Remound Wright III -“A Lifetime Of Fear”
“A Lifetime Of Fear”
When I was in the second grade, I earned a B in spelling on my report card. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but my parents did. They told me that I would not be allowed to play sports until I received all A’s.
As a seven-year-old only child, sports were my favorite thing in the world. They allowed me to make friends and avoid the boredom that only children often face. That quarter, I had to survive nine miserable weeks without them. I worked hard to make sure that I earned all A’s on my next report card and on all of my future report cards so that my parents never revoked the privilege of playing sports again. My parents created a situation in which my sole motivation for academic excellence was my fear of not being allowed to do what I loved most in life -- playing sports. My parents used my fear of not being able to play sports in order to motivate me to achieve excellence in school.
There are many things that motivate us as human beings, but the most powerful motivator in existence is fear. It is an innate emotion necessary for our survival, and our most vivid memories are the result of fear and the adrenaline that accompanies it. We have so many fears in our lives: fear of pain, fear of disease, fear of failure, and fear of death, just to name a few. These are all valid fears, but at times, I can’t help but feel like I, and those close to me, allow fear to govern our lives too much.
My parents used fear to motivate me because they were afraid, and they had to be afraid for me because I didn’t know enough to be afraid for myself. My parents feared me living an unhappy life. They feared me not earning enough money to live comfortably. They feared me not having opportunities to be successful and that is why they demanded so much of me academically.
Unfortunately, these were the least of their fears. Black parents have to be fearful for their children because their children are born into this world endangered. As Black parents of a Black, male child, my parents feared incarceration and death because unjust incarceration and unjustifiable death are everyday possibilities as a Black person in America.
The way that my parents disciplined me was a direct result of their fear. There was desperation in their discipline due to their fear of having me, their only child, the recipient of all of their love and sacrifice, ripped away from them in the blink of an eye by circumstances outside of their control. My father always told me that he would rather kill me before he let America kill me. He wanted to be hard on me to protect me from an even harder world because at least his hard came from a place of love and not a place of hate — or a place of fear.
The rules my parents gave me growing up are the result of a fear that stems from being Black in America:
When you’re with two or more Black friends, you will be viewed as a gang. When you go into convenience stores with friends always buy something so that if somebody you’re with steals something, you won’t get in trouble as an accomplice. When dealing with the police, don’t give them a reason — don’t give them a motive. Don’t reach into your pockets. Don’t make any sudden movements. Don’t have your wallet in your hands. Make sure you announce every movement you’re about to make before you make it so as not to seem threatening. The police won’t hesitate to kill you because they don’t care about you — because they fear you. The police aren’t there to protect you. They’re there to protect America from you — because America fears you.
As a Black male in this world, to those who don’t look like me, my life lacks value. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, “It’s evident that I’m irrelevant to society”. Everything my parents have told me growing up was an effort to protect me. Looking back on my childhood, there were many times where I felt I was punished more severely than the situation warranted. In retrospect, I realize that my parents were especially hard on me in those moments because in a different context those same innocent actions could have sobering consequences.
Society will say that attending an elite university and receiving a world-class education will make me less of a threat to those who control my world and control my destiny. Maybe if I smile all the time they won’t be afraid of me. Maybe if I talk the way they talk, they will take me seriously. Maybe if I dress the way they dress they will judge me based off of my merit and not the color of my skin. I do all of this to make America comfortable, and they still lock their car doors when I walk by.
I am always one wrong move away from having my life taken from me, and it might not even take a wrong move. It doesn’t matter if I’m the starting running back on one of the best college football teams in the country, helping to make millions of dollars for my school. It doesn’t matter if I attend one of the leading academic institutions in the world. I’m still going to get followed by the police through the streets of Palo Alto, and they’ll still have their headlights off so that I can’t tell it’s them. They will still follow me on Stanford University’s campus and pull me over in the parking lot of my own dorm as though I don’t belong. They will shine their flashlights in my eyes and tell me to put my hands on the steering wheel where they can see them because they are afraid of what I might do. They will still tell me they smell alcohol on my breath when I haven’t been drinking, and they will still call a second squad car for backup because they deem me dangerous.
My parents had, and still have, every right to be afraid.
I was pushed to academic excellence through fear, and even though the results have been great, I wish my parents hadn’t used fear as their main motivator. I wish they had used something positive to motivate me because as a Black man, I have enough fear in my life. I’m disheartened by all of the fear that my parents continue to have for me and I’m angry that I have to live with that same fear. I’m sick of being feared by America because of my skin color, and I’m tired of being burdened with making others feel comfortable and safe around me.
Being Black in America is a constant struggle, and oftentimes it feels like a fight that I cannot win. I’m only 22 years old and already exhausted, but I can never let my guard down because the price of error is too high for those who look like me.