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“Take Down The Confederate Flag—Now”: The Heritage Of White Supremacy Endorsing Violence

Last night, Dylann Roof walked into a Charleston church, sat for an hour, and then killed nine people. Roof’s crime cannot be divorced from the ideology of white supremacy which long animated his state nor from its potent symbol—the Confederate flag. Visitors to Charleston have long been treated to South Carolina’s attempt to clean its history and depict its secession as something other than a war to guarantee the enslavement of the majority of its residents. This notion is belied by any serious interrogation of the Civil War and the primary documents of its instigators. Yet the Confederate battle flag—the flag of Dylann Roof—still flies on the Capitol grounds in Columbia.

The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it. That the Confederate flag is the symbol of of white supremacists is evidenced by the very words of those who birthed it:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth…

This moral truth—“that the negro is not equal to the white man”—is exactly what animated Dylann Roof. More than any individual actor, in recent history, Roof honored his flag in exactly the manner it always demanded—with human sacrifice.

Surely the flag’s defenders will proffer other, muddier, interpretations which allow them the luxury of looking away. In this way they honor their ancestors. Cowardice, too, is heritage. When white supremacist John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, Booth’s fellow travelers did all they could to disassociate themselves. “Our disgust for the dastardly wretch can scarcely be uttered,” fumed a former governor of South Carolina, the state where secession began. Robert E. Lee’s armies took special care to enslave free blacks during their Northern campaign. But Lee claimed the assassination of the Great Emancipator was “deplorable.” Jefferson Davis believed that “it could not be regarded otherwise than as a great misfortune to the South,” and angrily denied rumors that he had greeted the news with exultation.

Villain though he was, Booth was a man who understood the logical conclusion of Confederate rhetoric:

“TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN”:

Right or wrong. God judge me, not man. For be my motive good or bad, of one thing I am sure, the lasting condemnation of the North.

I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression. For four years have I waited, hoped and prayed for the dark clouds to break, and for a restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved as idle as my hopes. God’s will be done. I go to see and share the bitter end….

I have ever held the South were right. The very nomination of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, four years ago, spoke plainly, war—war upon Southern rights and institutions….

This country was formed for the white, not for the black man. And looking upon African Slavery from the same stand-point held by the noble framers of our constitution. I for one, have ever considered if one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us,) that God has ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power; witness their elevation and enlightenment above their race elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life, and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet, Heaven knows, no one would be willing to do more for the negro race than I, could I but see a way to still better their condition.

By 1865, the Civil War had morphed into a war against slavery—the “cornerstone” of Confederate society. Booth absorbed his lesson too well. He did not violate some implicit rule of Confederate chivalry or politesse. He accurately interpreted the cause of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, men who were too weak to truthfully address that cause’s natural end.

Moral cowardice requires choice and action. It demands that its adherents repeatedly look away, that they favor the fanciful over the plain, myth over history, the dream over the real. Here is another choice.

Take down the flag. Take it down now.

Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now.

 

By: Ta-Nehist Coates, The Atlantic, June 18, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Confederacy, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Rachel Dolezal’s ‘Passing’ Isn’t So Unusual”: A Product of Our Own Contradictory Moment

Why do we care so much about Rachel Dolezal, the head of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. who apparently misrepresented herself as African-American when, according to her parents, she is Czech, Swedish and German, with some remote Native American ancestry?

In one sense, it’s not at all surprising. Stories of white Americans “passing” as members of other racial and ethnic groups have often captivated the American public — though the cases that have most fascinated us have usually turned on the malicious hypocrisy of the protagonists. In 1965, The Times famously reported that Dan Burros, the Ku Klux Klan’s Grand Dragon in New York State and the former national secretary of the American Nazi Party, was once a Jew who not only was a “star” bar mitzvah student at his shul in Queens but also brought knishes to white-supremacist gatherings. In 1991, an Emory University professor drew headlines by unmasking Forrest Carter, the author of a best-selling Native American “memoir,” as Asa Earl Carter, an Alabama Klansman and a speechwriter for George Wallace, the state’s segregationist governor.

But nowhere in the details that reporters and Internet sleuths have uncovered about Dolezal is there any inkling of personal commitment to white supremacy; her work with the N.A.A.C.P., now finished, and as a professor of Africana studies suggests quite the opposite. Her story spins at a far lower orbit of oddity than the trajectories of Burros and Carter, yet she is attracting a similar level of attention. More puzzling still, her case has gone viral at a moment when we are learning that Rachel Dolezals have been much more common in this country’s history than we once might have thought.

The history of people breaching social divides and fashioning identities for themselves is as old as America. These stories were never exclusively about blacks who “passed” for white or Jews who, as my grandparents would say, “got over it” and found their way to the Episcopalian side of the ledger — people who felt compelled to shed their birth identities to reap the full rewards of white privilege. From the beginning of the American experience, the color line bent and broke in many directions, and for many reasons.

In 17th-century Virginia, as the genealogist Paul Heinegg has documented, most of the first free families of color descended from white women who had children with slaves or free black men. Because a 1662 Virginia law classified people as “bond or free only according to the condition of the mother,” the status of these families depended on the women’s affirming their whiteness as an official matter. But in everyday life, white mothers of black children were creating new ways for their families and themselves to parse slavery, freedom and race, akin to James McBride’s account in his memoir, “The Color of Water,” of how his mother described her own identity while raising 12 African-American children. When McBride asked her about her parents, she would respond, “God made me.” When he asked if she was white, her answer was, “I’m light-skinned.”

Over time, as racial categories ossified and state legislatures criminalized interracial sex and marriage — an idea that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the 1960s — people continued to define themselves outside the law’s oppressive reach. White people who fell in love with African-Americans could avoid sanction if they asserted that they, too, were black. In 1819, a Scottish immigrant named James Flint described witnessing a black man’s attempt to marry a white woman near Jeffersonville, Ind., just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky. The local justice of the peace refused to marry them, citing a legal prohibition, but then had second thoughts, suggesting, Flint wrote, “that if the woman could be qualified to swear that there was black blood in her, the law would not apply.” In a scene anticipating “Showboat” by a hundred years, the groom promptly took a lancet to his arm, and according to Flint, “the loving bride drank the blood, made the necessary oath and his honour joined their hands” and married them.

White people have claimed African-American identity across time, region and class. The historian Martha Sandweiss has documented the case of Clarence King, a celebrated explorer from an elite Newport, R.I., family who could trace his ancestry back to three signers of the Magna Carta. At the end of the 19th century, he led a double life as James Todd, a black Pullman porter whose wife was born a slave. It is not hard to find other examples, all the way up to the present.

This kind of “reverse passing” could occur because the gap between America’s rigid insistence on racial purity and the reality of pervasive mixing left a conceptual blur instead of any defensible boundary between black and white. American history is a history of dark-skinned white people and light-skinned black people. Innumerable men and women explained away their complexions with stories of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and, in an 1874 Tennessee court case, Carthaginian ancestry. More whites have claimed Cherokee grandmothers than is demographically possible.

Conversely, for John Hope, the first African-American president of Morehouse College and Atlanta University; John Ladeveze, who helped bring the first challenge to segregated education after Plessy v. Ferguson; Charles Chesnutt, the acclaimed early twentieth-century African-American novelist; or the longtime N.A.A.C.P. head Walter White, it was a routine part of life to insist that you were black despite all indications to the contrary. In 1871, Charles Sauvinet, sheriff of Orleans Parish during Reconstruction, sued the owner of a bar for refusing him service because of his race. In court, Sauvinet’s fair complexion prompted a lawyer to ask on cross-examination something very similar to a Spokane TV news reporter’s question — “Are you African-American?” — that so flustered Dolezal. Sauvinet’s answer speaks volumes about the complexity of American racial experience. “Whether I am a colored man or not is a matter that I do not know myself,” Sauvinet said. “But I am, and was legally, for this reason: that . . . you had always refused me, though born and raised here, the rights of citizenship.”

In a sense, the controversy surrounding Dolezal is a product of our own contradictory moment, when Americans are at once far more open to racial boundary-crossing and as preoccupied with those same boundaries as ever. Part of what’s striking about Dolezal’s self-constructed identity is how anachronistic it appears in 2015 — more the stuff of fiction, as in the over-the-top plot conceit of Nell Zink’s “Mislaid,’’ than reality. There seems to be little reason that Dolezal would have needed to identify as black to live the life she has led. After all, white people can form meaningful relationships with African-Americans, study, teach and celebrate black history and culture and fight discrimination without claiming to be African-American themselves. Dolezal was pale with straight blond hair when she earned her master of fine arts degree from the historically black Howard University. She is hardly the first white woman to take an interest in ‘‘the Black Woman’s Struggle,’’ one course she taught at Eastern Washington University.

But Dolezal’s exposure also comes at a time when racial categories have never seemed more salient. The same social media that is shaming Dolezal has also aggregated the distressingly numerous killings of African-Americans by the police into a singular statement on racism and inequality. In this moment, when blackness means something very specific — asserting that black lives matter — it follows for many people that categorical clarity has to matter, too.

The drive for authenticity that Dolezal has prompted is bound to raise more questions than answers. The enormous wealth of historical and genealogical information that is currently being digitized, along with the increasing availability and decreasing cost of DNA analysis, is bending our critical lens for viewing race; the secrets that people took to their graves are no match for Ancestry.com. Among other revelations, the records are proving that an enormous percentage of black men — nearly a fifth, according to one recent study — passed as white in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, suggesting that millions of white Americans could conceivably have African-American ancestry. A tan and curls do not make someone black. Nor does a graduate degree from Howard or a leadership position in the N.A.A.C.P. But it’s becoming harder to say what, exactly, does, even as racism remains real and deadly.

 

By:  June 16, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity, Rachel Dolezal, White Americans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Little To Show For The Significant Rabbit Hole Expenditure”: Benghazi Investigation Spends Fortune To Harass Hillary Clinton

The Benghazi Select Committee moves slowly but spends quickly, exceeding the budget of the entire House Intelligence Committee.

On June 16th, the Benghazi Select Committee, meeting behind closed doors, questioned Hillary Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal for nine hours about emails he sent to the then-Secretary of State containing privately gathered intelligence reports from inside Libya.

The release of new emails from Mr. Blumenthal marked a milestone for the committee, characterized committee chairman, Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, as “noteworthy,” because no Congressional committee that “has previously looked into Benghazi or Libya has uncovered these memos.”

Yet there was no explanation as to how these emails contained any new insights or information about the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA base in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Mr. Blumenthal himself noted “my testimony has shed no light on the events of Benghazi—nor could it—because I have no firsthand knowledge.”

This has been a consistent theme of the House’s investigation—a frenzy of media fireworks, with little substantive progress made in pursuit of the committee’s actual mandate. (The majority staff of the Benghazi Select Committee did not respond to requests for comment).

Led by a an 18-member Republican staff, whose full time employees are paid an average of $128,750 per year, the Benghazi Select Committee has proceeded at a plodding pace. Thus far, it has held only three hearings and by the end of this week will have interviewed just 29 witnesses. In comparison the Congressional investigation into the Iran Contra scandal lasted 10.5 months, during which time investigators conducted 500 interviews along with 40 days of public hearings.

The lack of progress is especially striking considering seven Congressional committees and a State Department Accountability Review Board already conducted inquires into the attack. Most recently the findings of the Republican led House Intelligence Committee found no evidence for many of the accusations hurled at President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other government officials.

Over 13 months the Benghazi Select Committee has spent more than $3,500,000, exceeding the budget of the entire House Intelligence Committee. This figure does not include significant expenditures made by the State Department and Defense Department to find and declassify material requested by the committee or the expense of witness travel for those who work for the government.

While exact dollar amounts spent by federal agencies are unavailable, details released about other declassification processes shed light on these costs. In March 2014 the Defense Department informed Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, they had spent “millions of dollars” and “thousands of man-hours to responding to numerous and often repetitive Congressional requests regarding Benghazi.” Currently the State Department has 12 full-time staff members paid between $63,700 and $150,000 reviewing Hillary Clinton’s emails “a process that could cost more than $1 million” according to the National Journal. The total cost for these document queries could run well into the eight figures. For example, the IRS spent $14 million responding to Congressional investigations into accusations it politicized the tax-exemption application process.

The Benghazi Select Committee has little to show for the significant expenditure—aside from a trail of unfulfilled promises by its Chairman. “We will have hearings in January, February and March,” Rep. Gowdy (R-SC) announced in December.

That never happened.

The committee held a single hearing in January, focused on berating State Department legislative liaison Joel Rubin about the production of documents. CIA representative Neil Higgins escaped with a mild talking to.

Two days after his December announcement, Rep. Gowdy told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren the committee would hold a hearing in January to explore why the State Department was in Benghazi. That hearing never occurred.

In February, Rep. Gowdy sent a letter to the committee’s ranking Democratic member Elijah Cummings (D-Md) informing him that “beginning as early as April I intend to start interviewing” a list of twenty prominent members of the Obama administration including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Clinton State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills among others.

According to a Democrat committee staff member, “The committee has yet to interview a single person on Gowdy’s list.”

In April, Gowdy again appeared on Van Susteren’s show claiming, “we’re doing four witness interviews a week, whereas we were doing two.”

A Democratic committee, who requested anonymity, aide told the Observer, “The Select Committee has never done four interviews a week.”

Rep. Gowdy now states the committee will continue its work into 2016 raising its cost to taxpayers to more than $6,000,000, casting his inaction as the result of the Obama administration’s slow pace at producing requested documents, a questionable premise. Rep. Gowdy began receiving documents in August. The committee did not make its first request to the State Department until mid-November, six months after beginning its work. His document request to the Department of Defense was only delivered in early April of this year.

Rep. Gowdy has proceeded in a similar vein while attempting to schedule Hillary Clinton’s appearance before the committee. In early September Stop Hillary PAC, which was “created for one reason only—to ensure Hillary Clinton never becomes President of the United States,” delivered a petition with 264,000 signatures demanding Gowdy call the Secretary of State to testify.

The next day, he asked Rep. Cummings to reach out to Ms. Clinton on his “behalf to determine whether she would testify.” On a November 12 phone call with majority and minority committee staff, Clinton’s team confirmed she would be willing to testify before the committee in December. Rep. Gowdy recently moved the goal posts, asking she appear for a private transcribed interview, as opposed to a public hearing.

Recently, the committee has shifted some of its focus from investigating the actual attack in Benghazi, to reviewing policy decisions made by Hillary Clinton regarding Libya more than nineteen months prior to the attack. Rep. Gowdy, confirmed this to Politico, which reported that “broader problems with the Obama administration’s Libya policy—could prove to be an ugly albatross weighing on the Clinton campaign.”

Rep. Cummings believes these efforts are part of “a fishing expedition for anything they can use against Secretary Clinton in her presidential campaign.” He continued, “After a full year, it now seems obvious that this investigation is being dragged out in order to attack Secretary Clinton and her campaign for president—squandering millions of taxpayer dollars in the process.”

In May of 2014 it was reported that Republicans worried that if they created a Benghazi Select Committee it would fail to produce tangible results. “Investigate and find nothing new, and the committee looks like a bunch of tin-hatted obsessives,” wrote Eli Lake. One House member told Lake, “This could be a rabbit hole.”

It has turned out to be an extremely deep one.

 

By: Ari Rabin-Havt, Featured Post, The National Memo, June 18, 2015; This piece originally appeared in The New York Observer

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The More Things Change…”: The Charleston Massacre And The Cunning Of White Supremacy

According to Matt Ford at The Atlantic, the Charleston, South Carolina, church where a white gunman murdered nine people was

The oldest black church south of Baltimore, and one of the most storied black congregations in the United States, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church’s history is deeply intertwined with the history of African American life in Charleston. Among the congregation’s founders was Denmark Vesey, a former slave who was executed in 1822 for attempting to organize a massive slave revolt in antebellum South Carolina. White South Carolinians burned the church to the ground in response to the thwarted uprising; along with other black churches, it was shuttered by the city in 1834. The church reorganized in 1865, and soon acquired a new building designed by Robert Vesey, Denmark’s son; the current building was constructed in 1891. It has continued to play a leading role in the struggle for civil rights.

Denmark Vesey is one of the most prominent names in America’s long history of racial terror. And the killer didn’t choose just Vesey’s church but his anniversary. Based on fragmentary evidence, white Charlestonians in 1822 came to believe that Vesey’s revolt “would begin at the stroke of midnight as Sunday, June 16, turned to Monday, June 17.” And they identified Vesey’s church as the center of the conspiracy.

White militia began to arrest both freemen and slaves, 10 that weekend, and many more in the days that followed. Vesey, a freeman, was captured on June 22. It’s not just the executors of the “war on terror” who have used euphemisms to describe torture. A Charleston official referred to the interrogations the captured men were subject to like this: “No means which experience or ingenuity could devise were left unessayed to eviscerate the plot.”

Then, after a quick trial and guilty verdict, Vesey and five others were hung on July 2. More arrests were made, and more executions followed, 35 in total, often in front of immense crowds.

Here’s the historian Ira Berlin, summing up what is known of Vesey’s life:

It is a story well worth the telling. One of millions of young Africans sold into the Atlantic slave marts in the 18th century, the young Telemaque—later transmuted into Denmark—was plucked from a cargo of some 400 slaves by Captain Vesey, who was taken by his ”beauty, alertness and intelligence.” Vesey assigned the lad to his cabin, taught him to read and write, and allowed him to learn a trade—and much else.… The Veseys, both the captain and his slave, eventually alighted in the city of Charleston, mainland North America’s largest slave port. There, Captain Vesey retired to a comfortable respectability, supported in part by the earnings of his slave, who was permitted to hire himself out on his own.… While Denmark Vesey crossed the line from slavery to freedom, he did not…affiliate with Charleston’s growing community of free people of color. These artisans and tradesmen, with light skins that betrayed their mixed racial origins, aspired to the privileges of the master class, whose deportment, speech and values—including slave ownership—they emulated. Rather than being satisfied with a pale imitation of freedom, Vesey became increasingly discontented. In the back alley groggeries and weekly Bible classes, he denounced slavery as criminal usurpation, citing the Scriptures, the Declaration of Independence and even Congressional debates. He sneered at those who accepted bondage and deferred to whites, declaring that they deserved to be slaves. The angry old man awed even those he did not intimidate. Vesey believed slavery would only end with fire, and understood that a successful insurrection rested upon uniting the fragmented black population. While he may have dismissed the assimilationist-minded free people of color, he believed the other elements of the black community could be brought together. To those taken with Christianity, he quoted the Bible. To those mindful of power, he spoke of armies of Haitian soldiers in waiting. To those fearful of the spirit world, he enlisted one Jack Pritchard—universally known as Gullah Jack—a wizened, bewhiskered conjurer whose knowledge of African religious practices made him a welcome figure on the plantations that surrounded Charleston. And while he drew followers from the slave quarter and the artisans’ shops, he also enlisted from the master’s household, recruiting even the personal servant of South Carolina’s governor. Vesey coaxed and cajoled, implored and exhorted, flattered and bullied until his scheme was in place.

Berlin writes that “while slaveholders sent Denmark Vesey to the gallows and committed him to an unmarked grave, they failed to consign him to historical oblivion.… Former slaves preserved his memory, even as former slaveholders denied it. Today it seems clear that Denmark Vesey will not remain buried much longer.”

Maybe others remembered him as well, though it might just be a coincidence that “the clean-shaven white man about 21 years old with sandy blond hair and wearing a gray sweatshirt, bluejeans and Timberland boots” chose the anniversary of Vesey’s preempted revolt to massacre nine members of the congregation Vesey founded.

Or maybe history, along with white supremacy, is just cunning that way.

 

By: Greg Gandin, The Nation, June 18, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Charleston SC Shootings, Emanuel AME Church, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A History Lesson We Adamantly Refuse To Learn”: Our Racist History Isn’t Back To Haunt Us. It Never Left Us

When, on Wednesday night, a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Roof entered the Charleston church founded by former slave Denmark Vesey on the anniversary of Vesey’s planned 1822 slave rebellion and shot and killed nine people, he provided the United States with the latest installment of a history lesson we adamantly refuse to learn: that our racist past is not past. It is present. It is unending. It is, in many ways that we seem congenitally unable to acknowledge, fundamentally unchanged.

In recent years, especially the years during which Barack Obama has occupied the White House, there have been many valuable meditations on the ways in which American policy structures that were shaped in and informed by the slave-holding and Jim Crow chapters of our nation’s story, continue to define today’s racial power imbalances. There’s been history, analysis, and contemporary commentary: Michelle Alexander’s indispensible The New Jim Crow, about our prison and legal systems; Isabel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns, about the Great Migration; Tom Sugrue’s books on integration and racism in northern cities and on housing policy in Detroit. At the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates has produced a body of work—culminating (for now) with his Case for Reparations—showing how we have gotten from “there” to “here,” contemporary America, with its persistently unequal scales of opportunity. Throughout our history, racism has indeed found fresh manifestations: from real estate restrictions and usurious interest rates to physical segregation to job discrimination to stop and frisk and police brutality.

There is usually the sense, however, that at least we’re changing, at least we’re moving in some direction, away from the where we started. Except on days like today, when the reminder is that we have not moved one bit.

In addition to new forms of subjugation and prejudice, we live in a country in which racist violence exists in precisely the same forms it always has—unabated, unreconstructed. We are not distant from the crimes and inhumanities and hatred of the past. We are still acting them out and still refusing to accept them for what they are: this country’s original and defining sin.

What happened on Wednesday night is violence enacted on different individuals than the violence enacted on four little girls who were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, but it is a crime with the same shape and contours, a crime that leaves innocent people dead in their place of worship because of their race.

Too often, we look at iconic images of our racist past with a kind of antiqued horror. We recall with horror, if we’re old enough, how police turned dogs on innocent people. If we are younger, we suck in our breath and shake our heads with disbelief as we try to fathom a world inhabited by our parents, our grandparents, in which a city official, Bull Connor, ordered the use of fire hoses on peaceful protesters. But we also know that Bull Connor is long dead, a comfortable relic. We can just barely imagine that this happened to John Lewis. Lewis is now a long-serving congressman; his past is crucial, moving, but remote. That was then, look at him now.

But this—a white policeman shoving a 14-year-old girl’s face to the ground, stepping on her, kneeling on her at a pool party in McKinney, Texas—is also now. It’s this month. This, in Fairfield, Ohio, is not simply an altercation “between police and teens” as the caption says, but between a white police and black teens who scream in terror and anger. It is also this month, also at a community pool. Community pools, a locus for racial conflict. Does that sound distant? Or does it sound contemporary?

It is contemporary.

When we think of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy murdered in Mississippi in 1963 after reportedly speaking to a white woman, we recall his open casket. His mother insisted on it, because she wanted the world to see the brutality that had been visited on her son because of the color of his skin. Look at this picture, printed on pages yellowed by all the years that have come between his death and today. Those years have made him famous; we take some cold comfort in the fact that though Till was robbed of the opportunity to love and thrive and work and change the world in life; his death profoundly altered it, kicking off the cycle of social progress that has brought us here, a world away from Money, Mississippi, 1955.

Now look at this image, of Frederick Jermaine Carter, a 26-year-old black man found hanging from a tree in a white suburb in Greenwood, Mississippi. It was taken ten miles south and 55 years after Emmett Till was killed. Carter died in 2010.

Yes, southern (and northern) trees still bear strange fruit. In March of this year, Otis Byrd, a man who had served time for killing a white woman, was found hanging from a tree in Claiborne County, Mississippi. (A special investigation ruled that there was no evidence proving his death a homicide.) Less than a year ago, the body of 17-year-old Lennon Lacey—a young man in a relationship with a white woman—was found hanging from a swing-set in Bladenboro, North Carolina. His death was immediately ruled a suicide, despite a series of inconsistencies and a report from an independent examiner suggesting that given his height and weight, a self-hanging would have been impossible. This death recalled the 2000 hanging of Raynard Johnson from a pecan tree in Kokomo, Mississippi. Johnson, like Lacey, had been dating, and been harassed for dating, a white woman, and his death—on June 16, in advance of a local Juneteenth celebration—was promptly ruled a suicide.

There’s no way to know for sure whether these deaths were lynchings or suicides, but what they are not are echoes of some distant past. They are original sounds. They are simply later chapters in the story of Emmett Till and countless, less well known others. They are a story of violent white resistance to the perceived incursion of blackness on bodies—on women’s bodies and on the nation. These bodies are not just presumed to be white, but presumed to belong to white men, a dynamic made crystal clear by Dylann Roof’s reported locution, during his Wednesday murder spree: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

We can try to comfort ourselves, as a local news anchor tried earlier this year, by assuring viewers that the cross found burning on the front lawn of a black woman in Elizabethville, Pennsylvania, was “not like those huge crosses from the old days.”

But these are the old days. In February, a Tennessee man and member of a church affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan was fined and sentenced to jail for burning a cross in the yard of a black man in Minor Hill, Tennessee. In 2014 in White River Township, Indiana, a black man was awakened in the middle of the night to find a three-foot cross burning on his front lawn. This is today.

This is Eric Garner, being killed by cops. This is Walter Scott, being shot in the back and killed by a police man. This is Freddie Gray, howling with pain after having had his body broken by police, a week before his death. This is Tamir Rice. He was 12 when he was shot to death, in November of last year, by police.

As Jelani Cobb wrote on Wednesday, recent incidents can “seem like gruesome boomerangs of history until we consider the more terrible idea that they are simple reflections of the present.”

It’s not just a terrible idea, it is a terrible reality. The cold reality of our country right now. We are not post-civil rights. We are not post race. We are not better than we were. We do not inhabit a world in which stray instances of violence might recall a distant and shameful history. This shame is a flood that has never abated.

 

By: Rebecca Traister, The New Republic, June 18, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Charleston SC Shootings, Domestic Terrorism, Hate Crimes | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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