Hysteria has been around for a long time, and the end results remain the same. It starts when fear raises its ugly head, looks around and tries to convince someone else to join a fight. It acts as a smokescreen to a person’s sense of inadequacy. It ends in someone getting hurt.Hysteria acts as a smokescreen to a person's sense of inadequacy. Click To Tweet
Hysteria makes no pretenses—it never claims to be reasonable or logical. Take for example what happened in Detroit in the 1920s, when black professionals tried to break the color line and purchase houses in a ‘white’ section of town.
Whites, worried that their property values would drop (a collusion of the local bankers and Realtors® ensured that this would happen), formed community improvement societies to run any black homeowners out of town (you can read more in the book Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle).
Because someone arbitrarily decided that property values depended on the color of the owner’s skin, normally reasonable folks joined the KKK and did all they could to drive out anyone who didn’t match their skin color.
I grew up mostly in the western part of the United States, and figured that prejudice had died with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wrong. When we started shopping for our first house in the late 80s, the Realtor® steered us to another part of town when I inquired about less expensive options. “That part of town is a little dark,” she explained.
“I thought it had fewer shade trees than that other section,” I demurred. “It looked perfectly sunny to me.”
“No,” she coughed and sputtered a bit, “I can’t really say more.”
“I don’t get it,” I answered.
She muttered under her breath, clearly uncomfortable and wishing she hadn’t brought the topic up, “It’s mostly blacks and Hispanics on that side of town.”
I wish now that I would have responded with a pithy comeback such as, “We ought to fit right in—remember, our last name is Ojeda,” or, “Isn’t it illegal to discriminate in housing and isn’t that what you’re doing by calling that part of town ‘dark?’” but I didn’t. My brain doesn’t operate well under shock.
Only now, 27 years later, when hysteria seems to be choking the brains out of normal people, do I see that I should have reacted with kindness and gently spoken to the lady on her racism. In fearing to offend, I’ve contributed to the problem by my silence.
I don’t think we need to build hysteria or jump on any bandwagons. Right now the pointy fingers of outrage might be pointed at police officers. Tomorrow, it could be pointed at you. Those pointy fingers connect to shaking hands that desperately want to hide some inadequacy.
Face it, we are all terribly, terminally human. We all have much to learn and many roads to travel. We can travel through the adrenalin-pumping hype of hysteria, or we can thoughtfully, inquisitively build each other up as travel along.