Fear of a Black Avenger


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. 
Jump to comments
Presented by

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. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?

How to avoid working through lunch, and diseases related to social isolation.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more


Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.


What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world



More in National

From This Author

Just In