The Legacy of Lynching
November 6, 2007 3:59 AM   Subscribe

African American Holocaust [Warning: contains graphic material] Nearly 5,000 black Americans were lynched between 1890 and 1960. In her new book, On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century, University of Maryland School of Law Associate Professor Sherrilyn Ifill traces the ongoing impact of these crimes. While the lynchings were devastating, Professor Ifill argues that the little-known contemporary consequences, such as the marginalization of political and economic development for blacks, are equally pernicious, and that there's still a great deal of education and reconciliation that still needs to happen. [Previous Links]
posted by psmealey (70 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ifill has appeared on the Marc Steiner Show, the "Brian Lehrer Show", she and her book have been profiled by Tom Shaw on Maryland Morning, in the Baltimore City Paper and the Baltimore Sun.
posted by psmealey at 4:01 AM on November 6, 2007


Disturbing, but calling the lynching of 5000 black Americans a "holocaust" is doing a disservice to everyone involved.

It was terrible, but comparing it to the Holocaust isn't fair.
posted by bshort at 4:31 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Usually "African American holocaust" refers to the entire slavery era; the lynchings are just the most disturbingly visible aspect of it.
posted by rottytooth at 4:39 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ifill was on Radio Times here in Philly yesterday and I thought her interview was absolutely stunning.
posted by The Straightener at 4:40 AM on November 6, 2007


Ugh, this one is particularly disturbing. The way they all pose for the shot (many of them grinning), standing around the charred body, still on fire.
posted by rottytooth at 4:43 AM on November 6, 2007


It was terrible, but comparing it to the Holocaust isn't fair.

Oh, only 5000? Not enough for a holocaust?

How about I raise you the 10-12 million Africans who became victims of chattel slavery in the New World. Am I getting warm yet?
posted by three blind mice at 4:48 AM on November 6, 2007 [5 favorites]


Lynchings were carried out as publicly and grotesquely as possible to serve as a mechanism of oppression, a message to all that "uppity" behavior would not be tolerated. The list of transgressions that might have resulted in a lynching ranged from things like alleged assault, to defending your (lynched) spouse from spurious accusations, to (accusations of) whistling at a white woman, to wearing an Army uniform in public, to not properly doffing your hat to white passers by.
posted by psmealey at 4:51 AM on November 6, 2007


Listen to her argue her point before disagreeing with her. I thought she stated her position with tremendous, almost startling, precision while mustering a laundry list of devastating historical examples of lynching used as mechanism of oppression. Sherrilyn Ifill is seriously, seriously smart, an exceptionally skilled speaker and definitely worth ten minutes of your time.
posted by The Straightener at 5:01 AM on November 6, 2007


Lynchings were carried out as publicly and grotesquely as possible to serve as a mechanism of oppression, a message to all that "uppity" behavior would not be tolerated.

The public aspect also meant that lynchings were carried out in total defiance of (and often with the assistance of) local law enforcement. The clear message being: this here's your judicial system boy and there ain't no one gonna come and save you. A long time passed in American history before emancipated African Americans were afforded the dignity of a proper trial - and then a quick hanging.
posted by three blind mice at 5:02 AM on November 6, 2007


the little-known contemporary consequences, such as the marginalization of political and economic development for blacks

why, this is the first i've heard of such a thing. thank god for academia!

are equally pernicious

no shit, sherlock?
posted by quonsar at 5:05 AM on November 6, 2007


Well, whether you think the lessons are obvious, the recent spate of noose incidents demonstrates that a refesher might be in order.
posted by psmealey at 5:11 AM on November 6, 2007


I think people really do forget how recent this all was. Many people in the mainstream- at least, my family and friends who are center to right leaning- seem to have a sort of, "oh, just get over it already" mentality. But school segregation, for example, was well alive in my parents' generation, and there may even be a mefite or two who were kicking around back then. In fact, school segregation seems to be coming into fashion again, albeit in an unofficial way.

It's easy for us to sit around saying, no shit, sherlock, but I think most Americans think of this as something that happened hundreds of years ago and don't see the direct impact this has on people today.
posted by jiiota at 5:31 AM on November 6, 2007


Oh, only 5000? Not enough for a holocaust?

How about I raise you the 10-12 million Africans who became victims of chattel slavery in the New World. Am I getting warm yet?


I don't think that's quite the point. Calling it a "holocaust" practically demands comparison with the genocide during WWII, and what's the point of that?

Comparing atrocities just invites people to minimize the significance of one of them, usually, and there's just no need to get into a monstrosity pissing match.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:43 AM on November 6, 2007 [5 favorites]


There is currently an incident at the college where I work involving the improper and (seemingly) accidental use of the image of a noose. What occurred was this: the campus a capella group put up posters advertising the student body to come "hang" with them during a special Halloween concert. Among other images on the posters was a noose. Did the students intend for the image to invoke America's oppressive and violent history of lynching African-Americans? No, probably not. Is that what some people saw? Certainly. Did inclusion of the noose show ignorance and insensitivity? Most assuredly. Current events point to the noose as being the new agreed-upon racist symbol of our time, whether or not that's how you or I or anyone else sees it. Because of Jena and the aftermath of that event, with idiots and provocateurs adorning their pickup trucks and the doors of black professors with nooses, the image of a noose is gaining cultural capital as a uniformly racist symbol. I still can't believe that George Allen used to have a noose in his law office and that that information was well known during his campaign for Senator of Virginia. Even more shocking was that the event that derailed his candidacy was when he called an Indian-American "macaca" and NOT the fact that he thought it was funny to have a reminder in his office that America used to be a place where African-Americans lived in fear of being hanged in city squares.
posted by billysumday at 6:02 AM on November 6, 2007


Comparing atrocities just invites people to minimize the significance of one of them, usually

Only when one of the atrocity is of much smaller significance than the other. I think the North American treatment of black people and the German treatment of Jews are comparable. In both cases, a subset of the human race was assumed to be inferior, even subhuman, and rightfully subject to atrocities, and millions of lives were destroyed.

I think the North American treatment of black North Americans definitely qualifies as a halocaust. If you don't believe this, try learning about the destruction of Rosewood, a mostly black Florida town, in the 1920's. A married white woman in the mostly white neighbouring town was having an affair, quarrelled with her boyfriend, and was beaten by him. To protect herself, she claimed a black man had assaulted her. Over the next week an ever-growing mob razed and burned Rosewood and lynched a number of men. There were only four or five documented deaths, but no one knows how many people died, because there was not a proper investigation into the matter until the eighties, by which time the only survivors were those who had been children at the time, and their memories weren't the most reliable or complete.

The black residents of Rosewood fled for their lives, losing everything they had, and never returned. To this day there are no black people in that county. And that's just one story among many.

I find it appalling that there is a National Museum for the Holocaust, but that there isn't one for slavery. There can be no real justice and no resolution for racial tensions in any country until it is willing to examine its own national conscience.
posted by orange swan at 6:06 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


My impression is that people refer to it as the holocaust because people mostly do have a serious, well informed impression of what that was all about, and they can refer to it with this single word.

On the other hand, I think they somehow think of slavery as a quaint historical injustice. It hasn't been given a name, and hasn't been well defined. It wasn't just slavery- it was lynchings, segregation, generations long suppression. It was very bad. There is no single word for it, so people struggle with how to talk about it.
posted by jiiota at 6:08 AM on November 6, 2007


Calling it a "holocaust" practically demands comparison with the genocide during WWII, and what's the point of that?

Yes, what's the point of that? We wouldn't want people thinking that African-Americans have suffered monsterous treatment at the hands of a nation.
posted by three blind mice at 6:11 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


how's a holocaust different from a genocide?
posted by garlic at 6:13 AM on November 6, 2007


Comparing atrocities just invites people to minimize the significance of one of them, usually, and there's just no need to get into a monstrosity pissing match.

I think just the opposite. We need to compare the atrocities of the past so that we have reality-based methods for avoiding atrocities against humanity in the future.
posted by jonp72 at 6:19 AM on November 6, 2007


Yes, what's the point of that? We wouldn't want people thinking that African-Americans have suffered monsterous treatment at the hands of a nation.

You can make that clear without inviting the pissing match. But maybe you want the pissing match, for all I know.

The point is, calling it a "holocaust" doesn't add any information. It's just an expression of your own outrage. If you think anyone gives a goddamn about your personal outrage, you're very, very misguided, but people might just care about the facts of African-American oppression.

So why not focus on that?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:20 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Should a noose, by itself, be considered a racist symbol? I think you really need to look at the context it's being used in. The pickup truck in Jenna: probably, The noose on the Black professors door: Probably. But billysumday's example doesn't seem like it should be taken that way. In my view, Intent matters.

I also don't like the term 'Holocaust'. I mean on the one hand, people were actually burned, but it does invite people to just make scale comparisons.
posted by delmoi at 6:20 AM on November 6, 2007


I blame the Christians.
posted by chlorus at 6:22 AM on November 6, 2007


I find it appalling that there is a National Museum for the Holocaust, but that there isn't one for slavery.

There is.
posted by probablysteve at 6:23 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Just an FYI to those Milwaukee area Mefites that are interested in this subject: America's Black Holocaust Museum on 4th street founded by the late James Cameron (who survived an attempted lynching in Indiana). IIRC the museum has been on shaky financial ground for years so see it now if you're so inclined.
posted by MikeMc at 6:25 AM on November 6, 2007


Why are we spending more energy on this topic, in which 5000 people were killed 40+ years ago then we do on more current situations like the one in Darfur or Iraq where the numbers are vastly greater, but the intent behind the killings is the same?

Were lynchings in America since the late 1800s atrocious? Absolutely. We should never forget. But we should move on. And we have. Is there still racial tension? Sure. But that will never go away. There's tension between all the races, not just black and white. And there's tension between religions, and geographic regions, and socio-economic regions, red states versus blue states, etc.

But nobody was ever killed over political differences.
Actually, they were.

But nobody was ever killed because of their economic class.
Of course they have. It doesn't happen as often today as it use to, but you still hear stories of kids setting homeless people on fire or beating them to within an inch of their life.

And if you think people aren't killed over religion by the thousands even today just look at Iraq and the Shia/Sunni conflict.

Racism is one of many effects of a deeper cause. This need to belong to a tribe or group and defend it against any perceived threats. It goes straight down to the very instinct that makes us human. Protect the pack. And overcoming instinct is something we'll be dealing with for centuries to come.

I think a book about this "protect the pack" instinct and the many forms in which it manifests would be a much more interesting and worthwhile book.
posted by ruthsarian at 6:26 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


In the late 1800's, Wilmington, North Carolina was a shining example of black success in the United States. It may have been the largest city in North Carolina at the time. It had a population that was around fifty or so percent black. And the black folks were rather successful. There were black doctors, lawyers, and banks. The only daily black newspaper in the state existed in Wilmington.

One day in 1898 the white folks had enough. Led by the wealthier whites, a riot began. Black businesses were burned to the ground. The black newspaper was burned to the ground. A mounted machine gun was hauled down the road and was used to shoot at people and buildings. People were killed. People left town. And black business and social success was brought to a halt in one day.

The Wilmington paper the next day ran a story about the riot.

The names of the white men responsible for the riot and killings are forever etched in Wilmington's history. They became the primary holders of wealth after the riot, and their names grace the fronts of buildings and businesses throughout the city. Their families continue to be among the wealthiest people in Wilmington.

The families of the black riot victims who were enjoying success in 1898? Not so much.
posted by flarbuse at 6:28 AM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


I think that's an interesting point, jilota.

As for the museum, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture is in the design phase.
(Plus, on preview, what probablysteve said.)

Garlic, there's a difference between the generic word holocaust and the historical event referred to as the Holocaust.
posted by bassjump at 6:28 AM on November 6, 2007


I find it appalling that there is a National Museum for the Holocaust, but that there isn't one for slavery. There can be no real justice and no resolution for racial tensions in any country until it is willing to examine its own national conscience.

Excellent point orange swan.

The comparison to The Holocaust has been used to justify reparations for African-Americans. A few decades of (misguided) affirmative action hasn't really paid the debt in full if you ask me.
posted by three blind mice at 6:30 AM on November 6, 2007


chlorus: "I blame the Christians."

You are a troll and an idiot.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:41 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why are we spending more energy on this topic, in which 5000 people were killed 40+ years ago then we do on more current situations like the one in Darfur or Iraq where the numbers are vastly greater, but the intent behind the killings is the same?

Because history matters. Because if we aren't willing to look at and learn from our own mistakes, we'll repeat them. Because history helps us understand what is going on today. I don't think academic study and inquiry should be measured in this way, you are looking at it wrong. Would any more impact be made on the Darfur issue if the people working on this issue focused their efforts on Darfur? I am not sure it's a 1 to 1 proposition as you suggest.

You are a troll and an idiot.

Uh, I really do blame the Christians. You can disagree with the point if you want, but hey, that's alright. It was Christians who did the genocide in the New World, it was Christians who used their Bible to justify slavery, arguing that blacks were the descendants of Ham and therefore inferior, and referencing the words of Christ ordering slaves to obey their masters. It was Christians who forcibly relocated the Cherokee in spite of their erudite, rational pleas for representation in a bid to stay in Georgia. So yeah, I blame the Christians.
posted by chlorus at 6:48 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


The point is, calling it a "holocaust" doesn't add any information.

It adds the (important and otherwise lacking) dimension of scale.

It's just an expression of your own outrage. If you think anyone gives a goddamn about your personal outrage, you're very, very misguided, but people might just care about the facts of African-American oppression.

The outrage seems to be coming from people who feel a trademark is being infringed.

I might be very, very misguided, but it seems to me that the uniqueness of The Holocaust is not dimished by African-Americans using the term to refer to an event in their history. The Holocaust (TM) is a benchmark. Indeed, it reflects that so many people have been successfully educated about The Holocaust that it has value as a benchmark.
posted by three blind mice at 6:49 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Disturbing, but calling the lynching of 5000 black Americans a "holocaust" is doing a disservice to everyone involved.

It was terrible, but comparing it to the Holocaust isn't fair.


I find it interesting that in one instance, holocaust is in quotes and has a lower case h. In the other it's not in quotes and a captial H is used. Pitting these horrors against each other does no one any good.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:50 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree, 3BM. It's important that other events can qualify to be called holocausts, so that "Never Again" has meaning to the world and doesn't turn into "Never Again will 6 million Jews be murdered by Nazis in Central Europe in the 1940s".
posted by BinGregory at 6:59 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


chlorus, it's people like you who cause these kinds of segregation and hatred for people different than yourself. People like YOU are the problem.
posted by survivorman at 7:14 AM on November 6, 2007


So yeah, I blame the Christians...

...says chlorus the pagan as he sacrifices his infant daughter in the fiery furnace of Dagon.
posted by quonsar at 7:17 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


chlorus, it's people like you who cause these kinds of segregation and hatred for people different than yourself. People like YOU are the problem.

Shucks, I don't hate anybody, I'm just a simple fella from Ohio.
posted by chlorus at 7:17 AM on November 6, 2007


I remember all too well the post- Civil Rights era holdover mentality in rural SC: "We'll begrudge you your rights that these liberal Yankees are forcing us to concede, but you better keep to your place, boy, or..." It was fairly apparent in schools that had been desegregated for less than a decade. The events in Jena and elsewhere suggest it's not fading from our collective consciousness nearly fast enough.
posted by pax digita at 7:30 AM on November 6, 2007


Holocaust is a technical term, derived from the Greek words meaning a sacrifical offering that is wholly burnt on the altar. It's not even the preferred term any more for the Nazis' extermination (in large scale by cremation) of the Jews of Europe. The term many people use for that particular genocide is the Hebrew word Sho'ah (calamity), which avoids the theological implications that the slaughter of millions somehow served a higher purpose.

America's beyond-shameful destruction of both African and Indigenous American communities warrant the term genocide, but the only other proper use of the term Holocaust would be the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
posted by ericbop at 7:46 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Really great post, psmealy, thanks so much.

This is such a huge issue. Good lord, there's so much to say about it, much, much more than I can muster after falling back into home after a night of music making and plenty of beers and whisky and such. The discussion of the use of the word "holocaust" (capital H, small h...) has been most interesting. The comments so far have been very interesting. But I'm in no condition to elucidate my own thoughts on these matters with the proper clarity and consideration. It would take more time and focus than I have at my disposal. I'd like to post the quote from psmealey's first link, though, which I think is excellent, and is something that I always want to keep in mind myself:

"The events which transpired five thousand years ago;
Five years ago or five minutes ago, have determined
what will happen five minutes from now; five years
from now or five thousand years from now.
All history is a current event." - Dr John Henrik Clarke -

posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:58 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


“it was Christians who used their Bible to justify slavery”

It was also the Christians who were the first and most tireless champions of Abolition. And, less so, but also in the case of the Civil Rights Movement. You can't just choose the big examples which support your argument and ignore the examples which refute it.

At any rate, these photos make me want to go shoot some old, Southern white people, Christian or not.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:57 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


Thank you everyone, once again, for reminding us how evil white people are. The more people realize the inverse relation between righteousness and epidermal pigmentation, the better off this world will be. We need more comments sections like this. I especially want to thank the "white" people who took the time to condemn the "white race" as a whole, based on what some "white" people did to some "black" people 75 to 120 years ago. It makes those of us unfortunate enough to share a similar lack of melanin feel minimally better about the things we, sorry, I mean, the people who more efficiently absorbed vitamin D in the late 19th/early 20th century, feel a bit less guilty about the things that a handful of upper class southern property owners did decades before most of our poor farmer immigrant ancestors arrived on this continent. And, as our experince in the last 20 to 30 years have shown, the more we continue to trot around the spectres of centuries old racial injustice, and the more we emphasize and harp on past divisions, the closer we get to understanding and harmony today. Matteo, can you please post a few more lynching photos and Tookie/Mumia apologetics to drive the point home? I won't feel nearly as much smug satisfaction as I crave unless you do. Tyia.
posted by banishedimmortal at 9:06 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


At any rate, these photos make me want to go shoot some old, Southern white people, Christian or not.

You go girl. I love shooting old white people too.
posted by banishedimmortal at 9:13 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


The term many people use for that particular genocide is the Hebrew word Sho'ah (calamity), which avoids the theological implications that the slaughter of millions somehow served a higher purpose.

I think that is also a poor choice of word: it seems to make the extermination a strictly Jewish event, ignoring the fact that Generalplan Ost also called for the extermination of ethnic Slavs and Poles, the small remainder of which were to be enslaved. Not to mention the Roma, the mentally ill, and homosexuals that were also exterminated in the hundreds of thousands.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:25 AM on November 6, 2007


Thank you everyone, once again, for reminding us how evil white people are.

Not all of us are evil. Only some of us are.
posted by psmealey at 9:29 AM on November 6, 2007


Why are we spending more energy on this topic, in which 5000 people were killed 40+ years ago then we do on more current situations like the one in Darfur or Iraq where the numbers are vastly greater, but the intent behind the killings is the same?

Because you don't have to assume some back-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead pose of white guilt to realize that African-Americans were consistently humiliated third-class citizens who, within living memory, were executed in public for the purpose of mass control. Germany will never wash off the stain of Hitler and his Holocaust; why should the power structures in the US remain unscathed?

It's worth remembering. "Getting over it" is also recommended to the extent that everyone needs to move forward from this shameful mess, but the same socioeconomic forces are very much still in play, so no, this isn't "just" the past, let alone a past so far away.

Besides, it's easier to bark "get over it" when you yourself don't have to do anything. School segregation is on the rise, but since it's de jure forbidden, I guess it's not the problem of white people, eh? Or is it more simply the case that, after many offensive laws were stricken from the books or otherwise overturned, the same social forces which had kept the black underclass down simply became more sublimated into culture at large.

There's this Spanish guy I know who's still bitter about the Spanish Armada. That guy needs to get over it. But in a world where Boomers were hopping around and growing up in an era where this was going on? It's still quite relevant, and it will always be relevant, to say nothing of the lingering effects of slavery. America does a lot of talking around race and such, but very few Americans actually talk about race.

To say nothing of class. To steal a page from Jim Goad: more black men were killed in Vietnam than were ever lynched. Public executions may have been more, well, public, but it's a larger, more quiet monster which sends the poor to die for the aims of the rich.

I'm not trying to diminish the impact of lynching; what I'm saying is, lynching was one horrifying episode in an even more horrifying larger reality.

One must be wary in a world where one can have a very comfortable life at the expense of others, without directly witnessing the maltreatment. It's very easy to get morally lazy. It's also easy to mire oneself in that aforemention "white guilt" - that amorphous cloud of political knowledge mixed with the sort of cultural self-deprecation one adopts to feel better about oneself.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:35 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


There is still a lot of racism in the US especially in conservative media. You have O'Reilly and Beck making one racist comment after another. They can barely hide their disdain for Mexicans and you have O'Reilly constantly stereotyping blacks as thieves and murderers. Audiences eat this stuff up. The Republican platform is essentially one of racism, race baiting and scare tactics. It's not just blacks and Mexicans, but Arabs and gays and anyone else they can use to scare up the base. It's still dangerous to get caught driving while black, and blacks often receive different treatment in restaurants and other places of public accommodation, not to mention discrimination in the workplace. Add to that that our schools are now almost as segregated as ever, with a disproportionate number of black children stuck in rotting inner city slum schools. When you look at these pictures you see how much incredible progress has been made to date, and given such a legacy of hatred and fear it is hardly surprising that we still have so far to go, nevertheless it pains me when those in politics and media perpetuate the problem as much for pure political gain as out of ignorance and intolerance. /rant
posted by caddis at 9:40 AM on November 6, 2007


oh, and more of the same at http://withoutsanctuary.org/main.html
posted by caddis at 9:41 AM on November 6, 2007


banishedimmortal is making me want to go out and shoot banishedimmortal.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2007


there's a proposal in here somewhere to raise all of our taxes so that cash payments can be made to certain people based on race, amirite?
posted by bruce at 10:35 AM on November 6, 2007


Frankly I agree with banishedimmortal; any conversation about "race" that uses racialist terms itself is counterproductive.

The only way we're ever going to get anywhere on this issue is if we can move away from self-identifying based on skin color. As long as you still have people doing that (and you encourage and reinforce it, every time you talk about "blacks" and "whites"), you've got "races," and as long as you have races, you're going to have racism. Full stop.

Look at the communities where you don't have 'race' problems, or where the problem has been minimized: they're almost universally ones where there is some common value that everyone can identify themselves by, which is stronger than their own physical appearance. (E.g., all sharing the same religion, all being in the military, whatever.)

Find some commonality that people can identify with, that's stronger than their skin pigmentation, and you'll have gone a long ways towards solving the issue in this country. But pouring salt in old wounds without doing that first, just drives people further and further into their own cocoons of racial self-identification.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what we're going to find as a community that we have in common, to get us beyond skin color. But until we figure it out, we're not going anywhere.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:40 AM on November 6, 2007


To paraphrase Leonard Pitts (and to some extent Chris Rock), the reason affirmative action is justified is because of the fact that white people on this continent enjoyed affirmative action for 400 years.
posted by chlorus at 11:03 AM on November 6, 2007


Thank you everyone, once again, for reminding us how evil white people are.

No problem. Thanks for giving us such a long illustrious history of evil to draw from. Sure, there are evil people of all races, religions, nationalities. But when it come to the history of evil in the USA, guess who takes the cake?

You don't like hearing about it? Tough shit. Guess what I don't like? I don't like NOT having the luxury of closing my eyes to the lingering and persistent racism in our society. I don't like that I sometimes just have to bite my tongue and let some racist shit slide, because if I called it everytime I saw it, I wouldn't have time to talk about anything else.

I don't like that if I slipped on a banana peel on the sidewalk, people would go home and tell the wife about how they saw a Black guy slip on a banana peel. See I'm just a guy who slipped on a banana peel. But as long as I live In this country that I call home, there will be a modifier placed in front of the word "man" when referring to me. I didn't choose that. And I sure as hell don't like it. Know what else I don't do? I don't complain about it. If I can go through life with a smile on MY face, then you sure as hell should be able to suck it up and not whine like a little fucking baby when someone brings up the very real, tragic, brutal history of race relations in The United States of America.

A handful of wealthy southern property owners? Your poor immigrant ancestors who showed up after the fact? These types of statements are the reason racism has such a firm grip in this country. Yes, I'm pointing my finger squarely and firmly at you. You are to blame. You may not be evil, but you're ignorant. And ignorance is the soil that racism takes root in.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:43 AM on November 6, 2007 [14 favorites]


i have spent many years thinking about and researching this topic. and although i haven't read Ifill's book yet, i did spend some time speaking with her in a discussion at the STAR conference a few years ago, along with representatives from community groups around the country, including Rosewood and Moores Ford. i have spent these years dealing with my my own community's confrontation with its public lynching.

i have encountered the idea of "leaving the past in the past" and "getting over it" and "stop harping on your own white guilt" and just about every expression of "let's move on" that is possible. ad nauseum, i'd say, except i guess i've come to understand its roots and reasons.

and yet, in all these years, amongst all these minor protestations, there have always been indicators about how history just won't leave us alone, and how we can't just say, "that was XX years ago" or "the past is in the past."

because it was just an eyeblink really. and it affects us--not in the "white guilt" way, though that's the reaction a lot of liberal white people have initially, and the kneejerk against it that comes after. it's deeper than that. and i think that's the purpose Ifill's trying to get at, with her book.

a public lynching, one on the courthouse lawn, or in the downtown square or main intersection, is an event that has a profound impact on a community, and on our country. in my community, one in ten people (10,000) were present at the lynching of three young men from out of town.

and what i've found out since is how deeply this event impacted our (community) collective psyche. Ifill's focus on the memories of people, and how whites and blacks approach those memories differently is the crux of it: whites immediately worked to crush the memory of it, and it became shameful to mention it and quickly passed into a dream-like thing that was twisted around to justify racist thought and action. blacks passed on the information they gleaned as a lesson: don't get noticed, don't get uppity, and for god's sake don't even look at the white girls. and it went on for *many* more years, on into the present. (the weird thing i've always noticed is that racist whites use the lynching to demonstrate the dangerousness of *black men* even though they were ones who were killed, while blacks use it to remind themselves of how dangerous whites are.)

the main thing that i find interesting in my own town is how profoundly the impact has been on the words people use when someone of color commits a crime here, especially in the privacy of anonymous comments sections of our local newspaper or blogs. as just one example, when a couple anishinabe boys flipped out on drugs killed a man in the far west of the city, it took about ten seconds for commenters to recommend a lynching.

the lynched were from out of town, which has led to a continuing demonization of black men from elsewhere. they are continually characterized as predatory on local white women, here only to "cause trouble". the most common euphemism for black people is "those people from Detroit/Chicago/Mississippi"--no matter where they're from. the fear, since our demographic is changing, is palpable. and it's not just the usual run-of-the-mill "fear of the Black Menace" (which is still a country-wide by-product of the lynching era), but a deeper thing and it manifests so frequently as to leave me breathless sometimes. it comes up in random conversations at the grocery store, the hair salon, in cabs--it's positively weird, until you recognize that we are *not* separate from what went on a mere few generations before.

i think what really brings it home to me--how it has a deep and real impact on who we are today--is when people come forward and tell about their own memories. it's often secretive, and they don't want their story told "to the world", but just trust me when i say that the lynchings of "so long ago" are still fresh in people's minds. the sounds, the sights, the smells--the words passed on. how could they not? when we look at the photos, aren't we hit in the gut? aren't we horrified, and aren't we trying hard to grasp what it must have been like to have been there? struggled with the WHY someone would be there? the randomness and the not-randomness? (we try immediately to separate ourselves, to say we wouldn't be there, of course. but see, nearly *everyone* was. it was a community event. even those who were not right in the front line holding the the rope were there for the spectacle. and what was that about?) if you really want to understand, i recommend delving deeply into the testimony documents of the second link above. email me for pointers, if you like.

when that person is your grandfather, and your grandfather spends his last days rocking back and forth, spinning in a dementia loop that's *all about* that event, living it over and over again, lamenting.... or when you find that your grandfather showed *no impact*, told nothing, and yet was there, grinning next to the body of an 18 year old stranger he brutalized with his fist and his boot--how do you deal with that knowledge? do you justify? do you explain it away by telling yourself and others that "they must have deserved it"? (because i've heard that too, from more than a handful.)

i know that this history has an impact on us because i've experienced it directly, just like Ifill has. and as much as i'd like to believe we are somehow beyond this sort of behavior, the resurgence of noose threats just confirms what i knew already--we are not beyond; we remember well. no one would tie up a noose to threaten someone if they didn't.
posted by RedEmma at 12:03 PM on November 6, 2007 [7 favorites]


there's a proposal in here somewhere to raise all of our taxes so that cash payments can be made to certain people based on race, amirite?

That's simplifying quite a bit. I looked a bit into Prof. Ifill's work and the main focus of her reparationsn argument is more about acknowledging, commemorating, and educating people about the events. From an interview:

What do you make of the various racial reconciliation efforts currently underway in the U.S.?

They've first of all uncovered an aspect of U.S. history that has remained hidden, so they are producing that dialogue and are forcing it out into the public, which is critically important. I've been asked, "What if we find some people who are still alive who were active in the lynching?" Well, I think they should be prosecuted. In fact, I think criminal prosecution is a form of reparation. I would like to see all of these efforts become much more dynamic and multi-pronged.


I talk in the book about addressing questions of exonerating people who are innocent, naming public places to acknowledge these events, changing educational curricula, providing financial remuneration where appropriate to the family of lynching victims. These are all on the table and there have been a number of groups trying to help communities think through how dynamic this process could be. I have been working with STAR, Southern Truth and Reconciliation. They and other groups have come together to create a national consortium called the Alliance for Truth and Reconciliation. We regard reparation as a key part of reconciliation and we broaden the term so that we're not merely talking about money, which is such a limited and sometimes counterproductive way to think about reparations. It has to be locally driven and the appropriate means of reparation has to be responsive to the particular way in which these events harmed the local community. It remains to be seen and it will vary from place to place. I'm very hopeful. We're only at the beginning of the process, but I'm glad we are at least at the beginning.

The financial aspects she talks about are for the families of victims, which is completely reasonable. She's not recommending that the money be divided up and given to the entire black population of America, but don't let that get in the way of your strawman.
posted by SBMike at 12:15 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


It wasn't Just Negros being Lynched. See my hometown's proud shining moment "Leo Frank"


As for Reperations, because Your Great Great Grandpa was a slave at the same time my Great Great Grandpa was a soldier in the Army of Frederick William the 3rd of Prussia, I'm supposed to fucking pay you Money out of my taxes?!? Are you nuts?
posted by Megafly at 12:15 PM on November 6, 2007


banishedimmortal is making me want to go out and shoot banishedimmortal.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:04 PM on November 6 [+] [!]


you go girl!
posted by quonsar at 12:31 PM on November 6, 2007


Ah! Dagfly! This thread is tilted. It's about the legacy of lynching. I had driven many times down south with my folks in the 60's and 70's and not once did we stop at a hotel/motel
cause we were never sure where we were or what kind of town it was. They followed a safe-route written down by other black folk who traveled the roads from north to south. You never knew when you were in Klan country.
posted by doctorschlock at 12:50 PM on November 6, 2007


because Your Great Great Grandpa was a slave at the same time my Great Great Grandpa was a soldier in the Army of Frederick William the 3rd of Prussia

This is the same kind of thinking that makes it okay for high school kids to pull out the noose and think it's a joke.
posted by psmealey at 12:52 PM on November 6, 2007


chlorus: I'm not afraid to say I agree, albeit in small type. I'd like to think that by default, humans are not naturally inclined to perpetrate horrific acts of mass murder without the influence of a brainwashing dogma of some sort, a la Nazi Germany. So yeah, I think Southern fundamentalist Christianity certainly bears a large part of the blame.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:54 PM on November 6, 2007


As for Reperations, because Your Great Great Grandpa was a slave at the same time my Great Great Grandpa was a soldier in the Army of Frederick William the 3rd of Prussia, I'm supposed to fucking pay you Money out of my taxes?!? Are you nuts?

This is obviously a straw man, but there is something worth addressing here. Who says reparations have to be individual cash payments to all African-American individuals? That would not only be offensive, stupid, politicially unviable, and practically unworkable, but what cash value could possibly make up for, or even pretend to make up for, the costs of slavery?

Even if you could sort out who owes whom what, what price tag can you put on that? $1000 per person? $5,000 per person? $50,000 per person? And what happens to people after they've spent all the money? Even if every single descendant of a slave was given $200,000, that money isn't going to last forever, and once it's gone, it's gone.

And let's not even get into how one would raise that money, or why that idea would be any better for the economy than Bush's tax cuts.

Why not pool money to the end of actually mitigating the after effects of slavery and Jim Crow - why not usher in some great social programs, museums, monuments, and other creative ways to make a concrete difference in people's lives. Roll out these programs with great fanfare, as reparations, to put the issue out there in the public, and then make sure those programs actually work.

Not like I have any faith in the US government to actually administrate such a sweeping gesture, but it makes a fuckload of a lot more sense than this straw man idea that everyone who wants reparations is thinking of drawing up $500 checks and crossing our fingers that Racism will be Over in a week.

More to the point: what even quasi-mainstream political person is campaigning for individual cash reparations? I know plenty of people are for reparations, but truly, the idea of an individual cash reparation? I feel like the only people who think of such things are either paranoid people in search of straw men or well-intentioned people who haven't quite thought things through.

Ultimately, that's my real point. Reparations don't have to be in the form of cash in an envelope, and I'm not sure who actually wishes they would be in such a form.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:36 PM on November 6, 2007


No, Lazaruslong you cannot siphon off the blame to "other people". You would be making yourself exempt from becoming a more conscious, better person. All humans are capable of horrific acts- always were, always will be.
posted by Student of Man at 1:39 PM on November 6, 2007


Reparations don't have to be in the form of cash in an envelope, and I'm not sure who actually wishes they would be in such a form.

This is precisely Ifill's point. In many cases, she suggests that symbolic gestures (such as plaques at the courthouse where George Armwood was murdered) would suffice as a form of reparation. At its root, reparation means to "repair". That doesn't mean giveaways and a windfall, it means coming to terms and accepting what was done, and trying to move forward as a united people.

Pretending that it doesn't have anything to do with us, as banishedimmortal seems to suggest, is the surest way to ensure the seeds are sown for the next round of atrocities, whatever shape they take, whomever they may victimize.
posted by psmealey at 1:48 PM on November 6, 2007


To counter the point Mr. President made about "It's just an expression of your own outrage". I call bullshit. Could it be you are simply protecting a trademark? or the privileged place Jewish history have in American text?, and Jewish life (prestige and power) on American society? As have been pointed out, semantically it's a perfect match. You invited a pissing match by making such a petty remark.
posted by Student of Man at 1:59 PM on November 6, 2007


If I can go through life with a smile on MY face, then you sure as hell should be able to suck it up and not whine like a little fucking baby when someone brings up the very real, tragic, brutal history of race relations in The United States of America.

A handful of wealthy southern property owners? Your poor immigrant ancestors who showed up after the fact? These types of statements are the reason racism has such a firm grip in this country. Yes, I'm pointing my finger squarely and firmly at you. You are to blame. You may not be evil, but you're ignorant. And ignorance is the soil that racism takes root in.


Powerful stuff that. I never really understood why white people get so defensive. You want to point the finger at me? Will it make you feel better? You and I both know it won't change a damn thing so point away to your heart's content. No need for me to get all defensive and upset, I have the luxury of shrugging it off. Sorry, but that's just the way it is.
posted by MikeMc at 2:01 PM on November 6, 2007



As for Reperations, because Your Great Great Grandpa was a slave at the same time my Great Great Grandpa was a soldier in the Army of Frederick William the 3rd of Prussia, I'm supposed to fucking pay you Money out of my taxes?!? Are you nuts?
posted by Megafly at 3:15 PM on November 6 [+] [!]


Exemplary of what facilitates the status quo. The misconception being that the injustice lies there and stopped there (in the slavery era). He/she migrates to the U.S. and portends to be absolved of the heritage of this country, but would reap all the benefits being in America affords him. Ungrateful heart, as well as defensive and ignorant. I'll take it he read the subsequent posts, so I won't expunge.

A number of things wrong with this kind of thinking, Key being that 2nd and 3rd wave immigrants come to adopt (unknowingly) a a leaner, meaner, more subtle, more vexing, more understated and all the more entrenched kind of racism that is far more complex than the sort they read about in grade school. The end result- they feel just as justified in their course of actions as the Bigots and Racist did (not that I'm calling him and out-and-out racist).

But in any case I'm feeling the absence of whites on this thread due to the direction it has taken. No one likes shit rubbed in their face and no one is trying to do that here. We need fine minds on this issue which is so, so, difficult to address.
posted by Student of Man at 2:23 PM on November 6, 2007


in all fairness everybody to date I hear use the word "reparations" —from Al Sharpton and Spike Lee to Cornell West — HAS been talking in terms of assets, land, and payouts. Not museums or what have you.

So the this so-called misconcpetion is not just on the behalf of disgruntled white men.

This is the first time I have heard "reparations" described otherwise.
posted by tkchrist at 3:01 PM on November 6, 2007


He/she migrates to the U.S. and portends to be absolved of the heritage of this country, but would reap all the benefits being in America affords him.

While I agree with this take to a certain degree the precedent it sets will have a momentum all it's own. Not to mention confusion.

Do only people with certain skin colors qualify for this new crime of antiquities fairness doctrine? How far do we go back?

My native ancestors had land stolen from them. As did my Mormon ancestors. Both were ethnically cleansed and killed where ever they settled. So does the white half of me pay the red half? The formula is impossible to calculate.

Do the ancestors of the European shipping and trading companies pay? Do the ancestors of African tribes who sold rival tribes to European slavers pay as well? Do the ancestors Arab slavers pay at all since they helped establish the trade in the first place. Or is it only the"deep pockets" of American Capital that pay.

Going down this road will only sew more hostility NOT more justice. If anything a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, like the South African model is likely to bear much more fruit.
posted by tkchrist at 3:19 PM on November 6, 2007


Agreed tkchrist. I don't know if Ifill is revolutionary in this regard, but it was the first time I heard it too, that's why I brought it up as a separate point.
posted by psmealey at 3:20 PM on November 6, 2007


2nd and 3rd wave immigrants come to adopt (unknowingly) a leaner, meaner, more subtle, more vexing, more understated and all the more entrenched kind of racism that is far more complex ...

one thing that's very important to know--to understand the Duluth lynchings--is that many many many of the lynchers, even some of the main perpetrators, were immigrants. (Duluth was a big, "wild west" sort of town with a huge influx of immigrants around the turn of the century.) i have felt after reading the first-person testimony that their participation was about "joining the club" or some form of earning whiteness. this last idea has to do with the fact that new immigrants were, of course, themselves discriminated against. Finns were not even, around here, really considered to be white. (A Finn was lynched just two years before Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, for draft dodging, ostensibly. But it's telling that he was a Finn and not some other Wobbly agitating against the War.)

immigrants were, in my view, doing the dirty work of the ruling class, when they participated in a lynching--sort of a natural extension of what they were being told to believe. you want to be treated "white", then you better start acting it, and that means teaching the black monsters a lesson about their place. who is the one who beats up the outcast? it isn't the bully himself, necessarily, who gets the most licks in? it's the one who wants to prove himself to the bully who does the most damage. immigrants--people who learned their racism after their arrival--were the henchmen in this case.

you can't look at those photos out of the context that they were a message from one town to another: see what we did? see, we're doing our part too! or out of the context of the rash of events that were going on at the time, talked about in newspapers, and especially by word of mouth as transients and workers went along railroad stops. it wasn't just lynchings (those 5000 or so), but also the rest of the near-lynchings, threats, burned down homes and neighborhoods and large scale evictions from whole towns. the countryside was *emptying itself of its black people*; people were being driven out at the point of guns from all sorts of towns. (See James Loewen's Sundown Towns.) we forget that the killings were only the pinnacle of large-scale terror that was going on. and yes, very much like pogroms.

these immigrants, were, in a sense, trying to prove themselves worthy of not being considered less-than-human. oh, the irony.
posted by RedEmma at 4:11 PM on November 6, 2007


Good point Red emma. It is telling that ones foreign lineage is highlighted when it comes to proclaiming their innocence from America's past misdeeds. But as American as apple pie when it comes to national identity. The fact is America is divided among race, class, and politics. Most glaringly between black and white (race-wise). The path to success has always been identifying with the larger culture (white). Even Hispanics seem to be following the European path and the black underclass is once again left out. This is part punishment because of some blacks refusing to assimilate into the larger culture. I think this defiance is a sign of solidarity, due to being robbed of heritage, families, names, and spirituality. All this culminating into a century long identity crisis.

Yet the fission is constant and the two cultures seem symbiotic. American culture is inconceivable without black culture. (evidenced by the traversing of accessible slang, evolution of rock, hatred/emulation of the black male as harbingers of "cool" [which plenty of us gladly take up] ). So, cultural subservience as well as economic choke-hold is at play. And this culture is exported all over the world. Cultural divisions aside, when it comes to being in the winners circle you choose you associations, whatever your skin color, white is right.
posted by Student of Man at 5:03 PM on November 6, 2007


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