'Gender Jim Crow'

Jelani on the historical ironies at work in Cleveland, Texas:


It is worth remembering that in the age of lynching, as now, new media technology served as a kind of antiseptic, airing rancid behavior in forums much larger than the moral echo chambers of Deep South counties. Southerners were, on some level, stunned by the national firestorm that the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till created. They were incapable of understanding why a single murder of a black man--an act that had been Southern business as usual for decades--unleashed torrents of criticism and outrage nationwide. The behavior was the same, but exposing it on television created a completely new dynamic. In the face of this new circumstance, Southerners retrenched and expanded their contempt to include media and all other such "outside agitators." They excavated the Confederate flag and elevated it to a place of honor as a symbol of their recalcitrance....

It's likely that the feelings of some residents of Cleveland are a curious echo of what those Southern partisans of a bygone era felt. Rancid behavior in their town--and more important, the values that undergird it--has been given a national airing. Outside agitators have assailed their views--140 characters at a time. But would that these kinds of views were confined to a small outpost in East Texas. None of us who saw fans rally around R. Kelly during his pedophilia trial or heard the bullshit rationales given for Chris Brown's assault on Rihanna could feel secure in pointing a judgmental finger at Cleveland, Texas. Gender Jim Crow is a national concern. 

We have yet to appreciate that in Texas and beyond--whether we are talking about murder or rape or any of the myriad violations of human dignity that happen every day in communities across this country--there are no asterisks, only excuses. And sorry ones at that.

I want to double down on that point about this not being confined to small outposts in East Texas. I think back to the Mike Tyson rape case, and the spectacle of long-time civil rights activist T.J. Jemison marshaling the National Baptist Convention to back Tyson.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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