Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Murder as Message

Lynching was terrorism.

Lynching was more than savage retribution against the black boy who let his eyes linger for a moment too long on the figure of a white girl. It was more than an inhuman punishment for the black man who spoke to a white man in an insufficiently deferential tone of voice. It was more than a murderous penalty for the black person who thought that having the right to vote meant he actually had the right to vote.

Lynching was the guardians of American Apartheid saying to black Americans, see that? That can happen to you. And if you dare forget your place, it will.

Lynching was murder as message.

When President Bush said the following in commemoration of Black History Month, he could not have been more right:

For decades, the noose played a central part in a campaign of violence and fear against African Americans. Fathers were dragged from their homes in the dark of the night before the eyes of their terrified children. Summary executions were held by torchlight in front of hateful crowds. In many cases, law enforcement officers responsible for protecting the victims were complicit in their deeds [sic] and their deaths. For generations of African Americans, the noose was more than a tool of murder; it was a tool of intimidation that conveyed a sense of powerlessness to millions.

The era of rampant lynching is a shameful chapter in American history. The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice. Displaying one is not a harmless prank. And lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest. As a civil society, we must understand that noose displays and lynching jokes are deeply offensive. They are wrong. And they have no place in America today.
This is the line that Bull O'Reilly crossed when he raised the specter of lynching against a black woman who expressed a sentiment with which he disagreed.

Consider what O'Reilly said.

And I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that's how she really feels -- that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever -- then that's legit. We'll track it down.

He doesn't want to "go on a lynching party against" the black wife of a black man who is the odds-on favorite to become the next president... unless.

Unless she really does believe something that O'Reilly finds disagreeable. Then, he will want to go on a lynching party, even if only a metaphorical one.

Message to Michelle Obama: Don't forget your place.

Message to the rest of us: It can happen to you, too.

Bull O'Reilly's employers have an obligation to speak up. Do they, or do they not approve of this kind of terrorism committed by one of their biggest stars? If they say nothing, it is all the answer we need.