I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND HER FEAR. Here was this elderly and wealthy woman who was terrified of small children ages 5-10. I run a literacy center for a non-profit that invites community volunteers to work with children who are behind grade-level in reading. Out of my 55 volunteers, this elderly woman far exceeds any other with her list of concerns and requests.
“Can I lock up my purse anywhere safer?” she often asks as soon as she walks into the center. “Has there been any new ‘events’ in the school or neighborhood recently?” She hints. I try very hard to watch my eye roll when she asks questions about how a child’s family dynamic or religion plays a role in skill retention.
IGNORANCE. I quickly assumed that this white woman’s ignorance made her fear these young black children. I wondered how on earth she could really serve these children when she was so deathly afraid of them. I could not understand this woman’s fear until I traveled to Liberia.
In Liberia, I was scared. In truth, I was deathly afraid. I found myself quickening my pace as if Ebola would become personified and clutch me in its grasp. In spite of donning this expensive insect repellent, I jumped at every mosquito fearing a bite of deathly malaria. I came face to face with how irrational my fear truly was when a mother asked me to take a picture with a child. Here was this beautiful child, and I was afraid to hold her. Was the child sick? She was wearing cloth wrapped in a plastic bag for a diaper…was I going to get sick? My questions were silenced when the small child reached for me and gave me the warmest hug.
Here I was, this progressive, traveled young woman who was afraid of poverty. Who am I to judge an elderly white woman who is afraid of young black children. I can now sympathize with her fear. We are inundated with media images that prescribe our fears. Harmlessly, our loved ones tell us not to visit that part of town. They may even ask us why on earth we would travel to that country.
FEAR IS NOT THE PROBLEM. We are human. Thus, we are all afraid of something. Shame of that fear is part of the problem. Most pressingly, our consequent inaction and misguided assumptions due to that fear is an even larger problem.
Not only can I now sympathize with my volunteer. I am now proud of her. No longer will I question her intentions, because in spite of her fears she finds the courage to travel over an hour twice a week and serve. I wonder what the world would look like if we were honest enough to face our fears. I can only imagine what we could do if we courageously dismissed the irrationality of our fears. I can always dream about what we could change is we all tried taking action in spite of our fears.