A few days ago, Jeffrey Lord published this column at The American Spectator in which he claimed that fired Ag Department employee Shirley Sherrod’s story about a relative being lynched was false. In the column, he tried to define lynching specifically as hanging, rather than a method-neutral form of murder intended to terrorize others.
I blogged briefly about this (“Lynch mope,” 7/26/10). I wanted to leave a comment on the original column as well. The Spectator doesn’t allow that, but it did publish Lord’s e-mail address so I wrote him essentially the same sentiment I blogged.
I figured he was probably catching hell from every corner of the country, so you may imagine my surprise when he actually wrote back and we exchanged another couple of e-mails. With his gracious permission, the exchange follows verbatim:
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Dear Mr. Lord:I dearly hope you aren’t as stupid as you appear to be. Because based on this, you appear to be pretty damn stupid.Best,
Well, Lex. believe it or not that’s probably in the running for nicest note of the night.
But I find it amazing that standing up for a color-blind America….makes me an idiot.
OK. I’ll bite! Lots of mail…If I miss a response persist. But simply put, calling opponents of health care racists (as she implied) is so historically rooted in the progressive past it takes the breath away.
Thanks for writing though.
Thanks for responding. (Pity the site didn’t allow comments to be posted, but I could argue that issue either way.)
No, standing up for a color-blind America doesn’t make you an idiot. Suggesting — in this day and age — that if you’re not hanged, you haven’t been lynched makes you an idiot. But nice straw man there.
Where did you get that idea, anyway? No snark; I’m genuinely curious.
In truth, I’m beat here with all these e-mails.
But I will tell you.
In 1965 when I was about fifteen, we moved from Massachusetts to Virginia. Mom, Dad, me…no siblings. Dad was in the hotel business. First time I had ever moved, a big deal.
Shortly after we settle in, Dad, in the course of his job as a hotel manager at a new Holiday Inn, walks into the coffee shop to check it out for the night. To his shock he finds a young black waitress being viciously berated by the somewhat inebriated hotel owner, a Southern white man. The outburst was loud, public, mean – and incredibly racist.
Dad, your basic Mr. Republican, stepped in to calm things down, perhaps prevent a physical assault (not sexual, just plain old fashioned violence.) The waitress was sobbing her eyes out. And was promptly fired. As was…Dad. For defending her.
Shock ensues in our newly moved family unit of three. Dad regroups. Puts every last dime into a diner. Hires blacks and white. And…professional that he was…hires qualified blacks and whites. He needs a chief cook or someone to run the kitchen. Best qualified? A black woman. She got the job.
Like a shot, word zips around this small town that he has given a black woman authority over some whites. Boycott ensues. Threats come into our home. I watch as Mom takes the calls – he being at work. The threats are vile. Violence lingers in the air. I get an invite from a classmate to a Klan meeting. At school, I am shy but word spreads that I sit with the solitary black girl in the school on the bus. (After two weeks I finally understood what was happening…real desegrgation didn’t hit until the following year. So, she being in my French class, a stranger like me, I sat with her.)
In the end, we had to leave. After two years we retreat north to Pennsylvania, where I finish high school college etc and eventually get to DC.
I can only say that during this period, i went from a knowledge of civil rights based on watching Walter Cronkite – to real life. I learned what a threat to lynch meant. Nobody said…get the dictionary. The meaning was plain. People get dragged away, they have a rope thrown over the necks, then over the nearest tree. Nobody ever – ever -said, well, let’s check the dictionary.Geeky kid that I was, a big JFK-Bobby Kennedy; MLK fan, I started reading on the history of this. I was dumbfounded to piece together the history of progressives and race. I was big on the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 – but eventually learned the guts of this had been passed almost a hundred years earlier. I read and read and read. Woodrow Wilson was born in this town. How couyld he be such a progressive, I wondered? Eventually, the light went on. He was the president who segregated the federal government, brought Birth of a Nation to the White Hous etc.
And so I made it, in one sense, a mission to make sure we were honest about this history. That we had a better place to get to. The colorblind America that JFK and RFK and MLK talked about. And in terms of lynching…man…the last thing I want to hear is “the dictionary says.”
Does that help? I morphed into a Reaganite. Reagan, who was a liberal turned conservative, was the original Reaganite. In a few words..it means freedom, equal rights, a color blind America, free markets, equal opportunity for all. I oppose Obama because of what he thinks, not what he looks like. I support Clarence Thomas for precisely the same reason. And any white, brown, black, yellow, red, male, female etc etc etc.
Otherwise, Lex, we are going to get this country stuck. Forever destined to repeat really bad (I would say immoral) things that have, as JFK once said, “no place in American life or law.”
So there I be. To me, the word lynch means…get the rope.
And Shirley Sherrod? She may be wonderful, for all I know. But to say so casually, as she did, that if you oppose health care its because you oppose a “black president” sets off an entire series of alarm bells. Alarm bells that, I suspect, actually went off when those anonymous voices started coming over the phone when I was fifteen and hearing the race card seriously played. Hearing people calling others (me, for one) the “n…lover” word. Which was the phrase of the day among those who sought to divide by race.
Dad, by the way, passed away three years ago just shy of ninety. I told this story at his funeral. It was the first time his Pennsylvania friends had ever heard it. He was, as they say of many in the “Greatest Generation” a bit of the silent type. His son, on the other hand, is one of those noisy baby boomers.
And I have not only not forgotten. I will not sit quietly by and let people do this. To me, at least, it could not possibly be more morally wrong. And people can spend all day calling me a racist moron etc etc etc for this..which, by and large today, they have. C’est la vie. No whimpering here. This is nothing.
Wow. OK Lex! Geez…I should’a put THAT in the column!
Thanks for listening.
Wow. Many thoughts, Jeff, but the short version is: Yes, you should have put that into the column.Would it be OK if I reposted this dialogue in its entirety on my blog? I will not be offended if you say no.Best,
Lex* * *
Holy cow! I have received soooooooo much e-mail…almost entirely negative, that I failed to see this one. Yes, but of course. Feel free. I am going to open up on this for Tuesday.
And thanks. Sorry I took so long.
Well, I still think he was flat wrong in the original premise of his column. And despite following up both with me and at the Spectator, he hasn’t yet owned that wrongness, acknowledged it, apologized for it.
Unlike a lot of people who promote color blindness going forward, I think he sincerely, if misguidedly, believes that is the right thing to do from both moral and practical standpoints. But he and people who think as he does are misguided. They don’t see the advantages they derive from an accident of birth, because they have been surrounded by those advantages — pervasive, invisible and essential as oxygen — since birth.
I don’t think, my earlier harshness to the contrary, that he’s an idiot. Indeed, I think he could learn on this subject as well as he obviously has learned on others. But I don’t have the time or energy to be the one to teach him right now. Sue me.
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UPDATE: I still don’t have the time or energy, so I’ll let Martin do it for me:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.