Photos of lynched bodies have always given me pause. My body has a very visceral reaction to seeing a lifeless form hanging from a tree. More than the body, the white faces that stare up at it in contentment, contempt or fascination haunt my mind for hours, and sometimes days after seeing a photo of a person that has been lynched. My stomach churns, my heart races, my gut wrenches, my eyes close and I immediately turn away. I’m unable to stare, to analyze. I find myself paralyzed by an odd mixture of fear, sadness and disgust. My reaction seems completely opposite of those white faces in the pictures.
“I am always captivated by the squirming of the world under the heartbeat of a black man.”
Or in some cases the absence of a heartbeat.
Prejudice and its derivatives are all about conditioning and an inability to relate to another, particularly a person who is unlike you. Racism is an inability to see the world in flux, an inability to understand relations that are based on something other than color. To a racist person nothing is complex. It’s all race based and you either are or you aren’t. Simplifying things in this way is dangerous. Generalities based on race, sex, religion, sexual orientation are almost always wrong but a bigot will never consider the multitude of factors that will shape a person’s life.
Prejudice makes it easy to draw boundaries, easy to accept the “badness” of others and the goodness of people like yourself. Boundaries make it easy to villainize anyone who is unlike you. To assume their otherness. And when they cross your boundaries, you are willing to do anything to make that right. This is what prejudice does in the minds of the prejudiced. Prejudice makes it okay to take black bodies from their homes, parade them through towns, mutilate and torture them and hang them from trees. Or shoot them in cold blood.