Message To Bill Cosby, Justin Fairfax and R.Kelly! You Are Not Being Lynched!

Those of us who are are old enough remember the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas saga that took place in the fall of 1991. The hearings were a dramatic and riveting spectacle filled with sordid revelations and intense commentary from all sides. Thomas was nominated by President George Herbert Walker Bush in the summer of 1991 to replace Supreme Court giant Thurgood Marshall who had the distinction of being the first Black American to serve on the court. Supporters of Hill and Thomas delivered eloquent and, in many cases, heart rendering testimony about their own individuals lives as well as both of the central figures (Hill and Thomas) who were at the center of the controversy. To say that the hearings were a deft exercise in gut-wrenching drama would be an understatement.

Throughout the several day long event, there were many moments that remained seared in the minds of the public almost 30 years later. From then Alabama senator Howell Hefflin asking Ms. Hill if she suffered from a “martyr complex” to Thomas supporter John Doggett who made the cocky remark that “women could not help but be attracted to him.” Indeed, the hearings will be one for the history books.

Of all the commentary that emanated from the event, the comment that was most notable and stunning (depending on you point of view) at least to me was when then nominee Thomas looked at the Senate judiciary committee, stared them directly in the eyes and declared that he was “the victim of a high tech lynching for uppity blacks who deign to think for themselves.” Yes indeed! With a straight face, the now Justice Thomas brazenly espoused such a disingenuous remark! For those of us who were already glued to our television sets, such an unabashedly arrogant comment was the height of intellectual dishonesty.

HOW DARE HE was the largely unison response from several quarters of the Black intelligentsia. Such a remark prompted more than a few Black (and some White ) public figures to take to the op-ed pages of prestigious newspapers and magazines to weigh with intense words of criticism toward Thomas. On the contrary, others weighed in with supportive commentary. The hearings eventually concluded and Thomas was confirmed by the senate with a vote of 52–48. It was the closet margin of victory ever for a Supreme court nominee.

As one can imagine, even after all the drama had passed, Black radio and media was lit with take no prisoner commentary. Many people supporting Hill, others denouncing and demonizing her for what they saw as Hill supposedly being used as part of a larger plan “to bring a powerful and successful Black man down.” Yes, if we are being honest, reaction in the Black community in regards to the hearings was deeply polarized. From Black barbershops and beauty shops to houses of worship to HBCU’s, Black women’s organizations and other predominately Black spaces, more than a few Black men and women did not hesitate to speak truth to power as they as it.

To me and more than a few other people of color, in particular, Black Americans, the most outrageous moment of the entire saga was when Thomas had the audacity to compare his situation to being lynched! Upon hearing this, there is no doubt that the senate judiciary committee was caught off guard too. In fact, they were likely so paralyzed into silence that they did not know how to react. Say what you will, I do have to concede that it was a stroke of perverted cleverness and genius by the Supreme court Justice.

There is no doubt in my mind that he went into deep rumination thinking what word he could use that would have the most powerful and resonating impact of the judiciary committee. He eventually concluded that the word was the dangerous, racially inflamed L word. Lynching. A dishonest and insulting tactic to be sure. Nonetheless, it was successful in elevating him to the highest court in the land. By no means an I condoning such behavior. In fact, I abhor it, but Thomas knew that such a gamble would likely work in his favor and it did.

Now, more almost three decades later, it seems that a few other Black men are following Thomas’ lead. Over the past several weeks we have seen high profile Black male public figures such as disgraced mega entertainer and now convict, Bill Cosby, Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax, R&B music superstar Robert Kelly, better known as R. Kelly (and some other things for that matter) claim that they are the victims of lynchings! To add insult to injury, Cosby went as far as comparing himself to freedom fighting statesmen Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. No need to respond to such bulls*it!

While each of these men find themselves under siege (largely due to their own misbehavior and missteps), the obvious truth is that these men are not the victims of lynchings! In fact, when I read about each of these individuals equating themselves to lynching victims my reaction was NEGROES PLEASE! I am not allowed to print what I actually said!

To my knowledge, none of you (referring to Cosby, Fairfax and Kelly) have had a noose tied around your neck or been drowned in a river with a rope or other materials strapped to your body. No one has strung you up a from a large oak tree. None of you have had various body parts such as your hands, feet or genitals cut off (in some cases stuffed in your mouth) as you gasp your last dying breaths as crowds of White men and women and in some cases young White children gawk with animalistic glee at you and in some cases, hurling racial epithets and other ribald comments as your body lies lymph swinging back and forth from a tree.

If the men responsible for the dirty deed really wanted to “entertain” the gathered crowd (sarcasm), they may elect to douse your still alive or suddenly dead lymph body with gasoline, set your body afire and allow you to burn and rapidly turn to ashes. Afterwards, what was left of your now badly seared corpse is being picked over by vile and crazed spectators who frantically attempt to collect your severed body parts for souvenirs or other unthinkable purposes.

Let’s just cut to the chase. Yes, we know that American Black men have had a long and tortured history of being the frequent victims, past and present, of a vehemently hostile and racially biased criminal justice system that is unrelenting in its attitude and has routinely scapegoated and targeted Black and increasingly Brown men. That piece of undeniable truth aside, no Mr. Cosby, Mr. Fairfax and Mr. Kelly, you are not being lynched! Let’s get that out of the way!

However, numerous Black men, some known and some whose lives were relegated to unspeakable horror were lynched ! Emmett Till and George Stinney Jr., both teenage Black boys in mid 20th century America were lynched! A number of Black men and some women who were taken from their homes in the middle of the night or sometimes in broad daylight were lynched! Black families in the south and other parts of the nation whose homes were firebombed in the middle of the night while they slept and were unable to escape engulfing flames and burned to death were lynched! Once again, you are not being lynched. You are, however, being called out and taken to task for your deviant, egregious behavior.

To claim that you are the victims of lynching whether high tech or otherwise is the height of foul behavior and the ultimate insult to those whose ancestors (perhaps some of your own) who were casualties of one of many intensely horrific forms of sadistic violence perpetrated on untold numbers of Black Americans (and a few non-Black people) in American history. You can refer to your current situations however you desire, but please do not dare say that you are victims of lynching! Period! Stop spouting such irresponsible nonsense! NOW!

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. Is a professor, author and public speaker. He is the author of the forthcoming book Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America that will be published by the University of Chicago Press later this year.

Historian, public speaker, social-cultural critic. Professor of African American and Gender Studies, Post-WWII U.S. History, at East Tennessee State University.