Fear of a Black Avenger

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One of the corollaries of white supremacy, in this country, is the idea that, should black people ever get power, they will immediately enact revenge among the white populace for all the years of toil, rape, murder, slavery, and terrorism. The notion is at least as old the antebellum South, and probably older. Large-scale slave rebellions were quite rare, but the fear of slave rebellions was so thick in many states throughout the South that, in the years leading up to the War, every able white male -- slave-holder or not -- had to serve on the slave patrols. 


Much like the "secular-atheist Islamo-fascist" line, or the "communist king of corporate bailouts" line you hear hurled at Obama, the varying corollaries of white supremacy never made sense. Blacks were a race so docile, meek, and loyal that they would rape, pillage, and murder their masters the moment a back was turned. 

The fear of black vengeance continues well into 20th century, with Senator Ben Tillman telling his colleagues:

He is not meddling with politics, for he found that the more he meddled with them the worse off he got. As to his "rights" -- I will not discuss them now. We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.

Because what black people truly want is to "govern white men" and gratify their lusts upon their white wives and daughters. 

Perhaps more than any other strain of white supremacy, the specter of black revenge haunts Obama. As a voter in Kentucky told George Packer when asked about Obama, "I think he would put too many minorities in positions over the white race. That's my opinion."


The opinion is unoriginal. Steve King thinks "the President has demonstrated that he has a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race - on the side that favors the black person." 

Rush Limbaugh thinks that in Obama's American "the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering 'yeah, right on, right on, right on.' Of course everybody said the white kid deserved it he was born a racist, he's white."

Glenn Beck believes that Obama is a "a guy who has exposed himself, over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture....I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem...This guy is, I believe, a racist."

This is a long introduction to the "Ask Anything" segment above. The point is that this is the fear that leads to Shirley Sherrod's dismissal. Sherrod was not simply accused of "racism" but of gleefully describing an act of racial vengeance. As I've said before, her dismissal was, to my mind, the Obama administration's most disappointing action. 
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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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