How many years are we past the lynching time of our country? 50? 60? 70? That time when black bodies were hung from trees by the neck as white spectators brought their children and picnic lunches to watch after church on a bright and sunny Sunday. The entertainment and catharsis of making sure a dangling and writhing body died at the altar of self righteousness and hate. Deep, deep hate. What kind of a religion do you have to follow to justify such an evil act?
I’ll answer that question with a simple answer: anything. Humans can take anything and turn it into a self serving religion that seeks to destroy others. We’ve long worshipped at the altar of our races, genders, sexualities, nationalities, tax brackets, districts in town, regions of the country, political parties, and histories. Whenever there are two of us together that are alike in any way, our inclination is to bend our hearts to worship what binds us. And we will destroy anyone who is different. Such is the human heart.
So it shouldn’t be so difficult to see how groups of people could gather around a burning body and eat their chicken sandwiches for lunch. When you have deluded your mind and heart to believe that who you are, what you believe, and how you live makes you more righteous than those over there, than you are only a rope and a match away from the lynching tree. Defending our tribe and our righteousness will always produce in us a murderous hate that always, always rejects love. It is our national history. It is our human history: a hate that longs to destroy.
And ain’t nothing different about today. Just look around you with an eye looking for it. Click on the news. Scroll through your news feed. Visit your child’s school. Walk through your neighborhood. Visit a public housing project. Bring up feminism with your conservative uncle. And soon you’ll discover that we aren’t much different from who we were 100 years ago. If anyone steps out of line from your value systems, check your pulse. What immediately comes to your mind? When you see protestors rioting in the street during Trump’s inauguration what is your gut reaction? Disgust? Or compassion? When you hear another news story of a black person shot dead by the police how do you react? What do you post on Facebook? Pay close attention to your body and your mind’s responses to people who are not like you. Who have different values and beliefs. Different religions, politics, and skin colors. If you’re anything like me you’ll discover that you aren’t far from that destructive hate that tied ropes around black necks. Because we haven’t come very far.
It might sound like I’m hyperbolizing. But stay with me. I have a story to tell you
There’s a bar in downtown Norfolk called Saint Germain. I’ve never been there. Honestly, I hadn’t heard of it until this weekend when a screenshot of a Facebook post from a guy named Davod Helldick (cute, right?) went viral around our small town. His post went like this:
“Women’s march of Norfolk please shut the fuck up, I was finally getting some sleep for the first time in a week and all I can hear is y’all bitches running your fucking mouth and screaming out front of my building dafuq. And for real nobody gives a fuck. Just so you know, and that’s real.”
Sincerely, Davod Helldick.
Well, fellow internet sojourners, you can tell where this story is going, can’t you? All hell broke loose, rightfully, on this small business and its owner. Calls for boycotts and passing out flyers around his establishment with the post printed on them and dozens of terrible Yelp reviews later, and I’m afraid that the damage, even post apology at this point, is irreversible. And I can’t help to feel bad for the sorry misogynist. No, wait. A gay misogynist, to his admission. Because those absolutely do exist. And why do I feel sorry for him? Because the mob unrelentingly came for him. Even though what he said is disgusting and indefensible, I feel sorry for him. He said an insensitive, terrible thing. He hurt people who were passionate about their cause. He degraded and harmed women. He was insulting and wrong and deserved to be rebuked. But that is never enough, is it? When someone, especially from our tribe, steps out of line we always call for blood. It’s not enough to rebuke and correct. We have to slander his business. Call for the engines of capitalism to turn shut on him. Put his employees out of a job. Take a thriving small business from our city. Maybe even post his head on the city gates and warn all who come here that there is no mercy for those who do wrong.
I know that you’re wondering how I could have the gall to compare this business owner’s shame to the system of lynching in the Jim Crow south. How dare I? The point is not in comparing the victims. The point is in comparing the perpetrators. We are the mob. We’ve always been the mob. Looking around us and over our shoulders waiting for someone, anyone, to step out of line and make them a spectacle for all to see. A way to police others into compliance. Because let’s not pretend that the black men that were lynched in the decades after slavery ended could have never had homophobic and misogynistic beliefs. Let’s not pretend that there are battered women who think that homosexuals go straight to hell. Let’s not pretend that the people for whom we fight for justice don’t ever cross our belief systems. And would we still protect them if you knew their innermost thoughts and values? Or would we still cry for their blood, too?
This is the moment in which we are living. The moment when the internet allows us to record and capture the actions and thoughts of everyone and not just correct and rebuke each other. But to call for their demise. And in a turn of the most interesting, this is the very thing that we decry. We decry conservatives for boycotting restaurants that support Planned Parenthood. We spew sexist and misogynistic words at female conservative political pundits. We ruin the livelihoods of those who have done exactly what we are doing. We shake our fists at the church for having and enforcing laws and values, but in the next breath are willing to shut down a man’s business for our own.
Oh, the hypocrisy of humans. It’s all that we know. I’ve told my husband on several occasions that I’m bound to end up on YouTube one of these days caught letting my son ride his bike without a helmet or yelling at my toddler for something that she can’t control. I am just waiting to be made a public spectacle in the town square for all to hurl insults and call for my blood with no amount of repentance or apology to save me.
Of course I have been a part of this culture. I have done my fair share of throwing stones and showing not an ounce of mercy. And for it I am ashamed. Our culture is spinning in a mad fit of revenge and hate, looking for the next person on whom to pounce. And not to dialogue, correct, and debate. But to kill. Destroy. It makes me nervous and afraid for me and my kids. It makes me nervous for the businesses in my city and the culture of repression and fear and policing that we’re creating for ourselves.
And yes, the owner of Saint Germain ought to be ashamed and deserves to be rebuked and corrected. But we must, we must offer mercy and grace. We must allow people to make mistakes and grow. We must not be so intolerant and hateful that nothing will atone for other’s wrongs but blood. I don’t want to see his bar go out of business. I want to see restaurants thrive in our city. And I don’t want the lynching mob to come knocking on my door demanding for conformity, even for a good cause and value. Because even our good things can cause us to do terribly wrong things. Don’t let the frenetic fear of our times cause you to destroy others, even when they harm you. It’s not going to do anything but cause us to become exactly what we hate.