Spring 2016: “What We Fear” Powerful Voice Winner Jazmyn Bryant

Read Jazmyn's essay, "A Serf in the Midst of Feudalism" about personally confronting racial injustice, and how necessary it is to act collectively for a reformed system.

Jazmyn Bryant, a junior at Crenshaw Arts-Technology Charter High School in Los Angeles, CA, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “This Artist Collects Your Worst Fears and Turns Them Into Something Great.”

In this story, Julie M. Elman shares how she created The Fear Project to help her cope with her own fears. That project soon grew to help others, too. Elman takes people’s stories—their actual words—about what they fear, and uses art to visually interpret those fears. Her vibrant, multi-media collages articulate what we’re afraid of or dread, and make them acceptable, tangible, and part of everyday life.

Writing Prompt: What is one thing you fear about your future? How can you lessen that fear?

 “Powerful Voice Winners.” Illustration by Julie M. Elman 

A Serf in the Midst of Feudalism

What am I afraid of? I jumped at the thought of writing about my fear for YES! Magazine after reading the article, “This Artist Collects Your Worst Fears and Turns Them Into Something Great.” It got me thinking—what am I really afraid of? A lot of things actually, like what lies in the darkness, flowers that sing the song of funerals, the American flag with its variety of meanings, creepy crawlies that give me paranoia. The invincible is what I fear most, the slimy scoundrel that hides in my dark dreams in white sheets, plotting on my wishes. The man whose colorless skin has been portrayed as historically superior to my own dark hue.

He is the white man who finds my existence inferior. He kills those who question, and he hunts my heroes. He comes in many forms—as the law and judicial system, as presidents, the government, police officers, my future bosses, professors, and even my next door neighbor. He is the villain in every book I read, the antagonist that, even with his unfailing power, feels threatened by the limping protagonist. He looks at me like a bald eagle disgusted by its prey. He fetishizes me and my skin, seeing me as an object, as a collection, an item that is in no discussion or situation equal to his maleness and whiteness.

I am so terrified of this man because his word is law—law that was made by his people, while my word is but a facet of my imagination. He is frightening because he shoots the innocent, with a hundred witnesses to his obvious crime, and gets by free. I am merely an expendable piece in his game of corporate chess. I am only a number and a statistic in his beady eyes of profit and money; he sees the world as a corporation and I am but a worker without a title, and a nuisance to his being.

He is in my nightmares, my history. He curses my ancestors and stares at me in judgment. His eyes burn holes in my aspirations and puts hurdles in front of my goals. Those same eyes steal the nerve from my raised fist. His power is so great that it makes the hairs on my back stand at attention. His icy stare and grin laced with malice. He is watching me close as store clerks, as my teachers, and in cameras he thinks I don’t see. He is waiting for me to stumble, to mess up, to question his power, to give him the slightest reason to imprison me. To show any resemblance, any aftertaste of the all-black, afro, militant mindset of Huey Newton and Assata Shakur.

What do you do when your fear is all around you? When you see evil where others do not? When the hashtags of young dead black men lead to no resolve and people fail to realize there are many more whose deaths don’t make it to the media? The fear that smiles in your face, that rules the world you live in. He looks you in the eye, lies, and knows that you know the truth.

Where do I go from here, when my world seems to resemble more and more of a book called 1984? Where do I go from here? I say this as if it’s just me who feels this way, as if thousands of black descendants don’t shudder at the sound of police sirens. A better question would be, where do we go from here? How do we escape the reality of our society—a government built against us, a system made to ensure our downfall?

We must become the system, embody it, and educate a generation that will fight through knowledge to gain power. We must erase the damage done to our conflicted society and grow as a people to diminish racism and prejudice. We intrude where we are not wanted, we uplift each other and break into a system with the goal of keeping us at their feet. The serfs take control of the feudal society. To the top we go, and at the top we’ll stay.

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