I love animals. Not in an “over people” kind of way, (because that’s a completely different rant) but I truly love animals. I’ve loved animals since I was a little girl.
And not just dogs or cats, I’m a person that loves lizards, snakes, hamsters, and ferrets… The only reason why I don’t own a farm worthy number of animals right now is because of the responsibility that comes with them; and currently, four kids are enough of a responsibility.
And I think that’s what my dad’s reasoning was when it came to pets. He knew I loved animals, but other than a hamster here and there, the occasional goldfish, and a guinea pig, we weren’t really a “pet household.” Still, my parents recognized I was an animal person.
Because of this, there would be times that Daddy would be doing yard work and come across a lizard or a frog, and he’d catch it for me, show it to me, and then ultimately we’d set it free to let it go about its merry way.
And this very tradition was in his mind when he was cutting the lawn one Sunday afternoon and out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a baby rabbit. The gray bunny was adorable and alone. “Danita would love to see this,” he thought in his Daddy thoughts. So, realizing that chasing the small bunny on our near acre property would be fruitless, he decided the best way to catch it was to corner it.
The bunny was already positioned near the side of the house, probably doing bunny things like eating grass. And one could even ask the question of how the bunny didn’t realize that being out in the open while someone was mowing the lawn was a bad idea, but at the moment—the bunny was minding its bunny business.
My father, noticing how vulnerable the bunny’s position was, used the lawnmower to corner the bunny. It took some maneuvering and patience, but finally, he was able to back the bunny into a corner against our brick house. “Finally,” he thought, “I’ll be able to show my daughter this baby bunny.”
And so the story goes that my father approached this very small, very cornered baby rabbit. There was no place for it to run, there was no place for it to hide, this baby animal was going to be scooped up, shown to a child, and then humanely set free. Only—the bunny had other plans. As soon as my father got close enough to scoop it up, the bunny stood up on hinds hind legs, and—well it screamed and bared its teeth. The action stopped my dad dead in his tracks. In all his years of dealing with rabbits (his sister used to keep rabbits and guinea pigs), he had never seen or heard this docile creature make a sound like that. He knew that this baby rabbit was prepared to fight; not because it knew it would win, but because it was terrified. My father immediately backed away and gave the bunny enough room to run away.
Fight or Flight is a thing. The bunny didn’t know that it truly wasn’t in actual danger, but because it felt like it was in danger. And because it felt like it had no way out, and it was cornered, and it saw what it perceived as danger coming, it felt the only option, if it wasn’t fleeing, was to fight.
We’ve all learned that concept in school. When a creature is scared, there is a physiological response controlled by the nervous system that causes the creature to either fight for its survival or flee…for survival. If you were listening in science class, there are actual physical changes that make the body almost like the Hulk or the Flash, (yes I know those are from two different universes but you get the point) and in some cases, this automatic reaction can even affect a person’s vision and hearing. When a living body is faced with its survival…the nervous system automatically decides that all bets are off; it’s going to get through that dangerous situation by any means necessary.
Black people aren’t allowed to be afraid.
I knooooow….I honestly wish that segue way could’ve been better but (shrug)
What’s sad is that Black people know this. Fear is not something we’re afforded.
“Oh, here you go, Danita! I thought this was about rabbits!”
Well, technically—it is.
In your brain, when you read the beginning of this blog post, your first thought was, “Well, of course, the baby bunny was gonna fight. It was terrified.” And some of you may have even thought, “Your dad should have known better than to trap a helpless animal like that. What did he think it was going to do?”
And yet, these two arguments, that are used to understand a bunny that literally cannot talk, are never used for a whole human person of color.
I know…you need examples because why would you believe me?
Take the Trayvon Martin incident: George Zimmerman shot Trayvon because, according to him, he was afraid for his life. According to him, Trayvon was beating him up and he had “no choice.” And yet, no one brought up the fact that of course a 17-year-old that was approached in the alley by a perfect stranger, who had been ominously following him, turned around and beat him up; Trayvon was scared. So, his nervous system chose to fight. And yet, the jury decided Zimmerman’s “fear” mattered more.
Or take De’Von Bailey, a 19-year old young man that was pulled over with a relative because they “fit the description” of robbery suspects. Initially, De’Von cooperated with the police. However, after being informed that he was going to be patted down, he fled. He was promptly shot in the back for fleeing because the officers were afraid he had a gun and were certain he may use it…you know…later. The jury ruled that the police were justified in their fear…De’Von’s fear was met with bullets in his back. And the robbery suspect story? A false report made by a person who was mad about a fight.
And I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to use the argument that says, “if you don’t want to be shot, don’t run.” Or “if you don’t want to be killed by police, “stop resisting.” Or the most famously used, “officers fear for their lives every single day and sometimes have to make split-second decisions that—”
And yet…nobody ever says that about Black people. Nobody ever takes into consideration that Walter Scott was terrified. Nobody takes into consideration that Sandra Bland was frightened. Nobody ever thinks that Eric Garner was fighting…not out of defiance…but because he and all the others’ nervous systems said, “you’re in danger—and we’re gonna get us out of danger, by any means necessary.”
“Well, some of these people were committing crimes, Danita!” You mean like Mark Boisey? A white male who strangled and pistol-whipped a woman in public, and then fired 50 shots at police before he was peacefully arrested?
“Well–some of these people had criminal backgrounds, Danita!” You mean like 19-year old, white male, Matthew Bernard who shot and killed two women and a child, choked a church caretaker and chased a police officer while naked and holding a rifle? Because dozens of officers showed up to that situation and deescalated it so he could be taken into custody.
And it’s worth noting that in those two cases, the white men were armed; in the previous two cases, the young Black men were not.
“Well—maybe the white men weren’t afraid!” Maybe. But I would bet a good bit of money that those unarmed young Black men were. And the moment your brain is scared for your life…
But Black people aren’t allowed to have this reaction. In fact, we teach our children very early in life to fight against and automatic physiological reaction. That’s all “The Talk” is for Black children. We as parents are essentially saying:
“In a situation when you are pulled over,
you may be genuinely terrified;
but fight against what your body is
naturally programmed to do to survive
in that situation, then deescalate
the situation, so you can come home.”
To society as a whole, fear is not an acceptable response when it comes to Black people. Black people fight because we’re “violent.” “Look at their history!” you’ll say. “Look at the crime in their communities,” you’ll incorrectly use as an example. Black people don’t get scared—white supremacy teaches. “Black people are the aggressors,” your racism has allowed you to believe. Because it’s easy to shoot or strangle a “violent” person to death when you pretend that their genuine fear doesn’t exist.
What my dad didn’t do that day was pick up the baby bunny anyway. And if the baby bunny had scratched or bitten him, he wouldn’t have thrown the bunny against the wall or strangled the bunny “Of Mice and Men” style. My dad recognized the sheer terror in that helpless creature, at that moment, and he acted accordingly.
You know what’s funny?…. this whole discovery started because I realized that I’ve never actually seen a black rabbit in the wild.
So, I guess according to the rules of society—they don’t exist.