Tonight air force jets will blast across the beaches of Hampton Roads, as they do every night. Their engines shake the houses rickety on their wooden stilts with plate glass foundations. Squirrels run inside the ventilation shafts and keep us up until one, two a.m.
But for now, we're just walking along the shore, trying to understand what the bright light in the distance is. Between the black sky and the sea, it seems to hover there, moving in no direction but reflecting an impossibly bright beam off of the rain clouds up towards space. We can not imagine anything so bright coming from space, yet it is too bright to be earthly. It must be like a spirit, or an angel, or a warning. We watch it for a very long time, until it does finally move spatially - towards us until we can see that it, like all the others, is a fighter plane. The sound is maddening as it crosses over our heads. The sea gulls that roam the beaches at night fly away in terror, but there is nowhere to go.
As we look up, all we can think to talk about is how much petroleum must go into one of these jets' joyrides. It's unclear why they are flying here, but it seems that it could be for one or all of three reasons: 1. To keep them running, just in case they are needed and so that they remain in working condition. 2. As a warning to foreign invaders who might come from the east. 3. To remind us that the military is here, there, and all around us at all times. Like conspicuous CCTVs or the armed guard at the Walgreens, the planes may serve most effectively in this last capacity - as a visual reminder that we may be safe but we should also be afraid. And I am afraid of them, their size and their deafening roar and their demand for more oil to protect our shores from those who would take away our right to more oil.
I feel safe and afraid. Less safe, more afraid. I am a child of Fear.
When we were small, my parents moved my brother and I to Northern Virginia, just outside of DC. It was the eighties and early nineties, and the country was in the midst of the Crack Decade.1 In the past ten or fifteen years, crack and AIDS had been introduced to U.S. cities, urban communities were rapidly being fractioned by Rockefeller Laws, and - either as a result or as a catalyst - incarceration rates had increased by over 600% (depending on the population).2 The nation was about 25 years in from the first wave of national black urban uprising, and the Rodney King riots were soon to come. The inner city was being systematically decimated. We, on the other hand, lived in a suburban cul-de-sac surrounded by spies. Fifteen minutes up the parkway was CIA headquarters, and the Pentagon, where many friends' parents were employed, was just a half hour away.
In our homes, protected by spies and unidentified red brick buildings and and people who were ambiguously "military," we stayed glued to the boob-tube which nightly told us of scary black men killing people for drugs just 30 minutes away in the big city. Every night. My father recalls this.
"As soon as we moved up here, every night on Channel 5 there was something else about a killing or stabbing. I thought, 'My God, this is strange.'"Especially strange for us little brown kids now living in a predominantly white suburb. Watching TV and watching the world taught us to be afraid of our own people, but also to be afraid of everything because nothing was really as it seemed. Then someone wrote The Hot Zone, and it seemed that everything really was something to be afraid of - one of my town's very own unidentified red brick buildings had been carrying Ebola-infected monkeys all this time and we never knew.
School, entrusted by the public to instill in its pupils social mores that reflect larger society, couldn't keep up. As soon as we thought that we were safe fearing only black men from the city (thus establishing a drug free zone and a closed campus), an influx of Columbians would arrive and hats, scarves, and colors would be banned from the hallways. And then there would be a mass murder at a high school and, beyond banning trench coats and damming video games, no one really knew what to do. By the time the country invaded Afghanistan, we had decided to begin color-coding our terror.
And now here we are, at the nine year anniversary of that national display of everything I'd been inculcated with since a wee child watching Channel 5 and having spies for neighbors: fear darkness (fear my own), fear poverty, fear difference, fear ambiguity; those who are here to protect you will remain unknown and therefor, fear of everyone is the best protection. Anniversary is not the right word for October 7. It indicates something happened once and ended. The fear has not ended, and I worry for those who, like me, were socialized into a national schizophrenia. Now that we are older, what do we do with all of that terror? How do we let it loose?
We were taught to feel safe but afraid - less safe, more afraid. Afraid of our neighbors, our classmates, ourselves. Afraid of the planes, afraid of who resides on the other side of the sea, afraid of everything outside of our TVs that keep us laughing at Christine O'Donnell and clicking our tongues at Terry Jones - whilst gang injunctions and accidental murders continue.
And still our people are being incarcerated at alarming rates.
For our safety, but more for our fear.
1.The Crack Decade is described by various scholars as something like 1985-1995, beginning with the drug's first introduction to the United States. Also during this decade-long period, the U.S. government and the CIA began to take an unprecedented interest in illegal drugs - including crack/cocaine - at home and abroad.
2.I am referring here to the literal fractioning of, in particular, the black community. One out of three of every black man in the U.S. will go to prison or jail at some point.