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“Completing the frieze are six vignettes illustrating the effect of the war on Southerners of all races. The vignettes included a black slave following her young master, an officer kissing his infant child in the arms of her mammy…”—Jeffery Robinson, lawyer, ACLU

American Innocence

I guess you supported Paul Ryan. I guess Scott Walker was okay too. It’s a woman. Middle-aged. White. She’s the caller. I just entered the van and sat down. I’m strapping myself in.

Get out of here you (expletive)! Quite a bit of expletives. Sexual references to that fact that a woman called in! A woman who might be a Democrat! A liberal!

She’s not married. Who’d marry her. No one would marry her. Imagine being married to her?

He’s a middle-aged white local talk show host. Angry. Angry!

I look in the mirror to catch a glimpse of the senior and disability van’s driver. A middle-aged white male. Looking straight ahead, as he should. He seems content. As he shouldn’t be.

But then, this is Kenosha, Wisconsin. Small town America. It would surprise me if he weren’t the popular host in town.

Hold my tongue.

At one point during the ride to my doctor’s appointment, the radio host talks to his audience about Robert E. Lee.

A good man, he says. Graduated from West Point. Second in his class! One of the best soldiers in the Army.

Robert E. Lee.

A brilliant general!

So matter-of-fact. I’m looking out the window, looking at the trees. All the lynchings to come, after Lee.

Did I just see the trees rustle now, on their own accord. The trees, witnesses to what’s hung on their brethren unnaturally, deliberately, bidding me to recall…

COVID-19. It’s like a flu. You know this is about the fittest. The survival of the fittest.

And I wait. So bold so far, why not refer to the unfitness of Black Americans. The superiority of white Americans.

I look at the back of the driver’s head, catching a glimpse of his eyes. Focused on the road. Content. Nothing is out of the ordinary, except maybe me. But I might be okay. Well behaved. He’s not concerned. I appear stone.

I see George Floyd’s face stuck on the ground. The knee of the white police officer is pressing down on his neck. Eight forty-six. He’s stopped breathing before the knee rises.

So deep.

So very deep.

The trees still rustle.

A few days later, I mention to a white neighbor how it was hard to watch the video, hard to watch and stay with George Floyd all eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

A few days later, I mention to a white neighbor how it was hard to watch the video, hard to watch and stay with George Floyd all eight minutes and forty-six seconds. When I realized I was choking up just remembering, I turned away, with a hand over my chest. Then I turned back to the face of the pale woman only to see the eyes were icy. I froze momentarily before taking a deep breath. You have to take deep breaths. This thing in this country is so deep.

The ideas carried in the minds of the Confederate colonials and generals were the same ones present among the Founding Fathers. It’s the mindset traveling from across the seas to the shores of the “New World” that was Turtle Island to the many inhabitants. It’s the same mindset of these Founding Fathers claiming their freedom through the audacious slaughter of Indigenous people to the cruel enslavement of Africans in order uncover and cultivate the Earth’s bounty for just a small fracture of humanity.

And the South propositions the North: In writing, let’s create a narrative describing our rights, our freedoms, and the necessity to fight on behalf of “colonial liberty and the protection of property.” And as a unit, the colonists come up with a narrative and a deep-seated concept of what it means for white men of wealth to be free. The late historians Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen, writing an analysis of this concept of “colonial liberty and the protection of property,” note how it’s broad enough to “encompass both the commercial interests of the North and the slavery interests of the South.” Thus, a united front is formed to confront the threat to freedom that is now Britain.

Forty out of forty-six of the Founding Fathers are slaveholders. In the northern colonies the accumulation of wealth depends on the smooth operation of shipyards, ship builders, merchants in the slave market. South, united in the recognition of it’s identity and interests, recognized, writes the Blumrosens,

American liberty as what could be “defended as the desire to protect black slavery.”

We know the end result: the Colonists won the war against the British Empire. And they did so by fighting against the idea that slavery for Blacks was cruel and unjust.

Why? Because Britain, having abolished slavery after the Somerset decision. As the Blumrosen reminds us, this “decision would have monumental consequences in the American colonies, leading up to the American Revolution, the Civil War, and beyond.” Because the decision was clear: the runaway Somerset doesn’t have to be returned to his owner, to enslavement. Free Somerset! Free all of the enslaved Blacks!

Eyes were opened in Britain. However, in the New World, the colonists weren’t having it! South or North! If their collective eyes were open, they now were closed to the truth about the cruelty of enslavement. And frankly, it’s not that the colonist didn’t know how slavery was leaving deep scars in the fabric of their culture. Jefferson knew it. Read Jefferson in Notes on Virginia referring to the children of slaveholders. “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and the degrading submissions the other.” Children are watching! White children watch parents “storm,” put on “airs in the circle of smaller slaves,” exercise “tyranny,” and these children learn.

So in the long run, Jefferson envisions a future in which justice awakes, and a wrathful God takes vengeance on the colonies.

But in 1775 the battle cry, I’m not giving up my n______! Never!, is followed by a call to arms.

Fight! Kill!

It’s a battle cry the world hears from Southerners rebelling against the idea of free Blacks. Never! I’m not giving up my n______!

The movement of Black Lives Matter is a response to the legacy of anti-black thought and practice in this nation.

And the South fought the cause that still lives on today. The movement of Black Lives Matter is a response to the legacy of anti-black thought and practice in this nation.

It’s easy to change policies and laws, Dr. King once said, but it’s much harder to change minds. Most Americans think it’s the past, but what is past? What? If white America is still “innocently” baffled by the presence of other Americans, Blacks, Indigenous, Latinx, and awake whites on the street protesting, calling for justice, calling for the treating of Blacks as human beings, and if there are Americans still demanding white supremacy, then America’s commitment to the use of violence against the idea of racial inclusion is very much alive and well and functioning as the foundation of everything that is America.

United in the blood of conquered Indigenous and enslaved Blacks, the signatories of the Declaration rode horses groomed by their human property, just as the enslaved attendants during the Civil War accompanied Confederate generals and colonials to battlefields in the South.

So the US in 1865, the Union lost 110,000 in combat. The Confederate lost 95,000. The South fights to maintain “the whole commerce between master and slave,” to maintain an economy with its foundation in free labor and unfree Blacks. Would Washington and even Jefferson be proud of General Robert E. Lee and the other Southern gentlemen and soldiers for taking up the American “cause”?

What’s consistent in all this killing is white America’s response to Black people, and, in turn, white America’s response to it’s past. We remind white Americans of that very past it wants to see erased. It’s no surprise we, in this era of Trump, and after the murder of George Floyd and the rising protests, that there are incidents of Blacks found hanging from trees or being assaulted by white citizens. Angry citizens who want freedom from what they perceive as the nightmare of their past. Here are these Americans carrying out justice, the wrath of God against Black citizens.

But, while the actual past is a nightmare to white American, creating a past more suitable to the fantasy of white supremacy becomes the new reality.

It’s deep and not foreign.

On “Independence” day in 2020, the current occupant of the White House had a message for Americans, a reminder: heroes “gave their lives for Americans.” Great heroes are murderers and enslavers here. In Europe, citizens are asked to remember the genocide of the Jewish. Visit Auschwitz or Buchenwald. See it! Imagine the gypsies taken away in Romania or the Jews forced to board trains in Poland. Here, we are still debating the worth of celebrating Columbus Day or wondering whether or not a name change is due at Fort Hood in Texas. Why in Washington, the owners of the Redskins, should have waited until George Floyd is murdered and citizen protest is demanding an awakening before awakening themselves to the racist connotation of that team name so long into the 21st Century?

All the holding back for so long attests to the lingering fantasy of the American myth of innocence. As Sarah Churchwell writes, “the fantasy of an America, once populated solely by the racially pure Nordic ‘common man’ was the Klan’s genesis myth…, the prelapsarian past to which they hoped to force America to return—by violence if necessary” is still with us today.

And the changes are made permit only if this myth is the entity that is killed. Erased from memory.

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The violence of American genocide and enslavement has never been addressed in the way it the Holocaust was and still is, as an on-going way of being that everyone must be vigilant and diligent at conquering or no one is free of it’s legacy. The fantasy of white supremacy as more than an ideology; it’s an actual reality in the minds of Americans. It’s too real, too deep to think it will go away of it’s own accord. Miraculously disappear.

And so we have these insidious statues in the US, statues honoring, Americans will tell you, great heroes, of our past. Our past! As if all the people at the gate are riders.

Southern Poverty Law Conference counted them. 1503. Of that number some 718 were monuments and statues. Of that, at the original count, Virginia had 223 statues and monuments, Texas, 178, Florida 61, Mississippi 131, Alabama 107, North Carolina 140, Louisiana 91, Georgia 174. Some are down, thanks to protests. But many are still an eyesore to the victims of conquest and enslavement, a painful reminded everyday that America just doesn’t see enough to give a damn.

America refuses to self-reflect on it’s entanglement with violence. America wants to go on congratulating itself on the back for bobbing its heads to Black music and applauding the looks and work of Denzel Washington and capital accumulation of Oprah Winfrey while it’s law enforcement has a knee on more Black necks than we can keep track of. America wants to believe it’s too damn good for the likes of Canada and Europe.

When it comes to really respecting Indigenous people, Black people, Latinx people, America is still enslaved itself by a past it envisions that just chokes the life out of it’s collective breathe. It’s too entangled with that violent fantasy of white supremacy to even see a way beyond the same old response to anything that challenges it’s imaginative ideal of what constitutes human decency.

The “bad hombres” here, terrorists members of Black Lives Matter, and the anti-fascist, anti-black mob contaminating young white American minds into joining them in the destruction of history, our history, white history, must be challenged and eliminated.

Are we back in the year 1776? Or is this the beginning, again, of the Civil War?

We are talking about manifestation of that violent fantasy, these Confederate statues. For the most part, these mainly granite monstrosities taking on more life in the imaginations of white Americans that the African Americans strung up on trees. The granite structures come into being after the Civil War between 1900-1921. In 1901, hundred and five African Americans were lynched. The following year, some eighty-five Black people were lynched, and in 1903, it was eighty four. In 1905, it was fifty seven and sixty two in 1906. In 1908 and 1910, eighty nine and sixty seven, respectively.

As the lynching continued, the massacres grew more frequent. In the East St. Louis Massacres of 1917, two hundred and eighty African Americans were killed, and in Arkansas, it was two hundred killed in 1919. And in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, more than 300 African Americans were murdered.

Mary Turner, a pregnant Black woman, is lynched in Georgia. 1918.

Over 4,000 Black people are lynched between 1882 and 1968.

And there will be no specific date or year in which Americans will note the beginning of a war declared against Blacks. Unless the 1896 Plessy vs Ferguson’s 7-1 decision serves the purpose of declaring war against the lives of Black people. Plessy vs Ferguson legalized white supremacy in which there was no room to consider the impurities of Black lives that can’t possibly matter!

It was clear to those who lived in the US between 1865 and 1896 that a war against the idea of freedom for Black people. It will be a continuing war with a new enemy.

Consider the growing number of Confederate statues signposts. Pick up the battle cry, wave the Confederate Flag.

America would wage it’s own holocaust against what it perceived as the murderer of it’s fantasy of white supremacy: Black people!

Keep America prosperous for white America!

We still here that slogan today. And too many Americans believe it’s the secret eleventh commandment.

That the “anti-Negro program” in America during the years between the first and second world wars conjured Robert E. Lee, the great hero of a general who could lead white America once again, in victory, against impurity wasn’t so fantastical to an entire nation. But what is that admiration for enslavers and murders if not the spark that ignites America’s version of fascism.

“All fascism is indigenous, by definition.”

So it’s followers here in the US wouldn’t think of the ideology as alien. As Churchwell explains, fascism “claims to speak for ‘the people.’” It claims to “restore national greatness.” It’s a version of fascism that takes on a “local identity.”

The lynching of Blacks, then, is a way to erase the defeat of the South, and proclaim victory. And to declare victory would require organized hate groups such as the KKK, led by former Confederate generals and law enforcement personnel and vigilantes to kill the visible enemy.

In the Florida Panhandle, the last spectacle lynching that took place in October 1934. Advertised in the local press, it drew a crowd of 5,000. Think of that! Over in Europe, the crowds of 5,000 are Jewish or gypsies assembled, most, to be gassed or cremated.

I can’t imagine what Claude Neal was thinking. Was he able to think—captured and surrounded by the strange and cruel, the inhuman?

He’s burned and castrated, his “genitals stuffed into his mouth, and he’s forced to tell his torturers that he enjoyed their taste.”

Neal, this human being, is then dragged behind a car and mutilated. His corpse is urinated on by the crowds.

We see it. It’s the validation of the herrenvolk. The invalidating of all the other folk, writes Churchwell.

What’s left of Claude Neal is hung from the Mariana Courtyard.

Justice, the herrenvolk suggests, is the death of Black Americans.

And today? Today? Listen to the voices on the tape and hear the familiar American battle cry. Never. Never. Hear the panting? It’s June, in North Carolina and the police officers, they can’t wait! Can’t wait! The world is in need of what they have to offer, and that is, to “wipe” off the planet those black people! “Wipe them off the (expletive) map.” Black people!

“That’ll put them back about four or five generations.”

In the meantime, several African American newspapers noted the connection between Nazis Germany and Jim Crow America. A Pittsburgh Courier headline didn’t hesitate to blurt out the thought: “Hitler Learns from America.”

Noted too among other African American papers was the way America committed itself to the wiping out of any idea of Black people as free people. In America’s commitment to maintaining white supremacy was “a model” for the Nazis to initiate its campaign of “oppressing and persecuting its own minorities.” Study under the tutelage of the Klan leaders, writes Churchwell. Easy!

Langston Hughes chimes in. “We Negroes in American do not have to be told what fascism is in action.”

“We know.”

So America pretending that anti-fascist, anti-black movements are dangerous must feel something in their bones. Enough to call, once again, for war—against the idea of democracy. Freedom for all.

Oh say can you see…

Francis Scott Key thought Blacks “mentally inferior,” writes Jason Johnson, The Root.

On the memorial at Arlington National Cemetery is a monument honoring what—those great days…

First authorized in 1906, the monument was unveiled by Woodrow Wilson in 1914. Standing tall is a woman, representing the South, looking very much like a Roman goddess as she faces South. Beneath her is another woman.

ACLU lawyer Jeffery Robinson takes us to the Arlington National Cemetery website. There it’s explained that six friezes exist. One vignette “includes a black slave following his young master; an officer kissing his infant child in the arms of her mammy…”

I’m sure Robert E. Lee would have approved of this image of the likes of me and all Black women like me, as mammy, submissive, our humanity invisible to the “artist” who designed the structure…

...But while I’m uncomfortable for a moment, I realize I’m subjected to the anger of a dying cause. It’s a new day for the future of this nation.

All the Confederate’s men will come tumbling down with lasting effect when all of America joins with the Black, Indigenous, and Latinx to focus a conquest-enslavement-centered American history.

Lenore Daniels
BlackCommentator

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels and BC.