I’m skipping ahead in the timeline to the roughly 4,000 racial terror lynchings of black people that occurred all over the US between 1877 and 1950. Most of these happened in the American South, but not all.
Lynchings are still very much in our cultural shadow. And it’s something that most people squirm away from and close their eyes. Time to shine a light.
The Unacknowledged History
Black men, women and children were terrorized and publicly tortured in the US. The lynchings were terror tactics, hate crimes, enforcement of Jim Crow laws and a tactic used to control and frighten a populace.
The white supremacist’s symbol of a noose is meant to hearken back to those days, in case you’ve wondered. Oh, and they still do it secretively to this day. And nooses appear in horrible places and spark terrible things to this day.
For their statistics, the NAACP counts a “lynching” in their reports as resulting in the death of the victim, performed by three or more people, and accompanied by a newspaper report.
Let that sink in for a moment. How many lynchings didn’t result in the death of the victim – just the torture, degradation, terrorism and maiming? How many lynchings didn’t merit a write up in the local paper?
The senate apologized in 2005 for not proposing anti-lynching laws earlier. Two Thousand and Five. 105 years after the first anti-lynching bill was proposed. This alone points to how deeply this aspect of American history is buried in the public consciousness. It doesn’t need a law if we are collectively in denial about it.
Surprise! It’s Fate!
Black Lives Matter.
It’s hard not to resort to hyperbole when it comes to the fact that the black lives matter movement is a reaction to the unacknowledged history of lynchings. Of slavery. Of Jim Crow. Of racial violence in the US.
Here is a really excellent piece on the statistics of the movement. In case you don’t feel like clicking, here’s the key take away:
… 1,502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty police officers since Jan. 1, 2015. Of them, 732 were white, and 381 were black (and 382 were of another or unknown race).
But as data scientists and policing experts often note, comparing how many or how often white people are killed by police to how many or how often black people are killed by the police is statistically dubious unless you first adjust for population.
According to the most recent census data, there are nearly 160 million more white people in America than there are black people. White people make up roughly 62 percent of the U.S. population but only about 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers. African Americans, however, account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population. As The Post noted in a new analysis published last week, that means black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.
If you’re interested in more slices and statistics of this data, this is another good source.
Honestly, a lot of shadow work is being able to sit comfortably with uncomfortable truths. To sit in the “and” and not give in to more comfortable “or” kinds of thinking.
I honor and respect the police and the very hard job that they do. And I know there is a cultural bias in the system and in the hearts and minds of people in this country against black people.
I know too many mothers of black boys who are afraid for their sons lives. I know too many black boys who are straight-A students who might be seen as “threatening” or “frightening” because they are tall, or because they are athletes, or because they are walking down a sidewalk in a different neighborhood.
A How-To Guide to Healing the Shadow
The reason I chose to bump this one up in the schedule, and not do it according to the historical timeline is this: There is a movement underway to help the nation heal from its history of Lynchings.
Real monuments. Local signposts. Heartfelt honest tributes to people who have died. National regret. This is cultural shadow work and cultural shadow healing at its finest. How can we do more of this?
Empathy time! This is a cultural shadow of targeted racial violence – acts of public torture that were tolerated by authorities though the 20th century. This is not ancient history. There are people alive today who have memories of these events.
If you are white, how might you learn more about how this history makes other people feel? How can you listen to their experiences without judgement? How can you hold their experiences and their reality to help heal it?