The legacy of divisivenes and 'honor'

August 30, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

IT TOOK SUN "Perspective" editor Mike Adams to point out a glaring error in my column on Willie Lynch, the apocryphal Jamaican slave owner who supposedly made an early 18th century speech about controlling slaves by using "fear, envy and distrust." It was an error of omission, not commission.

In the column, I made reference to Adams' February article on the Willie Lynch syndrome. Adams did an excellent job in proving that there is no documented proof that Lynch existed, but, as he made clear, that was not his main point.

"The way your piece was written, it mis-characterizes the thrust of my piece," Adams wrote in one of his famous computer messages. "There was really no need to invent Lynch. There is a body of history that supports the ideas that were attributed to Lynch. In fairness, you should have characterized my piece more accurately if you planned to use it for the underpinnings of your own. To mention me in passing makes it appear that I buy into your argument, and I don't."

Adams' article specifically quoted Columbia University historian Eric Foner, who doubted Lynch's existence but said there were numerous books and magazine articles on how to keep slaves docile and under control. The literature that does exist, Foner explained to Adams, was "in the same ballpark" as the fictitious Lynch speech.

Some blacks have suggested this pitting of slave against slave for control purposes has effects that linger today.

"It explains why so many young black men are filled with self-hatred that leads to prison and the graveyard," Adams wrote in his article. Jabulani Leffall, a talented African-American business reporter here at The Sun, put it to me this way:

"Wouldn't you agree that to some degree we as a people are still restrained by certain mental fetters that cause us to shoot one another and attack one another's character?"

Yes, I do. But whether those mental fetters came from the divide-and-conquer slave tactics from more than 130 years ago is highly suspect. Several scholars have linked the high black homicide rate not to the legacy of the slaves, but the legacy of the slave masters. Today's young black men are killing each over the concept of respect. That's equivalent to the concept of "honor" Southern white men held so dear. For years they eagerly and gleefully murdered over it. For years the South had the country's highest homicide rate. Southern white men were as defensive about that fact as blacks are today about the high homicide rate among our youth.

Attacks on character are not unique to blacks. One need only read what the Federalist press printed about Thomas Jefferson when he was president, or what the Democrats said about the Federalists. It was the Federalists who passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, meant to stifle criticism, and more than one anti-Federalist journalist ended up in prison after being charged with sedition. And let's not forget how those Southern gentlemen referred to above traditionally handled character attacks: by dueling to the death.

And once again I'll repeat the bottom line on those documents, both real and bogus, that purported to teach slave owners how to control slaves: Their very existence proves that slaves weren't as divisive or submissive or controlled as slave owners would have liked.

Prevaricator punch line

Gordon Hutt of Glen Burnie wants to know why I left Ronald Reagan out of the Parade of Prevaricators otherwise known as our presidents.

"In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan told us he wasn't trading arms for hostages," Hutt wrote. "That is precisely what he was doing! He told us he didn't illegally transfer arms to Iran and that is exactly what took place! I hasten to point out that Reagan was selling arms to Iran at a time when they were the chief supplier of the Islamic terrorists who blew up 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut, Lebanon. He then lied to us about using the illegal proceeds of these arms sales to illegally fund his drug dealing Contra 'freedom fighters' in Nicaragua. Your silence on 'the great communicator' leads me to believe you are one of those who gives Reagan credit for the great economic growth which took place on a credit card and, of course, the fall of Communism."

Wrong, Hutt. I'm one of those who hasn't voted for a Democratic or Republican presidential candidate in years. My constant refrain in the past two elections has been "Don't blame me, I voted for Perot." I left Reagan out because on the Iran/Contra mess I wouldn't have known where to stop. If Reagan didn't get impeached for that scandal, I can't see how Congress can in good conscience impeach Clinton. But there is a joke of the millennium associated with all this. I recently received a fax from a radio talk show host who demanded that Clinton be impeached.

That radio talk show host was Oliver North, Reagan's point man in the Iran/Contra affair.

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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