On the night of Halloween in 1938, Orson Welles panicked a nation when he aired a radio drama version of “The War of the Worlds.” The broadcast was an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel about a Martian invasion of earth.
Panicked listeners clogged the roadways in an attempt to escape the alien doom. They hid in their cellars, loaded their guns, and some even wrapped their heads in wet towels to protect themselves from the fabricated poisonous gas of the alien invaders.
The incident gained national attention as the news spread quickly across the country. Dorothy Thompson of the New York Times reported, “All unwittingly, Mr. Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air have made one of the most fascinating and important demonstrations of all time…they have proved that a few effective voices, accompanied by sound effects, can convince masses of people of a totally unreasonable, completely fantastic proposition as to create a nation-wide panic.”
The incident proved that it doesn’t take much to mislead people by the masses. It’s why scam artists are successful and conspiracy theories are effective. It’s how a former president can convince 70% of the Republican party that the 2020 election was stolen without producing a shred of evidence. People can be easily misled and easily spooked. And fear can cause folks to engage in very bizarre behaviors, such as attempting to overthrow the Capitol Building on January 6, supporting legislation to ban books, and the teaching of Black history in schools, and protecting Confederate statues from being removed.
It’s the fear of a Black Planet, as Public Enemy diagnosed. Within the next 30 years or so, it is estimated that the homogenous population of those classified as “white,” will become a minority. Words like “diversity,” and “inclusion” become very scary as they see their world of “white privilege” fading. In their minds, privilege is not something that can be shared, only hoarded by those given “white” status.
Jesus often referred to people as sheep, and sheep are easily led and can just as easily be misled. And America can be a pasture of gullible sheep easily swayed by con men and women with an objective of maintaining the status quo of racism/white supremacy.
White America has been panic-stricken by the fear of “the other,” anyone who is outside of their homogeneous group. It’s not the Martians but it’s the scary Black people, the scary Chinese people, the scary Mexicans, those scary Native Americans, or the scary LGBTQ + community, and any other outsider making them feel uncomfortable. It’s the fear of a migrant invasion threatening their way of life.
The British are coming, the Martians are coming, the Blacks are coming, the Mexicans are coming, the Chinese are coming, fill in the blank with your nightmare of choice. Gather the children and load your guns, bombard the school board meetings, and take to the streets, it’s panic time.
And yet, just like the War of the Worlds broadcast back in 1938, the greatest threat to these folks is the one looking back at them in the mirror. The outsider threat of the other is all in their minds but it has become very real to them as they imagine what could be. With such an ugly history of engaging in savage behavior against these various people groups, the fear of reprisal and Karma is very real to them.
Perhaps they share the perspective of one of America’s Founding Fathers and one of the reported writers of the Declaration of Independence, who penned the words, “all men are created equal.” And this while “owning” over 600 enslaved Africans as property, and producing offspring with a 16-year-old enslaved child by the name of Sally Hemmings when he was 30 years her senior.
By many accounts, Sally may have been as young as 14 when the sexual assaults began. According to the accounts of former slaves recorded in a collection of works known as the Slave Narratives, it was commonplace for enslaved girls to lose their virginity to their enslavers during or prior to puberty.
“I tremble for my country,” wrote Jefferson during a moment of introspection, “when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever: that, considering numbers, nature, and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.”
Educator Jane Elliott, the originator of the Brown eye/blue eye exercise, will often cut to the chase by acknowledging white folks’ fear of reprisal from African Americans in light of how they have been treated in America. She then asks how many African Americans wish to engage in acts of vengeance against white folks. Seldom do any hands go up. Black people have proven time and time again how forgiving we can be and very few would seek to go on some sort of killing spree or vengeance against every “white” person they see.
The key to terminating this unwarranted fear of the other is to remove the idolatry of whiteness and simply identify as a member of the human race at large, minus the invented divide and conquer social construct of race.
By Tobias Houpe