Our pledge drive is doing okay. We can do much better. If you enjoy the type of hard hitting and direct commentary that you read on We Are Respectable Negroes, do please throw some change in the virtual tip jar during our holiday fundraiser.
It is common to read online that young black people such as Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin were "lynched":
As an alternative, I would argue that they were murdered. Both were subject to random violence that may very well have been motivated by racial animus. It is also likely that Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin would both be alive today if not for the careless actions of wannabe vigilantes and thugs with too ready and easy access to guns.
However, neither of those young men were the victims of a "lynching." I will tread carefully here, because the subject matter is quite (correctly) very sensitive given how the shadow of racialized violence hangs over--quite literally--the heads of people of color, and black Americans even into the 21st century.
Language has power. Because of its power, we should take great care to use it with a specific meaning and intent. When we use language casually and imprecisely, especially words that evoke the imagery of many thousands of black men, women, and children hanging from trees, burned alive, bodies brutalized, postcards made from their pictures, and souvenirs cut from them by blood thirsty white mobs, there is a risk of a loss of meaning, and a betrayal of the specific historical circumstances that African-Americans suffered through (and triumphed over) during the centuries-long great Black Freedom Struggle.
The ritualistic killing of thousands of black people in the United States for more than one hundred years from the end of slavery, until at least the middle of the 20th century, was unique to this country. While racial violence was certainly not unknown elsewhere, the idea of "spectacular lynchings" where thousands of white people would attend the mass murder of black people for sport, pleasure, and in pursuit of an almost religious and mystical type of catharsis where the "offending" black body was destroyed in the white body politics, was a special fixture of Jim and Jane Crow America.
In South Africa, with its Apartheid system for example, even that barbarous White herrenvolk society did not feature the types of ritualistic racial murder common to the United States. It would seem that American Exceptionalism is true in some regards; it is not true in many others.
[What would the "real America" types say about that observation. I wonder?]
Lynching in the United States was ultimately a type of political violence that was designed to demobilize black people in the aftermath of Reconstruction and the end of slavery. The rise of the KKK and the mob violence of Jim and Jane Crow were a type of racial terrorism that worked to keep black labor firmly fixed to the land, maintain convict lease labor and share cropping systems, to deter migration, and ultimately to make sure that African Americans remained a type of rural peasantry subject to white rule (this was also true in regards to the Southwest and Texas where Latinos and Hispanics were the primary targets of lynchings by whites).
Lynching was also a way of reasserting that black people were anti-citizens, not fit to vote, the virtual property of white capitalists and elites, and who should not become upwardly mobile. As such, black soldiers in uniform were a particularly fond target of violence by white hordes. These white murderers could not accept the idea of racial equality with non-whites for fear that the latter would somehow earn their full rights and full membership in the American polity.
The NAACP and other organizations identified and responded to lynching violence in an organized way, and with such righteous fervor, precisely because it was a type of political violence that served the purposes and goals of day-to-day white supremacy.
By comparison, I would suggest that the measured response to the murder of Jordan Davis, and to a lesser degree Trayvon Martin, is a function of the fact that black leadership is in an odd, and almost paradoxical position, in this moment.
The game has changed. There is a black man who is President. The regime of Jim and Jane Crow was vanquished decades ago. Black politics is facing obsolescence. Do you ring the alarm bells using the same language that you did decades ago? But, what to do about violence that is (perhaps) racially motivated? And how does black on black violence complicate any such appeals?
We are still working through that puzzle.
Michael Dunn's murder of Jordan Davis, as well as the vigilante hunting and killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman (a "Hispanic" who is overly identified with Whiteness and White Authority) are both rooted in a deep contempt for black people, and an implicit understanding that we can be shot dead with little impunity in this country. Black on black street violence is fueled by the drug trade, poverty, and social disorganization in many communities. I would also suggest that black on black violence is a sign of internalized white racism where some people of color devalue themselves and others like them: thus, our lives are made to be less worthy, and violence against each other made more likely.
It too is rooted in a dual sense that black life is cheap, and that black people can be killed with little consequences. Old school racism, what fueled the lynching tree, is still present through echoes and fitful moments today. Do not make the mistake of overlooking that fact.
There is a political element to the crimes of Dunn and Zimmerman; but, the politics are likely more symbolic and implicit--I doubt that either Zimmerman or Dunn were meditating on questions of black agency and freedom when they felt entitled by their Whiteness to shoot dead two innocent African-American youth.
Murder rarely, if ever, takes the form of a lynching in post civil rights Age of Obama America.
Racially coloured and infused murder is not necessarily lynching either. When we play games with language, there is the risk of cheapening our ancestors' memories by misunderstanding the nature of white supremacy (and racial violence) in post-civil rights era America. The other danger is one where black folks and others minimize our triumph over Jim and Jane Crow, and formal white supremacy, by an appeal back to a very specific enemy that we defeated in battle decades ago.
Thus, some real talk.
Do some of black and brown folks amplify the political stakes of the sad and unnecessary murders of young men like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis because we want to imagine ourselves in some great and titanic racial struggle against white racism? The post civil rights generation did not have the lynching tree or the Red Summers of post World War One America to contend with. Are they spoiling for a clear fight that they can use to define themselves...and as such, overlooking many of their own victories?
This "inconvenience" of history does not remove a generation's desire for a great struggle to define itself against. Would this generation have had the honor, strength, and personal steel to fight back against the naked discrimination of the State and its agents in the Klan, the local police, militias, and at the time, the U.S. military? I wonder. Or would they have rolled over and surrendered?
Moreover, does this lead to a borrowing from the wickedness of Jim and Jane Crow as a means of framing colorblind racism because institutional racism, metaracism, racial neoliberalism. and conservative colorblindness, are chimeras and stealthy ninjas that are relatively immune from direct confrontation?
Thus, I must ask: are black activists and their allies fighting the last war? Is this why their appeals and tactics have minimal (if any) currency in the present? And where does that leave rank and file people of color?