Thursday, January 10, 2008

Al Sharpton lynches TV Anchor

Since writing this, my perspective has altered slightly. For further reading, please see my post 'A Different Perspective.'

Golf channel anchor Kelly Tilghman was on-air with golfing legend Nick Faldo last week, discussing incredible golder Tiger Woods and what tactics up-and-coming rivals could use to compete with the golfing prodigy.

"Taking Tiger on?" Tilghman mused, not impressed with their chances. "Maybe they should just gang up for a while and lynch him in a back alley."

That one-liner landed like a brick. 'Lynching' is sometimes synonymous with white-on-black hate crimes during the 19th and early 20th century - which makes the joke 'racially offensive' as Tiger Woods is African-American.

Well, sort of. Technically, he's one-quarter Chinese, one quarter Thai, one quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch - a Caucasian, Black, American-Indian and Asian "Cablinasian” as he describes himself.

Tilghman has been suspended from the airwaves for her remark - but that's not good enough for some. Reverend Al Sharpton - always willing to add kerosene to an inflammable situation - demanded for her to be fired. "Lynching is a specific racial term that this women should be held accountable for. What she said is racist!"

Razor Sharpton

As much as I hate to validate the fascist regime of political correctness, I guess there's some logic to Sharpton's claim that the term 'lynching' could be interpreted as having racial connotations. Of the reported 4,743 victims of 'mob justice' from 1882 to 1968, 3,437 of them were African American.

But while history has linked the term 'lynching' to what was largely a hate-crime in American history, the etymology of the word and it's correct use in English is entirely devoid of any racial connotation whatsoever.

Websters defines lynching as a transitive verb meaning: to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal sanction.

So when Tilghman made the comment on live TV, it was clear she was joking about the rival players ganging up on Tiger and killing him. She wasn't making any reference to the term's historical context and she hadn't chosen that word because of the color of Tiger Wood's skin. In fact, as Tilghman is actually a friend of Tiger Woods, it's doubtful she even gave his ethnicity a thought.

She used the word 'lynch' because that is the only word in the English language which describes vigilante justice at the hands of a mob. It takes a cynical leap to interpret her words as a racist remark - because Tilghman is very clearly not a racist.

Al Sharpton has perverted and manipulated the context of what was actually said in order to create racial tension where none existed.

Lynch Mobs

Congress defines the felony of lynching as: An assemblage composed of three or more persons acting in concert for the purpose of depriving any person of his life without authority of law as a punishment for or to prevent the commission of some actual or supposed public offense.

It was Captain William Lynch, of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, who coined the term 'lynching.'

During the last years of the 18th century, following the defeat of the British in the American War of Independence, crime was rampant. In rural places, like Pittsylvania itself, the rule-of-law was difficult to enforce. Courts were often far away from towns and villages in more remote parts of the country.

Captain Lynch argued that the law should be upheld in these remote districts by like-minded citizens, taking the law into their own hands and administering justice without recourse to courts, lawyers or due process.

Lynch and his neighbours signed a compact in 1780, declaring: "The people of Pittsylvania have sustained great and intolerable losses by a set of lawless men that have hitherto escaped the civil power with impunity. We shall repair immediately to the person or persons suspected and inflict such corporeal punishment on him or them, as to us shall seem adequate to the crime committed or the damage sustained."

Basically, if they caught criminals 'in the act' they promised to deliver the punishment they deserved then and there. It's basically a vigilante's manifesto - but understandable given the lack of any form of policing or legal infrastructure in America at the time.

So 'lynching' began - and the name caught on. Although in the years leading up to the 19th century, the traditional 'lynching' stereotype of a mob with a hangman's noose was far from reality. Captain Lynch and his men did not hang anybody. They delivered at most 39 lashes to the criminals - but often reduced that punishment to match the crime.

It's from Captain Lynch that the term 'lynching' arose. The term itself refers to the delivery of punishment by men operating outside the law. Almost all of their judgements were made against white criminals. It was the actions of later 'lynch mobs' that would corrupt the origin of the name and give 'lynching' the racist connotations Al Sharpton was complaining about.

William Lynch

Very gullible people will argue that the term lynching dates back even further, to a man called William Lynch - a West Indies plantation owner who journeyed to James River, Virginia, in 1712 to help American plantation owners control their slaves.

He apparently advocated 'lynching' and in his speech he cheerfully remarked: "I caught the whiff of a dead slave hanging from a tree, a couple miles back."

This version of the origin of 'lynching' is very clearly racist and is explicit in identifying the crime as white-on-black. The only problem with the Willie Lynch speech?

It never took place.

Despite enormous popularity on the Internet, the infamous Willie Lynch actually never existed. He never made this speech and he was certainly not the originator of the term 'lynching.'

"There are many problems with this document," African-American historian William Jelani Cobb writes, "not the least of which is the fact that it is absolutely fake."

"Considering the limited number of extant sources from 18th century, if this speech had been "discovered," it would've been the subject of incessant historical panels, scholarly articles and debates. It would literally be a career-making find. But the letter was never "discovered." Rather, it simply "appeared" on the Internet — bypassing the official historical circuits and making its way directly into the canon of American racial conspiratoria."

When Good Vigilitanty Justice Goes Bad

Unfortunately the colour blind zenith of brutally enforced illegal mob justice couldn't last. Captain Lynch's 'justice' went out of favour as the newly liberated American colonies developed and more official forms of law enforcement spread throughout the states.

In fact, it wasn't until 'the Wild West' arrived during the mid-to-late 19th century that mob justice had a resurgence.

In the untamed American frontier, mob justice was adopted for many of the same reasons that Captain Lynch and the people of Pittsylvania had cited. There was an awful lot of untamed America out there and precious few law officers to maintain justice. Soon rustlers, thieves (and innocent people accused of being rustlers or thieves) found their illegal activities impeded by an angry mob with a rope.

The rope was a new development Captain Lynch would have been very unhappy with. While beatings weren't uncommon, a new form of 'permanent' justice was to be delivered in the form of a short, fast drop from a tall, sturdy tree.

It was during this period that the term 'lynching' became synonymous a makeshift hanging.

But while interpretation of the term changed, it's demographic didn't. Frontier America was a largely white place and the unfortunate criminals who wound up swinging from a hackberry tree were generally white as well.

The Civil War and White Supremacy

In fact, it took emancipation for lynching to become a racist crime.

Following the end of the Civil War, the slaves of the Southern states were 'freed.'

It was an astonishing concept. Hundreds of thousands of people, most born and bred with no concept of existence beyond being a white man's 'property,' were suddenly freed. Not just freed, but enabled with the same 'inalienable rights' that 'all men' were supposed to have been given in the words of the Declaration of Independence.

This scared a lot of white people in the south. Suddenly their former slaves could vote and work. Overnight, African Americans became a political and economic force that could change the status quo. What followed was a shameful century in which a certain movement amongst white southerners struggled to oppress the blacks. And for decades, they succeeded.

Lynching was often politically motivated. Next time you're speaking to a boring leftist - bring up this nugget:

It was the Republican party who had freed the slaves, so angry white Democrats in the south would identify, isolate and then 'lynch' Republican voters in order to swing the local elections.

For racists, they were surprisingly magnanimous. Both white and black Republicans were hung in equal numbers. During the 1868 presidential elections, over 1,300 Republican voters (both black and white) were systematically murdered across the south.

After the elections, lynching became about race rather than politics. The Klu Klux Klan had emerged a short while earlier as a terrorist organisation dedicated to subjugating the African Americans. Their terrorist 'cells' planned night-time raids to hang black voters, beat and whip their families to remind them of their former lives as slaves and confiscate firearms - both to arm their paramilitary forces and prevent the blacks from enjoying their Second Amendment right to 'bear arms.'

The Civil Rights act of 1871 saw President Ulysses S. Grant set up martial law - basically declaring war on the Klu Klux Klan and driving them largely out of circulation. While the Klu Klux Klan was subdued (but never entirely eliminated) lynchings continued.

Normally, the victims were young black men accused of murder, robbery or the rape of a white woman.

Gangs of white men would gather to 'string up' the offender to a tree or telegraph pole. Snapshots were often taken and even mailed to people in the form of postcards.

In a history of the United States, Time magazine noted; "even the Nazis "did not stoop to selling souvenirs of Auschwitz - but lynching scenes became a burgeoning subdepartment of the postcard industry."

By a ratio of around four-to-one, the victims of the lynch mobs were African American and the term 'lynching' often conjures up the image of a gang of angry white men stringing up a black man. However, it's important to note that vigilante 'justice' was willing to overlook it's own prejudices and almost fifteen hundred white men were reported to have been murdered in 'lynchings' over the years.

One famous example, Jewish factory manager Leo Frank, illustrates that lynching was never a truly racist crime. Lynching has always been brutal murder by a lawless mob - cowards ganging up on their helpless victims. The fact that such an enormous number of the lynch mob's victims were African American says more about the racist mobs themselves than the nature of the crime itself.

It's the way she tells 'em

The correct use of the term 'lynching' denotes a group of people ganging up on a victim and murdering them for their own ends. While some might remember most cases of 'lynching' being committed by white people on black victims, the crime itself is colour blind and there are more than a thousand documented examples to prove that.

So when Kelly Tilghman made her 'lynch him' remark, she was not making any racial reference at all. If it had been a white, or Asian or Indian golfer she'd said that about, there would not have been a raised eyebrow anywhere in the nation.

In fact, for 99.9% of the people, the fact that she said it regarding Tiger Woods inspired an equal lack of response. It didn't occur to us to make the tenuous link between the history of the word 'lynch' and the colour of Tiger's skin. America doesn't care!

To most of us, Tiger is a golfer first, a Stamford graduate second, a television personality third and a Capricorn forth. Most of us wouldn't even consider his ethnicity as being important - and if they did, he's more accurately an Asian American (half his genetics) than African American.

In fact, this whole incident is a delirious non-issue. Tilghman didn't mean any offense. Tiger Woods wasn't offended. 99.9% of America hadn't even made the connection. In fact, we wouldn't even be here unless Al Sharpton and his ilk had shouted up: "Hey! America! You forgot to be outraged!"

And then explained to all of us exactly why we should be outraged.

For example, no newspaper running this story does so without putting Tilghman's remark into historical context. Otherwise it's not offensive. They had to print: "People think it's offensive because..."

If the reason why we're told we should be offended has to be explained to us, maybe there's no reason there at all.

Campaign of Hate

The sad fact is, Tilghman is the victim of a callous campaign by Al Sharpton, who's more interested in self promotion than racial harmony. With the Christian heartland of America putting their support behind an African-American presidential candidate, Al Sharpton's soon going to have to admit that the war on racism is being won.

This terrifies him to death - so he's stirring up as much racial tension as he can before he's out of a job.

But in the meantime, spare a thought for poor Kelly Tilghman. She's on suspension and very nearly lost her job - and for what?

She's absolutely innocent and the way she's being vilified by fraudulent bullies like Al Sharpton is a disgrace.


Jenn of the Jungle said...

This is about as lame as the Nappy headed ho comment resulting in the firing of Imus.

One of the most racist bastards to live in this country, besides me, is Al Sharpton.

Now he should be made to pay for "lynching" the INNOCENT Duke boys.

Jenn of the Jungle said...

On a side note, the name change is hilarious.. I wonder how many Americans will get what you are talking about "ginger".

Spork said...

I think you mean 'etymology' not 'entomology'.

Roland Hulme said...

From Websters:

Entomology: a branch of zoology that deals with insects

etymology: the history of a linguistic form (as a word)

Ooops! You might be right there, Spork! Duly noted and changed.

mikey said...

It's easy to pile on Sharpton and he's obviously made a career over exploiting racism but I'm still glad some media fuss was made over this. Yes, Tiger's only part black, he's a friend of Kelly Tilghman and this shouldn't be part of some endless Imus-style debate. However, the blogger's attempt to downplay the haunting images and historical baggage dredged up by this inadvertent but disgusting comment doesn't take away from the fact that this episode should not have happened and should not just be absently brushed over.

No, Tilghman shouldn't be fired over this. There's no indication these are views of hers or that she regularly communicates like this. Still, her company and sponsors need to let her know this was unacceptable. When she comes back hopefully she'll have the sense to sincerely, humbly and publicly apologize and learn from this before moving on.

As much fun as it is to play pinata with Sharpton he personally is not the issue. Focusing on Sharpton or trying to diffuse the role of race in the history of lynching doesn't take away from the fact that this comment shouldn't be allowed just from the standpoint of respect and decency. Even in the video where you see this was part of running banter it's cringe-worthy and you know she just shouldn't have gone there. In this case it really has nothing to do with "political correctness." For once let's just agree that this was a bad thing to say however you cut it. It's still better to condemn the comment and err on the side of respect than worry about and focus on the fallout from an over-reacting figurehead like Sharpton who most of us don't take seriously anyway.

Roland Hulme said...

I think that's a valid point, Mikey - but I still say the only reason Tilghman's comment was 'racist' is because we decided it was.

'Lynch' is a dictionary definition for vigilante action. If we stop using it because it's 'racist' then we're just uselessly censoring ourselves.

Words only have the power that WE give to them. What she said was not intentionally racist and we're all very screwed up to have interpreted it as racist when it clearly wasn't meant to be.

What's next? Suing the United Negro College Fund because they use the term 'negro?'

Or is that 'okay' because they're an African American organization?

How f**king retarded is it to live in a world where one ethnicity can say one word, but another is forbidden from doing so?