Monday, October 13, 2008

Lynch Mobs and White American Insecurity

The past is never dead. It's not even past. -- Faulkner

We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him. -- Benjamin Tillman

We're all feeling uneasy lately with the frighteningly blatant, white supremacist tone that has entered national politics. Not only are we more acutely fearing for Barack Obama's safety, many of us are also fearing for our own. I wish that I could lay blame solely on the Republicans for this, but I can't. Miz Hillary and her husband were instrumental is stirring up white America's latent fears about losing their supremacy and power. Miz Palin and her running mate are not just stirring the pot, but are bringing it to a full boil. Republican rallies as of late are just short of lynch mobs.

A not insignificant body of white Americans are feeling imperiled. Their dominance in global affairs is declining. Their personal economic security is crumbling. Their social dominance is being challenged everyday with the growing visibility and influence of colored folks. The world as they know it, and expect it to remain, is rapidly changing.

As Miz Hillary herself began to feel insecure in the face of negro assumptions of political power, she began tapping into white racial fears: "In an effort to scare off white voters, Mr. Obama was ghettoized as a cocaine user (by the chief Clinton strategist, Mark Penn, among others), 'the black candidate' (as Clinton strategists told the Associated Press) and Jesse Jackson redux (by Mr. Clinton himself)." All the while, Obama took the high road -- not talking about race and not highlighting obvious weaknesses in the Clinton history, e.g. Whitewater and Bill's philandering. The fact that the Clintons and their supporters are still angry at and resentful of Obama says a lot. Aside from not "staying in his place" and deferring to a white woman, what exactly did he do to so offend them?

The McCain-Palin campaign is cultivating ground that the Clintons have already sewn. Their early ad Lashing Out accused Obama of referring to Palin as "good looking" and concluded that he was "disrespectful." The implied question was, "Are the good white people of America going to let this negro get away with disrespecting a white woman?" At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are viewed as new and unheard of by the mainstream press. This isn't new at all.

It is not surprising that white women are at the center of opposition to Obama's candidacy. Historically, lynch mobs and white supremacist rallies in America have often used the need to protect white female virtue as a justification for violence against Negroes. Just beneath the surface of those claims, however, have been economic and social insecurity. In much of the Deep South lynchings peaked in the late 19th century, as whites turned to terrorism to dissuade blacks from voting and to enforce Jim Crow laws. In the Mississippi Delta lynchings of blacks increased in the early 20th century as white planters tried to enforce control of labor when more blacks became sharecroppers and laborers.

Typically, Negro fears of white violence in recent decades have been dismissed as histrionic and unfounded. It is both refreshing and sobering that the mainstream media are now beginning to openly identify the racial fears that have been so much a part of this election year -- refreshing in that they are finally validating real concerns and sobering in that they are validating real concerns. On the Discovery channel tonight, Ted Koppel will link the phenomenon of lynching to today's political climate in what should be an illuminating one-hour documentary. "Lynchings are a form of terrorism. And the particular purpose was to say to African Americans that you will never vote or be a part of the political process in this country. And if you think you will move in that direction there will be terrible consequences," Koppel told Tell Me More host Michel Martin.

That McCain has felt the need to address the jeers and racism of his own supporters says a great deal. Is he surprised at the hate and ignorance he and others have been able to give voice to? Is he scared that he will be called upon to explain violence committed in his and Palin's names? Or, is he just covering his ass?

The past is never dead ...


macon d said...

To answer your ending questions from my perspective, I think he's just covering his ass. He does, after all, approve some pretty, shall we say, "dark" political ads.

Ted Koppel has been good on race before. I think he's the one who asked an audience of white folks once (most of whom agreed with each other that "blacks complain too much about racism") how much they would take to trade their white skin for a black one. No price was high enough for most of them.

Thank you for this sober and sobering post.

Glennis said...

He's covering his ass.

And he's also trying to look like a "hero" even though his efforts will have absolutely no effect on what has been raised up by his campaign, his running mate, and his own damned self.

It's cynical, and immoral - and deeply frightening.

Anonymous said...

This site is very scary, . I believe in one people, and I live my life accordingly. I seek out all opinions on all sides and to tell you the truth, this site concerns me. It is very racist. I cannot see how LIVING in the past does anyone good. LEARNING from the past and moving FORWARD is a better way to view things in my opinion. Yes, I am white and 40ish; but I'm not out to "get" anyone. "Lynch Mobs?" "White supremacy"? These are hateful words and don't inspire, but ignite fear and hate.

Zora said...

Dear Anonymous,

Does this site scare you more than the tactics and ploys of the McCain-Palin campaign? Does pointing out the racism of a significant section of American voters ignite more fear and hate than the racism itself? Frankly, you are scaring me because you are suggesting that people who do want to move forward should keep their mouths shut and maintain the status quo.

If you would dig a little deeper, you might find that our pieces address not "white people" but intersections of race, politics and popular culture.

I wish you well in your evolution.


Anonymous said...

Anon- how can you learn from the past if you don't understand history? I'm white -if you count Jews as white - and this blog inspires fear in me - the fear of white supremacy and lynch mobs. Maybe African Americans and Jews understand the consequences of group hate-think more than some others because of our histories, but I do cling to some hope that even the whitest of christians can muster some understanding and act against another wave of race-hate.

Zora- great post. Of course lynching is terrorism and thanks for pointing it out in print (pixels)in the context of this election. The more discussion we have about it the better, as far as I'm concerned. Keep up the great work.

Zora said...

Thanks Liza! The idea is to broaden our critical perspectives on the ways that race and ethnicity operate in our society. That can only be done if we have an accurate sense of what we are capable of, of our history both as individuals and as members of groups.

Members of my family are Jewish and the elders are always cautioning the young ones to "never forget" -- they are not trying to get us to live in the past, but to learn from the past so that it does not repeat itself.

As Americans, we tend to be ahistorical. We are so caught up in being the city on the hill that we get defensive whenever anyone points out our history of colonialism, slavery, exploitation ... We can't address our problems if we don't even know how to properly acknowledge them.

"Anonymous", I do hope that you will stick around. I don't mind being challenged. Do you?


Spinster said...

Saw the Ted Koppel show. It was good. More shows like this ought to be done.

Anonymous apparently had some kind of emotional reaction to this blog entry and is projecting her real feelings onto others. He or she needs to go elsewhere if he or she cannot handle the truth.