On the Lethalness of Fear

by Angela Souza

It’s a cozy, Saturday morning in Cleveland. It’s also November. That means it’s warm enough for a run outside; yet, the air is crisp enough to require a jacket.

Groggily, I rifle through my closet and grab the closest garments I can find that feel soft and warm. My actions are quick and stealthy – I’m trying my best to sneak out without waking my family.
Barely awake myself, I put on the clothes: a black hoodie and baggy sweatpants, my husband’s beanie hat, and my sneakers. I’m ready to dash out the door. Grabbing my keys, I do a once over in the mirror, and my reflection catches me. I must really be sleepy. I know that I can’t wear this out running. I need to change my clothes.

You see, I live in a predominantly white area of town. I’m a woman, but I’m a black woman. I stand close to six feet tall, and I have a very low haircut. That combined with the black hat, black hoodie, baggy sweatpants, and early morning darkness makes for quite the Molotov cocktail in these parts.

I’m not exaggerating.

I’ve experienced the looks of confusion and fear from my neighbors while running in the same ensemble. I’ve also experienced the slowing down of police cruisers and long gazes of passersby when I’m out in the streets. I’ve experienced their fear. I’ve experienced their looks that scream you don’t belong. In essence, I’ve learned my lesson. Bright colors (preferably a girly pink, or a soft purple), yoga pants (nothing baggy), and an incessant smile are my coat of arms. What on earth was I thinking this morning?

The irony of it all is, again, I’m a woman. A young woman. I’m college-educated, gainfully employed, a mother of two bouncing baby boys, a wife, and a devoted member of my church. Truthfully, I should be afraid of the world when I go out alone in the wee hours of the morning (I am); I should be hoping for protection (I am). But I know that my skin color solicits their fear. My skin color solicits their loathing.

Nothing that I have ever done or will do can change the immediate perception that others have of me. Frilly, girly sweatshirts and bright colors only serve as a temporary diversion.

In this moment, I feel angry. I’m angry that something as simple as a morning run has devolved into an entire internal debate over how to seem less threatening in this skin. All the while I know that if I do get hurt, if I don’t succeed with the diversion, I'll be blamed. Why wouldn’t I? My socio-economic status, employment status, ethics, morals, and beliefs won’t save me. I’m a respectable person. But ultimately, I’m no different than young Tamir Rice who was murdered on the opposite side of this same city, or Sandra Bland, a young lady who was my exact age, a sorority girl, just like me. I am them. And to many, that means I am a threat.
Their fear ensures my danger and that of countless others like me. Muslim-American women are in danger when they wear their hijabs; Black men, women, and children were endangered while having a prayer meeting; a young boy was endangered when he brought a homemade clock to school; countless upon countless people of color have been endangered – murdered, beaten, mauled – by living their everyday, ordinary lives in their skin. Fear, hate, stereotypes, misconceptions, preconceptions, prejudice kills. Every day. It does.

But today, I don’t change my clothes. I refuse. Today, I take a stand and accept the risk of being who I am, comfortably, in this skin. I accept what I know is a risk. And I head out the door for my run.

Photo: Shutterstock

Angela Souza is a proud bookworm, poet-rockstar, thinker, rebel, and writer. She is mommy to Noah and Ezra, and wife to Omari. Catch more of her work at Love Notes by Jazzymae Photography, BlackBride.com, and For Harriet.

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