Thursday, December 04, 2003

A Lynching in Minnesotata

One of many reasons I can't stomach Clarence Thomas is that he trivialized the word lynching. During his confirmation hearing he whined and complained about a "high tech lynching." From that day to this every black person with a gripe has complained about being lynched.

In Duluth, Minnesota in 1920 three young black men accused of assaulting a white woman were dragged from jail and hung from a lamp post. A crowd of 10,000 watched. That is a lynching, not Michael Jackson being arrested, not black conservative judges being denied confirmation. Now as they say, everyone has gotten in on the act. White conservatives are now calling their black colleagues lynching victims.

I wish Americans did want to talk about lynchings. A monument to the Duluth, Minnesota lynching victims has recently been erected and everyone is not happy about it. In the Times article I linked to above, one citizen opines that, ". . . those men wouldn't have been killed if they hadn't done nothing, would they?"

From the end of the Civil War until the 1950s the lynching of more than 3,400 black men, women and children were documented. Victims who were hanged were the luckiest. Some were mutilated, burned alive and castrated. Lynchings were announced in the newspaper and drew thousands of onlookers.

The shame of lynching still haunts this nation. I am often amused when Americans criticize Germans for not acknowledging the Jewish holocaust or the Japanese who won't apologize for the rape of Nanking, China. Americans are no better at owning up to the many wrongs committed in this country.

How many of us are really ready to talk about lynching? White people are in denial or ashamed, black people often find the subject too painful or ignore it out of fear. If we talk about lynching we have to talk about how white supremacy still oppresses us. We have to talk about living with the anger that arises when we acknowledge our past.

I for one am more than ready to talk about lynching and the other chapters in the often sordid history of America. But if all we want to do is engender sympathy or score political points we need to come up with a different word.