Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Make it believable – Blame it on a black man

The hot news last Friday was the story of Ashley Todd. This 20-year old woman claimed on Wednesday to have been mugged by a black man at an ATM in Pittsburgh. The story made national headlines because Ms. Todd, who is white, gave a detailed description (6'4" black man, black shirt, jeans and black sneakers) of the man who mugged her and, after the mugger spied a McCain bumper sticker on her car, returned to hold her down and carved a B for Barack Obama on her cheek. The story was accompanied by photos of Ms. Todd with black eyes and a clearly visible B on her cheek. When I first heard the story and read the discussions about it, my skeptic alarm bell went off big time. First, being a Pittsburgh native, I wondered about what she described as "a bad part of Pittsburgh." Bloomfield is a mostly white, working class neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Nobody would describe Bloomfield as a "bad part" of the city. Secondly, I wondered why the B on Ms. Todd's cheek was written backwards. It is unnatural, and very awkward to write backwards. I wondered why a mugger who had just committed a crime would return to his victim, hold her down and take the time to not only carve a letter on her face, but to take the additional time required to carve the letter backwards. Pittsburgh police considered the story suspicious from its onset. Today, Ms. Todd's story was revealed to be a complete fabrication. There was no mugging. There was no sexual assault. She evidently carved the B onto her own cheek (obviously using a mirror). Most importantly, THERE WAS NO 6'4" BLACK MAN.

This is just the latest evidence of what seems to be an inbred reality in the hearts of many in the United States. If a white person really wants their story to be believed, blame it on a black man. We all know that evidence of this abounds in our culture, not only in recent history, but in the entire history of black people in this country. Perhaps the most infamous incident in recent history was the story of Susan Smith. Ms. Smith fabricated a story of being car-jacked by a black man who subsequently kidnapped her two children. Most black people who heard the story doubted it from jump. We know the drill. Sadly, we were correct in our skepticism and it was later revealed that there was no black man. Ms. Smith sent her car with her two small sons into a lake in a warped belief that without her children she would be able to resurrect a relationship with the son of the rich man in town. Then there was the story of Charles Stuart. Stuart was a white man in Boston. He claimed he and his nearly nine months pregnant wife were carjacked by, what else, a black man. This black man shot Stuart and his wife. Stuart survived. The baby was delivered successfully but died a week later. Mrs. Stuart died the first night. The city of Boston was outraged. Boston police went on the rampage, determined to find and arrest the black man who had committed such an horrendous crime. The black community was harassed non-stop. Black men of every age were accosted by the police. Police eventually arrested and coerced a confession from a young black man. Of course, the end of the story was there was no black man. Charles Stuart didn't want a child. He shot his wife and himself. He murdered his wife and caused the death of his son. Being the coward he surely was, Stuart committed suicide by jumping into Boston Harbor.

Going back a little further, there is the infamous story of Rosewood, Florida upon which the movie Rosewood was based. In 1923, a black man supposedly raped a white woman. The strong, prosperous and self-sufficient town of Rosewood was destroyed by avenging white men. "Official" reports claim that only something like eight people died. "Unofficial" reports report scores of black people were murdered. Of course, there was no black man. The story was invented by a promiscuous wife who feared her husband's reprisal. I suspect if there had been such a thing as a witness sketch of the suspected black man back in 1923, he would be an identical twin of the black man in the Stuart, Smith and Todd sketches.

As I discussed this latest hoax of the criminal black man with my younger son today, he reminded me of the incident that happened several years ago in San Antonio. The story broke on the evening news that a white woman had been kidnapped from the parking lot of an Albertson's. She was then taken to a wooded area (coincidentally not far from my home at the time), doused with gasoline and set afire. Someone noticed the fire and called police. With her dying breath, the woman described the black man who had committed this horrendous crime. She died a few hours later at the hospital. We all know the ending of the story, but I will relate it here anyway. The woman was about to be arrested for embezzlement from her employer. There was a videotape of her purchasing the gas can from WalMart. There was video of her filling the gas can at a Diamond Shramrock gas station. There was no abduction. THERE WAS NO BLACK MAN. The woman set herself on fire. Her dying words were a lie! I remembered at the time thinking that even as this woman lay dying, her last words were a lie about a black man.

As a black woman living in the United States, I ceased being surprised a long time ago by stories like Ms. Todd's, Mr. Stuart's or the woman in San Antonio. Despite all that black people have contributed to this country, in many corners of it black men are considered natural suspects, men who are not to be trusted, men whose greatest wish is to ravish a white woman, men who, when encountered on the street, should be feared. As a mother of two black sons and as a grandmother of a black nine-year old grandson, it saddens me to realize, to accept, that no matter what education they attain, no matter what success they may achieve, they will always remain the proverbial suspect by many. Mr. Stuart and the woman in San Antonio were middle-age people. Perhaps some might conclude that they had "old school," racist thinking. Ms. Smith and Ms. Todd, however, were women in their twenties. The message is clearly that this racist thinking and conniving is not limited to the older generation. There are two sides to this coin. First, there are those who continue to perpetrate the lie of the criminal black man. The other side of the coin is that, even in 2008, many people automatically believe the story about the black man who committed a crime to be the truth. What does this foretell for the future of my sons, my grandson and all the other black men in this country"? Government statistics show that most crime is intra-racial, that is the victim and the criminal are the same race. Nonetheless, stories about the black man who committed a crime must be disproved, rather than proved.

I wonder even if Barack Obama is elected president if this will change. The specter of the criminal black man will remain – and be believable.


The Birth Defect of a Nation

What is a birth defect? A birth defect is defined as an abnormality of structure, function or metabolism, whether genetically determined or the result of environmental interference during embryonic or fetal life. A birth defect may cause disease from the time of conception through birth, or late in life.

I have long maintained that the stain of slavery will forever remain on the United States. Like the red wine stain on a white tablecloth, the history of slavery and racism on this country is a stain that, although faded, will always remain. You can rub and rub at the wine stain on the tablecloth, but despite all your efforts, despite whatever solvent you use, there will always remain a remnant of the stain. Slavery and its racism is the remnant that remains on the United States. It is the birth defect of this nation.

Condoleeza Rice, said this recently: America doesn't have an easy time dealing with race … obviously, when this country was founded, the words that were enshrined in all of our great documents that have been such an inspiration to people around the world … they didn't have me [sic] for an overwhelming element of our founding population. And Black Americans were a founding population," Rice said. "Europeans and Africans came here and founded this country together. Europeans by choice and Africans in chains and that's a not a very pretty reality of our founding. I think that particular birth defect makes it hard for us to confront it, hard for us to talk about it and hard for us to realize that it has continuing relevance for who we are today.

The definition of a birth defect concludes that a birth defect may cause disease from the time of conception through birth and later life. Such is racism in this country (and others). It is a birth defect whose genesis began at the very beginning of this country. It is an allegory that handily lends itself to racism in this country.

It has been my belief, my fervent hope, that dialogue, honest conversations about race, will begin the long, difficult journey to reconciliation. This blog is the beginning of what I hope to be such dialogue. I will write and post the writings of others about racism, America's Birth Defect.