I have been thinking again about anti-racist/imperial struggle and its relationship to whiteness. In particular, I am revisiting the manner in which whiteness erases much of its brutal history in contemporary terms.
I like many remain stuck at this juncture.
But I cannot forget. Because not forgetting is a form of struggle resistance that is powerful. When the memory of racism is invoked the value-free individuality of contemporary whiteness is unavoidably reduced. Remembering is an important step to linking modern racism to its roots.
It is therefore important to tell the bigger story of whiteness when confronted with its enduring excesses.
I am reminded that many whites attended lynchings in the south as a form of family and community fun. For this reason, parents would dress their kids smartly and go down to the site of a lynching. Once there they would pose next to the lynched bodies for photos. Some of the photos that have survived show children and adults laughing and eating candy close to the lynched bodies. Many of these photos ended up as postcards. Others were treasured as family mementoes.
This is a postcard picture of Jesse Washington who was lynched in Texas in 1916. Washington was taken from a court room where he was being tried for the alledged rape of a white woman. He was burned alive in from of City Hall in Waco Texas. Thereafter his remains were hung on a telephone pole. It is said that 15 000 people watched this horrible scene. This number represented half the population of Waco in 1916. See here for a more detailed discussion.
This is the back of the Jesse Washington postcard. It reads in part: "This is the barbecue we had last night ... "
This postcard captures a man who was lynched in Texas (1920). Notice the young boys with the spellbound look on their faces.
Laura Nelson was lynched in Oklahoma (1911) off the side of a bridge. Her son was lynched alongside her too.
This picture captures a framed postcard and hair from one or both of the men who were lynched (1930).
The writing on the postcard says: "Bo poitn to his nga."
This Texas postcard from 1920 reads in part: "Burning the negro who killed Jim Mitchell ..."
There are hundreds more of these postcards and they all depict a very sad reality that cannot simply be forgotten or casually acknowledged. There is a dehumanization that must be confronted. A dehumanization that whiteness created and sustained. And a dehumanization that has carried into the present under different terms but for the same racist purposes: domination and privilege.
It is instructive to note that these lynchings were not carried out as an act of the state. Though the state did not stop the lynchings, they were carried out by white communities acting as private citizens. Lynchings were thus a kind of community event where the values of whiteness and racism were made to be normal.
The indoctrination value and the inducement of fun came together seamlessly and brutally.
For more information and picture sources click here and here.
Also see this book: Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (2000).