White America’s Dirty Secret: The Fear of Black Manhood and Why We Lynch “Bad Niggers”

A doormat out from of the SNAFU Bar near Bagnell Dam in Lake Ozark (KOMU screengrab).
In slave times the Negro was kept subservient and submissive by the frequency and severity of the scourging, but, with freedom, a new system of intimidation came into vogue; the Negro was not only whipped and scourged; he was killed.
~ Ida B. Wells

Free Africans to Captive Slaves

If you want to understand the Black man’s current condition in the west, you must start with the circumstances under which he crossed the Atlantic. Imagine for a second, living a life of fulfillment, happiness, and material abundance, and without warning everything you have is stripped away. This is the position in which the African found himself, stowed away as human cargo, headed for America. Knowing the vast wealth that was stolen, European slavers went through great lengths to ensure the African would accept his new reality. Rather than accepting the yolk of bondage, recorded history shows that Africans resisted their enslavement through every step of the process. There are numerous accounts of African women throwing their children overboard during the middle passage, as well as violent uprisings where entire crews were slaughtered, as African men and women collectively fought for their freedom. In fact, the very first captives to arrive on the shores of North America, immediately revolted by murdering their captors, and freeing themselves from captivity (1526, Modern day South Carolina).

Given the enormity of their crimes, physical chains weren’t enough to grant slavers the assurance of safety. In order to exert their dominance, sodomy, cannibalism, and a range of other psychotraumatic injuries were inflicted on the captive Africans to maintain control. European barbarism became the glue that held the slave system together, and laid the foundation for the social order of global white supremacy. In Robert Harms — The Diligent — A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade, he lays bare the acts of moral turpitude that were commonplace throughout the American Slave regime.

There were rumors circulating among white slave traders about a grisly incident that took place in 1724 on an English slave ship commanded by Captain John Harding. Believing that the slaves onboard his ship were plotting a revolt, Harding ordered the arrest of the man whom he believed to be the ringleader. In front of the other captives, the man’s throat was slit and his heart and liver were cut out. Then Captain Harding ordered the bloody heart and liver to be cut into three hundred pieces, and he forced each of the horrified captives to eat a piece by threatening to do the same thing to them if they refused.

The European project of reducing Free Africans to Captive Slaves relied heavily upon the types of physical, and psychological attacks detailed in the aforementioned text. Black men were viewed as the most severe threat to white rule, and as such, the deconstruction of Black manhood was necessary to uphold the system. The Black male was reduced to a human mule, at which point — the promise of life became his carrot, and the threat of death, his proverbial stick.

“The Captive Slave” ; painted by the artist John Simpson in 1827

As noted in the opening chapter of Ida. B Wells’s, The Red Record, it was to the interest of the slave maker to “dwarf the soul and preserve the body”. Such a policy robbed the Black man of his human essence, replacing his unencumbered African spirit with a newly created “American” one. Chattel slavery underdeveloped Black men to the point of puerility. Having his mind radically altered, and his manhood stripped away, the captive slave existed in a Peelean ‘Sunken Place’, of which he’s yet to escape.

The Emasculated Black Male

In Stanley Elkin’s 1959 book, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life, he argues, “every African who became a slave underwent an experience whose crude psychic impact superseded anything that had ever previously happened to him.” As a result of this psychological trauma, Stanley argues that the true African identity was compromised, and the ‘slave personality’ was created as a mechanism to survive the slave experience.

White plantation-owners developed typecasts of these personalities, through which they viewed their captive slaves. Nat (i.e. Inspired by the Nat Turner rebellion), the Conjurer, the Trickster, and the Buck are just a small sampling of stereotypes ascribed to black men. However, Sambo was the most universally adopted view held by slave owners, in relation to their male slaves. Elkins dedicates a full section of his book to Slavery and Personality. In this section, he describes the Sambo character as follows:

Sambo, the typical plantation slave, was docile but irresponsible, loyal but lazy, humble but chronically given to lying and stealing; his behavior full of infantile silliness and his talk inflated with childish exaggeration. His relationship with his master was one of utter dependence and childlike attachment: indeed it was the very key to his being. Although the merest hint of Sambo’s ‘manhood’ might fill the Southern breast with scorn, the child, ‘in his place,’ could be both exasperating and lovable… Of all the roles in American life that of Sambo was by far the most pervasive…The sanctions against overstepping it were bleak enough, but the rewards — the sweet applause, as it were, for performing it with sincerity and feeling — were something to be appreciated on quite another level.

The key to understanding the Sambo personality type, is to understand that it is a role that white domination forces Black men to play for survival. As stated in the above text, the slightest hint of Sambo’s manhood, was met with brute force to remind him of his place in society. Sambo is the Black man’s face of cooperative submission. His role is to assure the dominant society that he isn’t a threat to their dominance, and that he has no desire to challenge the prevailing social order. The 19th century poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, captures him well with the opening lines of his famed poem, We Wear the Mask:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, —
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile…

What’s important to understand is that the mask is a lie. Sambo’s outward expression of child-like deference to white rule, is his only means of disarmament under white subjugation . Dr. Tommy J. Curry, Professor of Philosophy and Africana Studies, writes in his new book, The MAN-NOT, “Black males are socialized to understand manhood in the context of their vulnerability, and the dangers their assertiveness and competitiveness are perceived to have in the larger society.” Such a role depicts the peculiar vulnerability that is shared by all Black men in the former slave-colonies of the west.

Black men who adhere to the silent social contract of cooperative submission, are rewarded well for gleefully accepting their subjugated role, and those who rebel are punished accordingly. We see this, today, in prominent Black male Figures, such as President Barack Obama and Jay Z. In order to successfully navigate white spaces (i.e. code switching), these men have to make themselves appear less threatening so as not to provoke white fear, which gives rise to white hostility. Juxtaposing the demure-like mannerisms of Barack Obama or Jay Z, with that of Activist-Athlete, Colin Kaepernick, we see that white society responds forcefully to any Black man who challenges the established order of Black male submission.

Aspirations for Black Manhood

“Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Will Stewart had committed no crime against white women. This was what opened my eyes to what lynching really was: An excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property, and thus keep the race terrorized, and keep the nigger down.”
~ Ida. B Wells

In the immediate period following emancipation, an average of 1 black male per day was lynched between the years of 1865–1895. The rise of white terror against a free Black community, accompanied the rise of the modern-day police state. According to Ida B. Wells, “Black men and women were lynched for almost any offense, from murder to a misdemeanor…” Public lynchings were so common that justifications had to be created to explain why the “Negro” was lynched with such impunity. Wells’s Claim is further supported by Frederick Douglas, in his 1895 polemic, Why is the Negro Lynched. According to Douglas, there were three distinct accusations created to justify the white barbarism, masquerading as civility:

  1. Negro Race-Riots and Insurrections
  2. Negro Supremacy/Domination**
  3. The Black Male rapist***

Each of the above schemes were proven to be bogus conspiracy theories, but nevertheless, lynchings were carried out, unabated, right into the twentieth century. During this period, of the more than 10,000 black men who were hanged, shot, stabbed or burned to death, a total of 3 white men were tried and convicted for the charge of murder.

What became painfully obvious is that the lynchings of Black men had very little to do with the so-called crimes they were charged with, and everything to do with maintaining the social order of white supremacy. Stated differently, absent of legal slavery, the tool of lynching is the only means to assure Black men accept their position as racially subordinate males. Long before Jerry Jones took a knee, and Donald Trump lambasted “Owners” for not having their slaves in order, the die was cast concerning the penalty for Black Manhood: Death.

“No-Good (Read: Bad) Niggers”

Black Male death is the thread that weaves together the American fabric, and as such, any attempt to prevent the lynching of Black men is considered unAmerican, and a threat to “the absolute rule of the Anglo-Saxon race” (Douglas, Why is the Negro Lynched). We see this clearly in the political persecution of Colin Kaepernick, who is being denied employment by the NFL for kneeling in protest of racial injustice in America. Ultimately, there is a price to pay when you make a principled stand on righteousness. A willingness to pay that price, without fear of the consequences, is the epitome of Black Manhood.

In Malcolm X’s final speech, on February 14, 1965, he said the following regarding a failed attempt on his life that occurred on the eve of the event:

It isn’t something that made me lose confidence in what I am doing, because my wife understands and I have children from this size on down, and even in their young age they understand. I think they would rather have a father or brother or whatever the situation may be who will take a stand in the face of any kind of reaction from narrow-minded people rather than to compromise and later on have to grow up in shame and in disgrace.

A week later, Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Herman Ferguson, one of Malcolm’s closest friends, and Chairman of the Education Committee of the OAAU was an eyewitness to the murder. In his book, An Unlikely Warrior: The Evolution of a Black Nationalist Revolutionary, he details the horrific ordeal as follows:

There was a brief pause in the shooting, and then it continued with the sound of large and small caliber pistol shots filling Malcolm’s fallen body for what seemed to be an eternity. I remember thinking to myself, If they would stop shooting into his body, maybe he could survive.
Whoever was responsible for this deed wanted to send a message to the Malcolm followers in the hall, and by extension the entire Black Nationalist community, that a similar fate awaited anyone who desired to take on Malcolm’s role.

Malcolm X epitomized the Black Man’s aspirations for manhood in America. And like the “rebellious slaves” aboard captain Harding’s vessel, those who survived, were forced to consume his death, and the thousands of deaths that occurred after him. Lynching is America’s dirty secret, and whether it’s Barack Obama, or Donald J Trump, public lynching of Black men will carry on just the same.

“Keep the race terrorized, and keep the nigger down.”

Footnotes:

Negro Supremacy/Domination**
It’s worth noting, that the Federal Government has revived one of their oldest excuses used to justify Black Lynching — The threat of Negro Supremacy. If there is any insight to be drawn from the historical record, we can anticipate a notable uptick in organized state violence against the Black Community, as domestic law enforcement prepares to stomp out the threat of Black Identity Extremists.

The following is an excerpt from the August 3, 2017 — Intelligence Assessment — FBI Counter-terrorism Division

The FBI defines black identity extremists as individuals who seek, wholly or in part, through unlawful acts of force or violence, in response to perceived racism and injustice in American society and some do so in furtherance of establishing a separate black homeland or autonomous black social institutions, communities, or governing organizations within the United States. This desire for physical or psychological separation is typically based on either a religious or political belief system, which is sometimes formed around or includes a belief in racial superiority or supremacy
The Black Male rapist***
While the historical violence of white women, against Black Men, was not the focus of this particular writing. I feel it necessary to inform the reader that historically, White Women have led, advocated for, and participated in the lynchings of Black men. These lynchings have often been politically motivated, to ensure that Black Men are not a threat to the white woman’s position of power within the system of white supremacy.

The following is an excerpt on Rebecca Latimer Felton (Suffragette, and foremother of the feminist movement) advocating the Lynching of Black men. It’s important to remember that white women have always played a vital role in maintaining the system of white supremacy; lest we forget and suffer the reward of our ignorance.

Felton also advocated more lynchings of black men, saying that such was “elysian” compared to the rape of white women.On at least one occasion, she stated that white Southerners should “lynch a thousand [black men] a week if it becomes necessary” to “protect woman’s dearest possession.”