theroot | American empires are built on the little white lie that rests on the premise that people of color are scary and dangerous. There is a long history of white people gaining money, power, influence, sympathy or a few more Twitter followers by using the currency that is the dark-skinned demon. It buys white fright, and in America, with white fright on your side, you can get anything you want.
There are countless white-fright stories of white men coercing women into accusing black men of rape to initiate lynchings and retake valuable land from newly freed slaves in the post-Reconstruction South. In 1918, when black sharecroppers in Phillips County, Ark., decided to unionize and combine resources, farmers spread the word as far as Mississippi of a black conspiracy to murder white planters. The result was 237 dead black men, women and children in one of the worst mass lynchings in U.S. history. Lying-ass dogs.
America’s war on drugs began when newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst decided that hemp production might endanger his pulp and paper empire, so one of his papers editorialized the now famous quote, “Marijuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” That the drug war was a black thing always sounded like a tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory until last year, when an aide from the Nixon administration—who invented the term “war on drugs”—revealed to CNN:
You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the [Vietnam] war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. […] We could arrest their leaders[,] raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
One of the reasons accusations of racism seem so inflammatory is that there is widespread belief that pointing out a racist act automatically means the person who did it hates people of color. Contrary to popular belief, racism does not necessarily equal hate. Racism sometimes manifests itself in the privileged apathy that does not consider people of color a lower, lesser form of humanity. Instead, people of color aren’t considered at all. To some people they are just brown props on a white stage—to be manipulated and used as needed. We are step stools and tools. They don’t always shoot black people in the face or string them from trees; sometimes they just carelessly toss us under the bus of their choosing.
Like when, in 1994, white fright went viral with Susan Smith, who told the story of how a black man carjacked her in South Carolina while her sons were in the car, only for it to turn out that she murdered them and drove them into a lake.