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Why are we so afraid of what we don't understand?

Let’s begin by defining fear. Fear is a human emotion that is triggered by a perceived threat. It often stated that it is a basic survival mechanism that signals our bodies to respond to danger with a fight or flight response. As such, it is an essential part of keeping us safe. When people live in constant fear, whether from physical dangers in their environment or threats they perceive, they can become incapacitated, but how does this equate to everyday life? What about racism or the neglect and abuse of those born medically different…much like what the disabled and intersex communities experienced.

According to Douglas LaBier Ph.D. , “Researchers found that such individuals tend to have more negative attitudes toward "outside" groups, such as immigrants and racial-ethnic groups. When the researchers looked at the self-reported political attitudes of the research participants -- on a liberal-conservative scale -- they found a correlation between negative attitudes toward those groups and conservative political views. However, as the researchers pointed out, it's not that conservative people are more fearful. Rather, it's that fearful people tend to be more conservative. That's an important difference: One might hold politically conservative positions but not necessarily be fearful of or negative towards "outside" groups.”

But why? The thing is, people who fear novelty, uncertainty, people they don't know, and things they don't understand, are more supportive of policies that provide them with a sense of surety and security. The anxiety of the unknown can place a person into a negative state, truly believing “this might hurt me because I don’t know that it won’t”. So why not “just” explore and learn more about the world. Well, the reality is, many do not leave their enviornment. According to Forbes, there was a Research of 2,000 Americans across the country in a new study conducted by market researchers OnePoll. The results are pretty amazing, and perhaps explain the gaps of knowledge many Americans seem to have of the world:

-- Eleven percent of survey respondents have never traveled outside of the state where they were born.

-- Over half of those surveyed (54 percent) say they’ve visited 10 states or fewer.

-- As many as 13 percent say they have never flown in an airplane.

-- Forty percent of those questioned said they’ve never left the country.

--One in 10 Americans surveyed say they have no interest in going anywhere!

Imagine , if you will, that the only people around you are your family members and you only wear the color blue. Everything in your known environment is blue and only blue. Now, imagine that a stranger comes to your town wearing red. You’ve never seen nor experienced the color red before. Your instincts don’t know how to understand what you are witnessing. When the senses detect a source of stress that might pose a threat, the brain activates a cascade of reactions that prime us either to battle for our lives or to escape as quickly as possible. That adrenaline is the cortisol that we feel. Sometimes it can be so intense and overwhelming. So why be afraid of it? Well I hate to be the one to say it, but 9 times out of 10 someone you trusted who was also fearful may have planted the seed of , “If it’s unknown we should run away”, thus creating a vicious cycle of fear.

One example is the race wars that have been happening in our world since the beginning of time. Let’s discuss America, specifically. We have learned a great deal of slavery and the Jim Crow era, but what we rarely discuss is its lasting effect on how society integrated and reproduced children of mixed heritage. It is true that many mixed-raced children from the antebellum period into the early 20th century were the products of rape and sexual exploitation. When relationships were consensual, they were highly unlikely to have been public. Some exceptional cases, however, did exist. In English, the terms miscegenation and amalgamation were used for unions between whites, blacks, and other ethnic groups. These terms are now often considered offensive and are becoming obsolete. The terms mixed-race, biracial or multiracial are becoming generally accepted. Anti-miscegenation laws or miscegenation laws are laws that enforce racial segregation at the level of marriage and intimate relationships by criminalizing interracial marriage and sometimes also sex between members of different races.

In the earlier decades, children of interracial relationships were either taken by the slave master or put to death. After slavery was abolished, mixed raced children would grow up and be met with horrific terms like “sambo”, “gillywog”, and even “half-caste”. If the children were not kept by their mothers, they were usually given up for adoption, although it is likely that the majority spent their childhood and early adolescence in children’s homes, with some fostered for a period of time. Adoption societies did not like to take on a ‘half-caste’ child. The idea that there would be difficulty in placing black or mixed-race children for adoption was widespread, presumably relating not simply to racist attitudes, but a desire on behalf of the adopter that the child should look like them physically and could pass as a biological child. If the child was not adopted, it often left them open to be subjected to unethical human experimentation. Around the world, including in the United States (where interracial children were not legal), many people of mixed race and people of color, in general, were tragically used for science experiments. It would come to no surprise when I learned of Chester M. Southham, who, from the 1950s-60's, injected HeLa cancer cells into healthy individuals, cancer patients, and prison inmates from the Ohio Penitentiary, primarily those of color.

While Interracial marriage in the United States has been fully legal in all U.S. states since the 1967 Supreme Court decision that deemed anti-miscegenation state laws unconstitutional, many mixed race children still had to deal with serious identity issues that followed them well into adulthood. The constant battle between seeking refuge within a racial group while still maintaining a true sense of self presented itself to be quite perilous. These kids evolve into adulthood with virtually no clue surrounding their unique culture. They may take on the charisma or traits of their dominant race, but there is always something there that sets them apart. Bi-racial children often times feel that they must choose one culture over the other. A child of African American and Caucasian decent specifically may feel uncomfortable around Caucasian children or vice versa. Although technically they are a part of that race, there is still an unspoken divide that makes them feel like an outcast. I struggled with an insatiable sense of seeking approval from those on my black side because quite frankly, our experiences are similar. It is very disheartening when those you feel a commonality with disregard your experiences and place you in yet another separate box. While, sure, it is very common to meet a person of mixed-race, it is still (often) frowned upon. I , myself, have been told to only date “our kind”, but when you are of mixed-hertiage and race… who exactly is “our kind”? Creating a sense of understanding and unity will instill a great sense of self-awareness within mixed children and adults. They would no longer feel the burden of having to choose a side. Rather, they find comfort in their own skin within the presence of all races.

Another example is the mistreatment of those born with disabilities. Persons with down syndrome were once called, “Mongoloids” and they were either horrifically abused or put to death out of fear of what they “were”. In 1959, the French physician Jérôme Lejeune identified Down syndrome as a chromosomal condition. Instead of the usual 46 chromosomes present in each cell, Lejeune observed 47 in the cells of individuals with Down syndrome. It was later determined that an extra partial or whole copy of chromosome 21 results in the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.

However, that didn’t stop the mistreatment. People with Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities were a key target in the eugenics movement in the United States – which influenced Hitler’s first mass murders under the Aktion-T4 program in 1939. Through that program, Hitler murdered an estimated 200,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a large number being people with Down syndrome.

It wasn’t until 1971 that the University of Notre Dame founds The National Center for Law and the Handicapped as the first legal rights advocacy group in the United States for people with disabilities. Yet and still, until 1984 doctors in the United States refused to provide lifesaving procedures to people with Down syndrome such as surgeries related to the heart. Even today, there are people with Down syndrome dying in their 30s or 40s simply because a doctor refused to perform the heart surgery when they were infants. There were numerous unprosecuted cases wherein doctors and fathers conspired and told mothers of newborns with Down syndrome that their babies had died, when in fact, those babies were quickly and quietly placed in inhumane institutions. It is important to remember people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities were systematically physically and sexually abused through forced sterilization – by 1981, more than 60,000 people with disabilities had been violated in this manner called, “. American eugenics ,referring inter alia to compulsory sterilization laws adopted by over 30 states that led to the more than 60,000 sterilizations of disabled individuals. Hospitals, asylums, and other places where sterilizations were performed have so far typically chosen not to document that aspect of their history.

While much of these practices have been abolished, the sheer act came from the fear of not understanding, extreme religious beliefs…much of the negative traits and behaviors from society still continue today, which brings us to our final example is Intersex Persons aka people being born of both genders.

According to, Intersex= Hermaphrodite. A hermaphrodite is an organism that has both male and female reproductive organs. Until the mid-20th century, "hermaphrodite" was used synonymously with "intersex". Intersex people are individuals born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies". Intersex people in the United States are subjected to medical practices that can inflict irreversible physical and psychological harm on them starting in infancy, harms that can last throughout their lives. Many of these procedures are done with the stated aim of making it easier for children to grow up “normal” and integrate more easily into society by helping them conform to a particular sex assignment. The results are often catastrophic, the supposed benefits are largely unproven, and there are generally no urgent health considerations at stake. Procedures that could be delayed until intersex children are old enough to decide whether they want them are instead performed on infants who then have to live with the consequences for a lifetime.

Intersex people are not rare, but they are widely misunderstood. Biology classes often oversimplify a fundamental reality. We are taught that sex is dimorphic: simply male or female. But sex, in reality, is a spectrum—with the majority of humans appearing to exist at one end or the other. In fact, as many as 1.7 percent of babies are different from what is typically called a boy or a girl. The chromosomes, gonads, internal or external genitalia in these children—intersex children—differ from social expectations. Around 1 in 2,000 babies is different enough that doctors may recommend surgical intervention to make the body appear more in line with those expectations.

These operations include clitoral reduction surgeries—procedures that reduce the size of the clitoris for cosmetic reasons. Such surgery carries the risk of pain, nerve damage, and scarring. Other operations include gonadectomies, or the removal of gonads, which result in the child being forced onto lifelong hormone replacement therapy.

This history of surgery was also a history of shame and stigmatization. In some cases, doctors instructed parents to conceal the diagnosis and treatment from the child, instilling feelings of shame in parents and children both. Many intersex people did not learn about their conditions until they accessed their medical files as adults—sometimes as late as in their 50s. For more than 50 years, the medical community in the United States has often defaulted to treating intersex children by conducting irreversible and unnecessary surgeries—and no clinic has firmly instituted a moratorium on such operations. Even after two decades of controversy and debate, there remains no research showing that early, medically unnecessary surgery is helpful to the intersex child. The evidence is overwhelming that these procedures carry great risk of catastrophic harm. And while increasing numbers of doctors believe it is wrong to conduct these procedures, recent medical journal articles and some data sets cited in this report demonstrate that many clinics continue to do so. International human rights bodies have recognized the practice as implicating and potentially violating a range of fundamental rights, including freedom from torture, the right to health, and autonomy and integrity. Again, largely out of fear of societal standards, extremist religious views and being uneducated on the situation.


“But its 2019, no one can really say they haven’t experienced a person of another race before, gender, sexual preferences or those with disabilities.” While the likelihood of never meeting another culture (or anyone in those “boxes”) is extremely rare, it can still be a playing factor. Not to mention, if you have spent most of your life being told from another’s perspective (whether it’s true or not), you, quite literally, would need to deprogram your brain. How? By traveling, experiencing more than what is just around you, opening yourself and your mind to new experiences and realizing that the unknown isn’t always going to harm you. Growth is the key. This process will also benefit you in other areas of your life such as relationships, career opportunities, ect. It’s natural to feel anxious when encountering something foreign, but you should never allow that fear to make you intolerable towards another. What I, personally, would like to understand is why must be feel the need to dictate how another needs to live their lives, especially if it doesn’t directly affect us? A cold hard fact is, my rights end where yours begin. If your lifestyle is not causing actual harm to another, what business of it is mine? We don’t always have to agree on lifestyles, but we do have to maintain safety and respect.


About the Author:

Paradise Rodriguez-Bordeaux


    Intenovate™ Inc. , A Paradise Company™

         Best-selling author, entrepreneur, and thought leader.

 Paradise Rodríguez-Bordeaux, recipient of the 2023 Innovative Leadership and 2022 Human Rights Activist awards, firmly believes, "Sustainability is the bare minimum." Spearheading initiatives that prioritize sustainable business growth and innovation, Paradise’s leadership at Intenovate™ has been instrumental in guiding the company and its clients toward understanding and solidifying their foundational strengths before embarking on expansion. In the language of being #IntentionallyInnovative, Paradise has positioned Intenovate™ Inc. to be a sound asset for clients; leveraging strategic solutions for sustainable profitability.

 Beyond her corporate endeavors, Paradise is a passionate advocate for those who have faced adversity and discrimination. With over 15 years as a philanthropist, she supports organizations championing poverty alleviation and human rights. Paradise firmly believes that "We need to consistently produce effectively efficient solutions. This world, the communities, it's all of our responsibility. Leaders HAVE to lead," encapsulating her vision for responsible leadership.



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