Monsters Are Real
The more I think about it, the more I think we’re all on that plane with William Shatner flying through the Twilight Zone, seeing a monster on the wing that no one else does.
It’s one of the creepiest Twilight Zone episodes, not because the special effects were extraordinary, but because the episode tapped into our most primal fear and our most basic need: to be heard -- or at the very least acknowledged -- and the fear we won’t.
Shatner’s character sees a creature on the plane's wing. At first he tries to convince himself it’s only a manifestation of nerves, and his fellow passenger and flight attendant assure him that’s the case. And he desperately wants it to be the case.
Because he’d rather think he’s crazy then deal with the reality of the monster on the wing.
The events playing out in Ferguson, Missouri on the heels of an unarmed black teen’s killing by a police officer convince me that in some way, all of us are riding along with Shatner on his Twilight Zone bound flight.
All of us see monsters we think are real. Some of us try to convince our fellow passengers those monsters are anything but.
As a black person, I can tell you about the monsters I see from my window seat: a family history dating not only back to slavery, but lynchings on my maternal and paternal sides. I found out about the maternal side's tragedies through some jarring research only a few years back. On my paternal side, it was only in my thirties that my dad told me quite matter-of-factly, that
They killed your uncle. Shot him. Said he was a crazy nigger.
The menacing figure tapping on my window reminds me of a friend who really and truly believed someone on the job was committing acts of racial microaggression, only to have it fanned off by the higher-ups who said my friend just wasn't being a team player. Like Shatner’s character, my friend felt crazy and second-guessed what they saw, heard and felt.
I suppose my friend’s higher-ups had a different window seat, or at least a different view.
The other monster on my wing is even more sinister. It’s simply the understanding of what my mom meant when she'd warn my brother who’s big enough to blot out the sun that “You have a target on your back. You are BLACK and you are BIG.”
And I got it: the world thinks black men are scary. BIG black men are even scarier. They should be careful, watchful. They could end up dead...like that Missouri teen.
All while I’m seeing my wing-flying monster and hearing what it’s saying, I’m married to a white guy. He’s my protector, our daughter’s knight in shining armor, the guy who makes me crazy and who would fight for me. He’s the guy who spirits me away to Taco Bell to lift my sagging spirits and then tells me I still look good when my spirits have sagged too long after it’s been one too many trips to Taco Bell.
But yet, I know he sees something different from his window seat.
The gremlin he can see is one where news of the day seems to crucify white men for being white men.
The monster he sees hisses that people are judged only by what they do, and that color isn’t a factor when it comes to scuffles -- even those resulting in death -- with the police.
The same menacing figure reminds him that people don’t get stopped for driving in certain parts of the city. Like Shatner’s co-passenger, I tell him he’s seeing things wrong; there’s no monster on the wing: I get stopped all the time.
But from where my husband sits, it’s crazy-making. Because it is crazy.
While he believes me, it’s hard for him to believe me because he knows what he sees -- what he’s lived, from his window seat.
Until the day we’re riding in one of those places. He driving. I’m riding. A squad sidles up to my side of the car and the driver sees me. I say: We’re gonna get pulled over. My husband listens to the monster, and he waves me off…
...until the squad’s lights flash and the sirens sound.
He gets off with a warning, and he never doubts Driving While Black Syndrome again. And, of course, we talked about it.
And that’s the bottom line: we see different monsters, and we feel like crazy people telling the other person about the monsters we see.
But do we talk about them, and understand each of us is seeing something instead of telling the other person they don’t see anything at all.
And to me, that's the first step in getting anywhere in this racial thing we’re juggling in America right now -- in Ferguson, in Milwaukee, and in its posh suburbs: realizing that the monster a white/black person sees may be a different monster than a black/white person sees.
But if we stay on the route of arguing to the extreme, blaming, name calling, sullen silence, or denying that monsters exist at all, we’re all gonna go spinning off-axis and off-kilter into the Twilight Zone...each of our spirits killed by our own personal monsters.
Photo Credit: backtothecerealbox.com
This post also appears on The Late Arrival.