This article is dedicated to the memory of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille, Eric Garner, James Byrd Jr, Trayvon Martin and countless nameless, voiceless, souls… YOU MATTER….”
“Let Justice Roll Down Like Water & Righteousness Like A Mighty Stream.”
Stamped From The Beginning:
More than 4000 Americans were lynched in the United States from 1877 to 1950. These lynchings were public acts of terrorism intended to instill fear, frustration, and immobilization among people of color. For centuries, government officials turned a blind-eye to the outcry of Black voices – until rioting became the voice of the UNHEARD.
The book “Stamped from the Beginning,” by Ibram Y. Kendi. chronicles the history of racist ideologies, from their origins in 15th-century Europe, through colonial times when early British settlers carried these ideologies to America, all the way to their emergence in the United States and persistence into 21st century.
This book is a must read if you want to grasp a deeper understanding of the racial wounds that plague society. During the period between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. These lynchings were terrorism. “Terror lynchings” peaked between 1880 and 1940 and claimed the lives of African American men, women, and children who were forced to endure the fear, humiliation, and barbarity of this widespread phenomenon unaided.
Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Lynching created a fearful environment where racial subordination and segregation was maintained with limited resistance for decades.
Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America. The administration of criminal justice in particular is tangled with the history of lynching in profound and important ways that continue to contaminate the integrity and fairness of the justice system.
Until this day, lynching is used as a means of popular justice. Year after year black men are nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by the police. We must have conversations to confront the injustice, inequality, anguish, and suffering that racial terror and violence created. The history of terror lynching complicates contemporary issues of race, punishment, crime, and justice.”
Mass incarceration, excessive penal punishment, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color reveal problems in American society that were framed in the terror era. The narrative of racial difference that lynching dramatized continues to haunt us. Avoiding honest conversation about this history has undermined our ability to build a nation where racial justice can be achieved.
In America, there is a legacy of racial inequality shaped by the enslavement of millions of black people. The era of slavery was followed by decades of terrorism and racial subordination most dramatically evidenced by lynching. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s challenged the legality of many of the most racist practices and structures that sustained racial subordination but the movement was not followed by a continued commitment to truth and justice.
Consequently, this legacy of racial inequality has persisted, leaving us vulnerable to a range of problems that continue to reveal racial disparities and injustice. I believe it is essential that we begin to discuss our history of racial injustice more soberly and to understand the implications of our past in addressing the challenges of the present.
“Stamped from the Beginning” shows that the principal function of racist ideas in American history has been to suppress resistance to racial discrimination and its resulting racial disparities. The beneficiaries of slavery, segregation and mass incarceration have produced racist ideas of black people being best suited for or deserving of the confines of slavery, segregation or the jail cell. Consumers of these racist ideas have been led to believe there is something wrong with black people, and not the policies that have enslaved, oppressed and confined so many black people.
Americans have been trying to explain the existence and persistence of racial inequities. Racist ideas considering racial inequality to be normal due to black pathology have locked heads with anti-racist ideas that consider racial inequality to be abnormal and the effect of racial discrimination. Anti-racist ideas have called for the justice of equity, while racist ideas have called for the law and order of inequality.
Racial unity is impossible when racial inequalities are created and maintained by policies that normalized our racial divisions and inequities.