Nicole Franklin continues her the conversation on race and forgiveness and looks at our nation’s history of lynching.
When Donald Sterling’s ownership of our news and sports headlines is finally settled, much will be discussed about White vs. Black and how “we have to have a conversation about race.” Well, let’s remind ourselves of his recorded testimonies as an entry point into this particular discussion. Here are excerpts from the alleged recorded conversation of Donald Sterling to his young associate, V. Stiviano:
–“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” (3:30)
— “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.” (5:15)
— “I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.” (7:45)
— “…Don’t put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.” (9:13) ~posted April 25, 2014 on TMZ.com
The reaction to the situation has unfolded from a public outcry to quick disciplinary actions by the NBA, and—as expected—an attempt toward retribution and payoff by Sterling and his financial partner wife. But the public has not stood as one voice in response to the crisis.
For instance, the NAACP Los Angeles Chapter, scheduled to honor Sterling with his reportedly second lifetime achievement award in five years (the organization agrees the first honor was an award, but not a lifetime achievement award), initially stood by Sterling. Chapter president Leon Jenkins: “God teaches us to forgive, and the way I look at it, after a sustained period of proof to the African American community that those words don’t reflect his heart, I think there’s room for forgiveness. I wouldn’t be a Christian if I said there wasn’t.” This statement came after the organization rescinded his proposed second award. A few days later, Jenkins resigned.
Amid “revelations” of the “plantation mentality” of which NBA owners have been accused for years, other press on numerous occasions these past few weeks have editorialized the “lynching” of Donald Sterling as a blast from the past who was simply caught in a private moment. The term lynching associated with the bearer of racist statements has brought pause to many who are still trying to grapple with such traumatic events in this nation’s history.
“We have got to psychologically ban the inappropriate definition of lynching,” says Dr. Raymond Winbush of the Institute for Urban Research. “It’s not a rope over a tree limb. It’s an extrajudicial murder, usually by a mob.” Dr. Winbush has also used the term when referring to more contemporary cases. “I believe that Trayvon Martin was lynched, James Byrd, Jr. in 1998…. It’s not just hanging. It’s when you kill somebody for no apparent reason other than being falsely accused.”
Clearly the word lynching has been used metaphorically in many instances Black or White. The history of lynching has been fearlessly documented by Ida B. Wells and the journalists she inspired. The act itself is rooted in the idea of crimes committed due to inappropriate behavior of Black men toward White women. These supposed crimes included a glance in her direction, a whistle within listening range, or even the mention of the woman’s first name.
When referencing terms associated with slavery and Jim Crow a conversation about race cannot continue without proper context. Sterling’s comments have possibly struck a nerve because of this lack of discussion on the background of our racial history.
Filmmaker Rhonda Haynes, currently in production on Let The Eagle Scream: The Evolution of Lynching in America, is attempting to uncover the essence behind hate speech leading to certain behavior. She asks the question, “What takes people to the next level of disrespecting the human soul and security?”
Haynes work focuses on what she calls “modern day lynchings” where the mob mentality has taken the lives of such victims as Yusef Hawkins, Michael Stewart and Michael Griffith. The 1989 Hawkins murder is the more famous of the three as he was a mere 16 years old when suspected of dating a neighborhood girl in the predominantly Italian community of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, NY. Thus lynching as punishment for interracial relations has never been a solution, especially for the families left behind. Because of the nature of the act, families have to experience over and over hearing the news about the “unusual step” taken to murder a loved one.
“To hang somebody from a bridge and to know your family is a part of that…it’s a lot to endure, whether they were lynched or the lyncher,” says Haynes. “It’s a big secret on both sides and they don’t know how to deal with it until they’re really face to face with their history. So there’s shame, blame and pain. For Black people a part of them feels very shameful that a family member was lynched. At the same time it reflects pain. They don’t want to remember that pain.”
According to Dr. Winbush Haynes is right on point with her take on secrecy and shame. “There’s a lot of guilt associated with lynching, such as, what did Uncle Joe do? Uncle Joe may have insulted the wife of white man, which is nothing to be ashamed of. And how we culturally use the word shame. Fat Domino’s ‘Ain’t That a Shame,’ ‘Shame on You….’ We use that word in a variety of ways in our culture. So many secrets that had to be kept for survival reasons. We had to forgive in order to survive.”
Dr. Rhonda Perry is an Atlanta-based psychologist specializing in trauma. She and Dr. Winbush both agree that forgiveness is a strategy, but does not take away someone’s right to be angry and open to discussion. Yet it is “very human to want revenge or retribution,” Perry says. “It is difficult to feel love and compassion when you are experiencing the anger and stress that comes when you believe you have been treated unfairly.”
When it came to the men who were lynched and the women who were left behind, Perry notes, “Black women were praying, because what else did we have? With lynching, kids being stolen, what else do we have? Our mothers and grandmothers did not have the social freedoms that we have now. They did what they needed to do to hold on to their faith and ‘God will take care of us. Give us peace to survive and move forward.’” Perry has found in her practice that forgiveness “truly is a spiritual process. What I have found is that people being able to forgive have a sense of something greater than themselves, a spiritual purpose to their lives. The ability to forgive works through the anger, something bigger than ourselves that loves us, accepts us, and recognizing that it’s not about this one incident.”
And, according to Winbush, there is a much larger incident. He recalls the commentary of renowned educator Dr. Adelaide Sanford during a 2012 assembly in Selma, Alabama. Dr. Sanford declared, “Black men are the only men who have consistently and over time, raised the children of their wives’ rapists.” Dr. Winbush unpacks her statement further: “We as Black men are always viewed as being bad/absentee fathers. But if you really look at this statement in reference to what Dr. Sanford denotes in history, men who have abandoned children more than anybody were white men. In the 250 years of raping black women, slave owners rarely took responsibility for their children. They would sell them and commodify the wound of black women and the children that they bore. So when Black men saw women being raped and impregnated by white men, they had to separate sex from violence, and comfort the women and raise the child. With their wives, sisters, and daughters, the men had to raise the children so that they did not see it as mother having been raped. So who was the better father? Who is raising the children?”
A conversation about race really has to include all sides of recorded and oral histories. Filmmaker Haynes witnessed this close-hand in an effort to produce a film that deals with the legacy of lynching, but also with the healing. During her research she visited a small town and reunited two families comprised of descendents of the lynched and the lyncher: “I had seen the first time they met. It was very friendly. The second time I met with them, they were friends and they had been to each other’s homes. It was nice to see how people can have that forgiveness.” Hayes adds, “Knowing the story of what they’re trying to discover or uncover, they can exhale.”
Winbush adds, “Shame can be erased by forgiveness, but it also has to include atonement.” He feels not enough has been done to atone for the grave act of lynching in this country. “Build a monument. Lynching is a dark secret that ultimately needs to be memorialized.”