Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Truly by Persons Unknown: Racial Erasure. The NY Times Discovers That Blacks Were Lynched...But Doesn't Name White People as the Killers

Lynching is in the ether. I am unsure as to which side of the colorline it is more noxious. We who are black and brown remain--as Lani Guinier brilliantly observed--the miner's canary. Perhaps this means that we are stronger and more immune from the noxious air as compared to those who have never had to breath it?

The New York Times recently featured a story about research from the Equal Justice Initiative that provides new details and insight on racial terrorism and white on black (spectacular) lynchings in the United States.

Some key findings from the Equal Justice Initiative's new report include:
First, racial terror lynching was much more prevalent than previously reported. EJI researchers have documented several hundred more lynchings of African Americans than the number identified in the most comprehensive work done on lynching to date. 
Our conversations with survivors of lynchings show that terror lynching played a key role in the forced migration of millions of black Americans out of the South. Thousands of people fled to the North and West out of fear of being lynched... 
In all of the subject states, we observed that there is an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching. 
The Equal Justice Initiative report does an excellent job of highlighting how white racial terrorism was a political act that intimated an entire community by visiting horrific and unimaginable cruelty on the black body politic through acts of violence on the bodies of black individuals:
In Dyersburg, Tennessee, a mob tortured Lation Scott with a hot poker iron, gouging out his eyes, shoving the hot poker down his throat and pressing it all over his body before castrating him and burning him alive over a slow fire...
Lynchings Targeting the Entire African American Community. Some lynch mobs targeted entire black communities by forcing black people to witnesslynchings and demanding that they leave the area or face a similar fate. These lynchings were designed for broad impact—to send a message of domination, to instill fear, and sometimes to drive African Americans from the community. 
After a lynching in Forsyth County, Georgia, in 1912, white vigilantes distributed leaflets demanding that all black people leave the county or suffer deadly consequences; so many black families fled that, by 1920, the county’s black population had plunged from 1100 to just thirty. To maximize lynching as a terrorizing symbol of power and control over the black community, white mobs frequently chose to lynch victims in a prominent place inside the town’s African American district.  
It is no coincidence that the NY Times, a journal of record, decided to offer such a high profile platform to the work of the Equal Justice Initiative. The savage immolation murder of Muadh al Kasasbeh by ISIS has placed lynching front and center in the public discourse and collective consciousness.

However, the Times' "History of Lynchings in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names" is not without a major flaw.

As the website Vox highlighted, the Times has produced a story about white racial terrorism and wicked violence against black humanity, but never directly names white Americans as the agents of evil:
But when it comes to those details, the Times' coverage leaves out one key word: "white" — and readers have noticed... The report itself says, "some 'public spectacle lynchings 'were attended by the entire white community and conducted as celebratory acts of racial control and domination." 
Yet, as critics have pointed out, the only time "white" was used in the article was to describe the women and girls the black men who were lynched were accused of killing or assaulting. 
This sort of oversight is in no way something that only happens in the New York Times or that only happens in the media. But this is the most recent example of the clunky awkwardness that accompanies discussions about the ways white supremacy shaped our nation's history.
This is a perverse type of racial erasure: Whiteness has once again made White people a group without history.

[There is also a paradox and contradiction in that transformation: "white" is a socially constructed marker and designation of "race" that is relatively recent and new, having been born in response to the Transatlantic slave trade, the black holocaust, and global European imperialism and colonialism.]

The NY Times' failure to name white people as the murderers of black Americans through spectacular and cruel violence is also an example of Whiteness--and by extension white people--imagining itself as naturally benign and innocent. Here, Whiteness is prefaced on radical individualism.

As such, there are no "white criminals" or "white terrorists". There are only individual white people who happen to be criminals or killers. In a society organized around white privilege, it is only the Other, in particular black people and "Muslims", who are labeled en masse as "pathological" and/or where individuals are subjected to group stigma and punishment.

The racial erasure in the Times' lynching story is also a surrender to what researcher Robin DiAngelo has termed "white fragility":
White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.
The white racial frame distorts reality. It is operative even in what are ostensibly moments of "anti-racist" public discourse. And because the white racial frame furthers a possessive investment in whiteness, an investment that reflects and sustains a white supremacist society, it distorts how White Americans process and understand empirical reality.

Through that process, the black or brown truth-teller is transformed by the White gaze into someone who is "angry", "hostile", "emotional", "crazy", "irrational" or "overreacting".

Ultimately, the white racial frame is a type of racial narcissism, one that for those white people who have not renounced their personal and psychological investment in Whiteness and white supremacy transforms the rational into the irrational, the sane into the insane, and warps the morals and ethics of its owners.

As I, and those others, who dared to connect the barbarism of ISIS and the spectacular lynchings and burning alive murders of black Americans by whites recently learned, forcing White America to own its history of racial terrorism is not a popular act.

I am unsure if the NY Times' choice to decouple white people from the barbaric crime of white on black lynchings in the United States was an intentional act or simply the unconscious habit of the white racial frame as social practice.

The Times' intent is irrelevant because the outcome is one that is repeated and habitual in "colorblind" post civil rights America: Whiteness is always a de facto state of innocence and White America always imagines itself as fundamentally good and benign.

We who are the miner's canary most certainly know otherwise.


Myshkin the Idiot said...

White people are still negotiating the relative humanity of black and brown people.

chauncey devega said...

Sad but true.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Meanwhile aggrieved white entitlement takes out three more. What I've seen, everyone focuses on the identity of the victims, some are trying to portray the killer as an atheist, but no one is talking about his whiteness.

anonymous said...

This is what is needed in America.'s_Black_Holocaust_Museum

This is why we need a memorial to the Black Holocaust that has taken place.

Gable1111 said...

Read the Times piece and the omission of who the perpetrators were/are is glaring.

The comments are even more amazing as many seemed surprised to learn that we had this level of terrorism here against American citizens. Who happened to be black.

But even among the most contrite, many of them just can't bring themselves to say it: this is what white people did to black people, in America, to maintain a system of white supremacy that lasts to this day.

balitwilight said...

The omission of the word "white" in identifying perpetrators of lynchings makes as much sense as describing the slaughter of Bosnians in Sarajevo without using the word "Serbs". America lives in a bizzaro-world where Confederate generals and KKK leaders have schools and monuments named after them, while the sites of at least 4,000 lynchings (and staggeringly vast racist persecutions) remain unmemorialised. You can hardly cross a street in Germany without seeing a flagstone or memorial to sickening incidents of Jewish persecution, some as simple as "A Jewish family was forcibly evicted here in 1931".
"White" is a perfect construct for persecution because the very word is a perceptual-lie of neutral blankness. In the inescapable thought-patterns and associations embedded in English, any un-examined usage of the word "white" for a class of people is already a false hierarchy: of neutrality and purity vs... everything else.
In American White Supremacy (ie culture), everything related to racist persecution - the victims, the system and the perpetrators - is "blackened". This was achieved by ostracising the word "RACISM" to the fringe and substituting "RACE". Close your eyes. Say "race". The word "race" instinctively points away from "white" and towards those humans who "have a race" (especially those BLACK people!). Consider today's headline that the FBI Director plans "a bold speech on RACE". President Obama gave a "moving speech on RACE in America". American schools have "a problem with RACE". Just substitute "black people" (which is what most people see) anywhere you see "race" in those sentences - and you will start to see how the one-two punch of the words "White" and "Race" powerfully serve continuing White Supremacy in America.

Just look at the sentences above and substitute the word "RACISM", or "RACISTS". The mirror that always reflects the victims now becomes a glass through which the victimisers are visible. But that is why you always see the word "race" used instead. So, the NY Times is just using the same word-witchcraft of White Supremacy: "White" is pure and invisible, "Race Problem" (as opposed to RACISM problem)) means "Black People Problem". Even when "black" people have their eyes gouged out and are set on fire, "black people problem" remains an ambiguous term. Consider "Jewish Problem" from the days of Nazi Germany.

In other countries with histories of persecution, the perpetrators are always named in ANY discussion. But in America, any "conversation about race" simply means: "Tune out, white people - we are going to be talking about those black people for a while".

Dan Kasteray said...

Or discussing the holocaust without referencing Hitler.

Dan Kasteray said...

It all ties in to a class motivated racial hegemony that got its origins in the 1600s, when modern racism was conceived. Back then turning poor whites against blacks cemented power of the landowners, today its no different

Dan Kasteray said...

Also nobody talks about how its widespread and systematic

lkeke35 said...
This is a textbook example of "White Fragility". Eveytime I see one of these videos (and there's a whole series of them), there's always at lest one White person who becomes so outraged at what's happening, that they have to leave the room or opt out of the experiment.
What I like about that is that the teacher uses even their decision to opt out as a teaching moment, too.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

White America doesn't even know itself.

MaryLovesJustice said...

No, they aren't negotiating the relative humanity of black and brown people, Myshkin the Idiot. The ones who are human themselves know that we are, too, and they acknowledge it. Those whites who are inhuman denounce our humanity as emphatically as their foreparents did, but such honesty is usually limited to conversations with like-minded individuals.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

The new York times pointed out that black men were accused of raping white women and that's why they were lynched. This implies they may have been guilty, which minimizes the responsibly of the community for the murder and presumes their guilt before their innocence.

We watched Tamir Rice get shot in one second of contact with police. Do you want to tell me there are not white people out there saying this is justified?

This is the negotiation. That cop in Cleveland has been told he did the right thing because black boys are dangerous.

Aiyana Stanley Jones, bless her, was shot in the head while she was asleep, eight years old I think. The cop will not be indicted. The coroner said her getting shot was the cure for the disease of being born in Detroit. In what sick mind is death preferable to life and freedom?

MaryLovesJustice said...

Only human beings can recognize and respect the humanity in themselves and others. There are a few humans among whites and many who are inhuman among blacks. That is what I am saying, Brother.

balitwilight said...

Unfortunately - like Aryan Supremacy in 1930-40s Germany - "white" supremacy in the United States is perpetrated by human beings like you and me. They are just willing (or willingly oblivious) participants in a ferocious lie.
Speaking of ferocious lies: part of that lie is that what Americans call "race" is any more real than what Germans called "Aryan Bloodline". If this inhumanity were genetic as you say (half ironically, I know) then over 80% of "black" Americans have it too - because that is the thoroughly intertwined population genetics in America, from hundreds of years of having children together.