On Tuesday, Mike Spindell wrote a post titled When We See ISIL’s Barbarity, We Forget Our Own. In his column, Mike wrote about remarks that President Obama had made at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.
President Obama was recently criticized for his speech at a prayer breakfast for stating that Christianity too has had incidents where supposedly religious people acted barbarically. Many of his critics said he was bringing up a history that was hundreds of years past and so no longer was relevant. America’s legacy of enslavement and hatred of people of color is not a relic of 400 years past, but I would argue far more current.
The same day, I wrote a post about a report on lynchings in America that the Equal Justice Institute (EJI) had recently published. EJI’s multi-year investigation looked into nearly 4,000 lynchings of African Americans that took place in this country from 1877 to 1950.
This morning, Elias Isquith of Salon posted an interview with Bryan Stevenson, the founder and director of EJI, titled America’s real racial terror: How lynch mobs & barbaric violence haunt us today. Isquith said that Salon spoke with Stevenson on the phone in order to discuss EJI’s report and “the importance of recognizing these lynchings as a form of terrorism and how the age of racial terror still influences the United States today.”
In his introductory paragraphs to Salon’s interview with Stevenson, Isquith also wrote about the remarks that President Obama made at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Earlier this month, President Obama made a remark about U.S. history that sent many members of the American far-right into a paroxysm of rage. Speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Obama said that it would be wrong to blame all Muslims or Islam itself for the cruelty and evil of ISIS, because every ideology and every religion includes people who are willing to distort their creed in order to justify oppression and brutality. “[L]est we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place,” Obama said of ISIS, “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Isquith noted that Conservatives “were outraged that the president had the audacity to compare Americans — American Christians, at that! — to the murderous zealots that comprise the paramilitary terrorist group.” He said that writers Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jamelle Bouie and others “rightly noted that Obama wasn’t merely telling the truth but was actually soft-pedaling the historical record.” Isquith added, “The truth is, Americans not only have a long history of supporting white supremacy with pseudo-Christian arguments; they also have a history of enacting violence on the bodies of their fellow citizens that was every bit as heinous as what ISIS has done to people throughout Syria and Iraq. And essentially for the same purposes, too.”
Excerpt from America’s real racial terror: How lynch mobs & barbaric violence haunt us today:
The use of the word “terror” to describe these crimes, was that done consciously? If so, why do you think it’s important for us to use that word and see these acts of violence through that lens?
I heard from older people of color in the South over the last 10 years who have complained to me that they get angry and upset when they hear TV commentators and news analysts talking about how, after the 9/11 attacks, America is dealing with terrorism for the first time in [the] its history. What these older people of color will say is, Mr. Stevenson, we grew up with terrorism. We were menaced and threatened and lynched and traumatized every day of our lives. And it is injurious to us to not have that recognized by these casual comments. So our use of the word “terror” was definitely intentional.
There is a narrative about America’s racial history that we have not acknowledged, that we have not confronted. We have been burdened by continuing problems with race relations and racial equality because we have not understood the narratives in the way that I think we should. It actually begins with slavery; I think even the way we talk about slavery has been superficial. I don’t think the evil of slavery was involuntary servitude. To me the great evil of slavery was this narrative of racial difference, this ideology of white supremacy, that black people weren’t fully human, that they had deficits and deficiencies that meant that it was okay, that it was moral and just, to enslave them.
That narrative that was the true evil of slavery wasn’t addressed by the Thirteenth Amendment; it wasn’t addressed by the Emancipation Proclamation. As a result, slavery didn’t end at the end of the Civil War; it just evolved. It set up an era where white people in the South felt that they had to enforce racial hierarchy in all things. So the lynchings of African-Americans during this period of time were not just simple punishments for individuals accused of crimes. It was a statement to the entire African-American community that they must remain compliant to Jim Crow segregation; no voting rights, economic exploitation and racial hierarchy.
That’s what terrorism is about. It’s about effectuating social, political and economic conditions through menace, through violence, through terror. And that’s what we saw in the Deep South during this era of lynching…
Stevenson also talked about “public-spectacle lynchings.” He noted how local newspapers “would advertise the time and date and location of the lynching the day before, or hours before.” He said he thought it was “astonishing” to think about an “entire town coming out to watch someone burned to death or mutilated or shot hundreds of times, or dragged through the streets. To see this kind of barbarism celebrated, the idea that people would take their children to ‘enjoy’ the spectacle of this violence, says something really astonishing about the cultural attitudes that made lynching such a widespread phenomenon with so little resistance.”
Click here to read Salon’s interview with Bryan Stevenson.
When We See ISIL’s Barbarity, We Forget Our Own (Flowers for Socrates)