Why is this article from The Atlantic posted here? Because although 74% of Americans think the criminal justice system is not racist, many know that the truth is that it is deeply racist. Just read articles in the “race” tab on this website.
Caution: extreme brutality described.
Excerpts from the Article:
Broad swaths of the American public repudiated the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville and President Trump’s response to them. But even in their condemnations, many officials asserted that the hate-filled demonstration and racist violence was un-American. “This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for,” tweeted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. “The hate being spewed in Virginia is … deeply disturbing and un-American,” wrote Colorado Senator Cory Gardner. The hashtag #ThisIsNotUs trended on Twitter.
But America is a country in which racially motivated white-on-black violent crime forms a clear, unbroken pattern across every generation. Slaves arrived in America through violent crime, and whites have used violence ever since to maintain the racial hierarchy of white supremacy. And yet many Americans of good will honestly, if erroneously, believe that what happened in Charlottesville is “not us.” How can this be? Answering this question demands a look back at some of the most significant patterns of white-on-black violence in American history to identify the precise ways in which that violence was justified, forgotten, or defined as something other than the racist terror that it was.
American chattel slavery—in which blacks were bought, sold, worked, and bred for profit—was created and maintained through violence that was at once brutal and routine. Presenting himself as a benevolent master, James H. Hammond, a U.S. senator and operator of two plantations, laid out a schedule of offenses for his overseers, recommending that punishments “not exceed a hundred lashes in one day.” Slave-owners concocted racist myths to justify their brutality. Blacks have higher tolerance for pain than whites (so beatings that might seem harsh really weren’t); blacks don’t care about their children (so it wasn’t really all that cruel to steal babies from their mothers and fathers and sell them); blacks are lazy and indolent (so they must be beaten).
The demise of slavery did not lead to a decline in white-on-black violence—it merely changed forms. Most notoriously, whites lynched blacks; looking just at white-on-black lynchings for the purpose of racial control, the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative documented 4,075 lynchings between 1877, when Reconstruction ended, and 1950. Lynchings were even more savage and sadistic than most people imagine. In 1899, a white mob lynched Sam Hose, torturing him for half an hour before finally killing him. Members of the lynch mob cut off Hose’s ears and fingers one by one before castrating him. Then three men doused him in kerosene and burned him alive. In a 1934 lynching in Birmingham, Alabama, the victim, Claude Neal, was forced to castrate himself and eat his own penis and testicles. The white mob repeatedly stabbed him and burned him with red-hot irons. They hanged him by the neck over a tree limb until he almost choked to death, then let him down at the last minute; this was repeated several times before Neal died.
Such depravity required justification. This time, accusations of black criminality would do the trick. In most lynchings, the victim was accused of rape, murder, or both. Hose was accused of killing his employer, Alfred Cranford, and raping Cranford’s wife, Mattie. Neal was alleged to have raped and murdered nineteen-year-old Lola Cannady. (Whether these accusations are true is beside the point—these men were entitled to due process—but there is good reason to believe, in both cases, that the rape charge was fabricated, perhaps in an attempt to incite the community’s anger.)
Accusations of black-on-white rape were particularly effective in justifying lynching outside the South; Frederick Douglass described such accusations as “an appeal that not only stops the ears and darkens the minds of Southern men, but it palliates the crime of lawless violence in the eyes of Northern men.” The motifs of black men’s savage, uncontrollable lust and of white women’s chastity and virtue combined in a perfect storm of white fear to justify the practice of lynching generally, even when a particular lynching was not alleged to be in response to rape.
Attempts to justify racial terror have been accompanied by a national commitment to erasing it from our memory. Consider the little-known history of racial cleansing in America. Across the South and Midwest, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Elliot Jaspin has identified hundreds of counties that experienced sharp and abrupt drop-offs of their black populations. Though the historical record, as with lynching, is intentionally spotty, in many cases there is clear evidence that whites systematically and violently drove out entire black populations, dispossessing black families of their property and rendering them refugees. Patrick Phillips recounts one such expulsion in his 2016 book Blood at the Root.
Justifying and erasing hundreds of years of white-on-black violence has left many Americans ill-equipped to make sense of racist violence today.
White terrorists cleansed their communities of blacks in Forsyth County in 1912, and in Marshall County, Kentucky in 1908, and in Vermillion County, Indiana in 1923, and in Sharp County, Arkansas on Christmas Eve, 1906, to name just a few. If we recognized these crimes for what they were, it would be difficult to ignore that a pattern of racial terrorism had occurred across decades, and that later incidents of racial violence were part of that pattern. But a crime no one remembers cannot lead us to associate its perpetrators with criminality, so our concept of whiteness remains untouched by any association with violence.
We have erased the history of lynching in much the same way. The overwhelming majority of lynching sites remain unmarked and un-memorialized. The failure to mark these sites allows Americans (especially whites) to forget the atrocities.
In every generation, Americans have consistently spoken about racist violence committed by white people as justified, erased it from memory, or simply called it something else. So when self-identified white nationalists seeking to turn America into a whites-only homeland held a torchlight protest, many observers failed to make the clear connection to bands of night riders, armed and carrying torches, driving blacks out of their homes to cleanse the region of anyone not white. When gun-toting white men at a neo-Nazi rally brutally beat a black man with metal poles, Americans failed to see the connection to the violence of slavery, to whites whipping blacks into submission. When a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of anti-racist counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring nineteen others, Americans condemned it thoroughly, but failed to recognize it as a lynching, as the kind of terrorist act whites in this country have long used to maintain racial control.
This state of affairs is not inevitable; America’s relationship with its history is a collective choice. Other countries have made other choices in the wake of systematic racist violence. After the Holocaust, Germany made financial reparations to the victims, and began a decades-long project of building monuments and museums to commemorate the horrors of Nazism and the bravery of those who resisted it. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission sought to develop a shared national narrative of human rights abuses under apartheid by telling the stories of both victims and perpetrators.