated & 3rd poorest city in the US. I remember going to predominately White/Euro-American areas and thinking,
“If all or even some of these White people decided to lynch me right here, right now; I would die & there would be no justice for my death.”
My fellow Black Africans not only agreed but admitted that they feel the same way & this is a thought that their mind entertained more than once. I remember having some of my White/Euro-American friends seeing my thoughts & feelings of fear & concern as paranoia. They dismissed my past experiences, they dismissed the reality of systematic oppression, & they dismissed me & my feelings as simply an “over-thought paranoia”.
This experience got me thinking. I know that as a Black African woman in America that my life is not considered worthwhile or of value but I wanted to consider how my feelings were deemed illegitimate, irrational, just NOT real. BUT when a White/Euro-American avoids a predominately Black African &/or Latino neighborhood/region it’s “called for” or a “safety concern”. I wanted to look at the thought processes & how systematic racism in America shapes the qualification of one & the immediate dismissal of the other.
What is Black Paranoia?
When I refer to “Black Paranoia” I am referring to the general response of a lot of Black Africans & other people of color when they “assume that every White/Euro-American is racist until proven otherwise”. The example provided above is Black paranoia; another example is how some Black Africans slow their car down to a crawl when driving in a predominately White region. This Black paranoia causes Black Africans to be cautious and to tread softly. I myself have done this, as research shows that Black African women are 5 times more likely to get pulled over by the police than women of any other race combined.
Many individuals deem such an approach unnecessary or an extreme, while others see it as a necessary caution that they must take to avoid having to experience any form of racism or discrimination & one that may ultimately save their life. Black Paranoia is not paranoia at all. This fear of harm, this fear of trusting someone outside of your ethnic group & then having them commit a racist act, this fear that they could get away with probably getting me arrested or killed are actual possibilities.
This fear and anxiety in Black paranoia is not linked to irrationality or delusion. These events are more statistically likely to occur than that common racial stereotype that a person of color would mug a White/Euro-American. When you look at history, you look at modern society; there is a great likelihood for a person of color to deal with a myriad of discriminatory behavior thrown their way on a daily basis.
Black paranoia does not necessarily have to result in discriminatory behavior towards White/Euro-Americans but it does result in the Black African having at least bit of skepticism & treading very softly around White/Euro-Americans as if walking on a minefield. If anything, Black paranoia directed behaviors will in most cases result in a spectrum of behavior where the Black African is overly cautious over their words and behavior in fear. But it is also possible that they might say certain things just to see what responses they will get out of the White/Euro-American, as they attempt to get a feel of whether or not this individual is racist. In many ways, Black paranoia can result in behaviors that run from the “shifting” of your behavior to accommodate for the fear of some racially fueled event to the trolling of White/Euro-American friends until you feel that they have proved that they are anti-racist allies.
For instance, as Black Africans we fear being accused of stealing something in any retail store, we fear being arrested, we fear being beaten by police or even random crowds of Whites, we fear having to raise our children & tell them that people will hate them for no reason. But these fears are not some simple paranoia like those experienced by White/Euro-Americans. They are real. The fears that Black Africans face are realities, possibilities & to ignore the reality of such events not only endangers the individual, but it also endangers the community.
What is White Paranoia?
When I say “White Paranoia” I am referring to the protective (psychological & behavioral) responses of some White/Euro-Americans when in the presence of a person of color. White paranoia is a part of subtle racism, of the more popular “hipster racism” form. White paranoia is simply a fear of people of color that is fueled by racist stereotypes that are common in American society. For instance, the way a White American woman ever so slightly clutches her purse when a Black African man steps into the elevator. Or how a White American may conclude that the inner city is so dangerous and they refuse to go to “that” part of town, deflecting from the true problem: their fear of becoming the victim of a violent attack committed by person of color.
The reason why these fears are actually just paranoia is because they aren’t rooted in any factual statistical evidence. Historically, a person of color is more likely to be the victim of a person of European descent than vice versa. Their fears are rooted in inaccurate, racist, discriminatory, and ignorant stereotypes created by the racist capitalist patriarchal system that is America. White paranoia is driven by irrationality and delusion.
White Paranoia = Racialized Delusions of Grandeur
One HUGE thing that makes White paranoia drastically different from Black paranoia is that it has real life consequences that has in many cases gotten many Black Africans (and other POCs) killed. White Paranoia, fueled by racist stereotypes and mindsets results in the following of Black Africans in stores, the harassment we receive from police officers, the harassment received from neighborhood vigilantes, the over responsiveness of all forms of law enforcement, etc.. When White Paranoia is severe enough it threatens the life of Black Africans (whether it is their literal life or their quality of life).
Now within this past year America has provided a countless number of examples to support the statements that I have made but I have noticed one that really underscore the severity of this situation; we heard about the Cleveland police officers who said they “saw” a vehicle with two Black African men in it where one of the Black African men put his arm and hand outside of the car and opened gunfire into the air outside of a police station (check out this article: Unarmed Black Victims Killed By Cleveland Police Officers ).
Now let’s think about this people…. What happens when a gun is fired? What senses are evoked? Yes, sight. There has to be something else, I know there is! Hmmm… Oh! You HEAR the gun shot! This is one of the first things that I noticed when watching the interviews and reading the news articles about the incident. So you thought you saw someone open fire BUT you didn’t hear the gun fire in the interview and reporting of the incident?
The police officers IMMEDIATELY began to pursue the vehicle with the supposedly armed Black African men. It resulted in a car chase and eventually the car stopped & ten police officers opened about 137 shots onto a car with an innocent, law abiding, unarmed Black African man and an innocent, law abiding, unarmed Black African woman: Malissa Williams & Timothy Russell. The Cleveland Police Department was even bold enough to release odd statements that painted Williams & Russell as criminals and bad guys & praising the “good job” of the murderous trigger happy police officers that killed two innocent people in cold blood.
The police at the scene of the crime found NO WEAPONS, NO ILLEGAL PARAPHERNALIA, NOTHING! The police officers literally HALLUCINATED. There is no better excuse for how they saw what they saw. Not to mention the over defensive response on a vehicle with only two people in it. What is the reason for opening 137 shots on a car with two Black African people? Over kill. White paranoia. Racism. They claimed that the assailants were opening fire on them during the chase, come to find out those barbaric idiots had opened fire on each other. Do you see what happened here? Malissa Williams & Timothy Russell are both victims of police officers suffering from racialized delusions of grandeur fueled by white paranoia. Racism is a hell of a disease.
This is one example among hundreds from 2012, one among unnumbered stories of Black Africans being the victims of scared, terrified White/Euro-Americans & a White supremist system whose biggest fear is a Black African.
Racism is real. Race is a fallacy, a socially created system that was created to fuel the capitalism machine. BUT the way that those within the American society interact with one another, these lived experiences showcase that race is something that many White/Euro-Americans choose to believe in & racism is a system that many of them choose to cash in on. There are real consequences for the socio-political realities of racism & the lies of racial categories.
America is a nation that is not ours. Black Africans are a stolen people on a stolen land. Our genocide is fueled by the abstract and unrealistic fears of racist White/Euro-Americans who fear our power, our strength, our brilliance, our resilience as a people. Black Africans are public enemy number one in America. I caution you to consider this & I encourage you to arm yourself with the appropriate knowledge and join a conscious community organization to protect yourselves. Because if we, Africans, do not organize then Malissa Williams & Timothy Russell will NOT be the last Black Africans to be gunned down just because somebody “thought” they saw a weapon.