OPINION: History is to be learned, not whitewashed


Courtesy Photo

File photo, courtesy of White House

Lynching is defined as a form of violence in which a mob, under the pretext of administering justice without trial, executes a presumed offender, often after inflicting torture and corporal mutilation. It was used as an intimidation tactic in the South against civil rights advocates or anyone deemed threatening to the status quo during this time.

Lynching has a violent, racial past; a history that can never be removed, a context that can never be shifted, a word that should not be used lightly.

In August 2017, a family in a small New Hampshire town reported a hate crime involving their son. As they shouted racial slurs to him, a rope was put around his neck and he was pushed off a table by white teens in the neighborhood. He returned home with his neck bloody and burned.

Recently, President Donald Trump shared his feelings about the impeachment inquiry in the best way he knows how; a mass tweet.

Now, this is not a criticism piece on the president himself, but rather a reminder that our words have power and meaning, and in this context, they have a history that is forever a stain on the flag of this country.

In his Tweet, President Trump equated the impreachment process to a lynching:

“So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”

I don’t agree, but I understand how Trump came to the conclusion to use the term “lynch” to describe the impeachment process.

Lynching was conducted by a group of people who decided to take the law into their own hands without due process. Trump believes Democrats are conducting this inquiry without regard to the law. He believes he is being persecuted by the hands of an angry mob and what he believes is no fair trial is being given to him.

Let’s unpack the situation, and understand why context has an affect on how we view language, and how language is tied to our history.

What this tweet does or, specifically, what Trump did was take this word and deliberately used it in a context that minimizes the victims and their families and erased the stories and trauma of the Black Americans who were violently lynched in the United States. Trauma and stories that still exist today.

The Tuskegee Institute states that between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,743 people lynched in the United States. Of those 4,743, it is stated that 3,446 were Black.

It did not end in 1968, it does not end now.

Comparing the impeachment inquiry to lynching, where thousands of Black men, women and children were hung, shot, or beaten to death is erasure and whitewashing of this nation’s violent and unforgiving past.

The injustices against Black people should not be minimized and invalidated. I constantly hear nonblack people saying that slavery is something that I “should just get over.” “It happened 200+ years ago, you never had to deal with it”.

The assault and battery of Rodney King was in 1991.

The last lynching in the United States was in 1981 by the Ku Klux Klan. The perpetrator who was executed was the first time since 1913 someone was executed for white-on-black crime.

The Civil Rights Movement was from 1954-1968. Many of the activists are still alive today. Activists who can still pass on these stories of survival but more importantly, resilience.

Do not tell me to “just get over it.”

We must understand how our language has power to erase the pain of people. Our country is patriotic, empathetic and poetic during times of tragedy, such as recognizing 9/11 every year.

My only question, then, is why is it so easy for many to invalidate and whitewash the experiences of Black people with something as simple as a tweet?