Guest Post: A Town Called Lynchburg
by Lavern Merriweather
Back when Anthony A. Williams was the mayor of Washington D.C., he was faced with the dubious task of having to fire one of his aides, David Howard, for unwisely using the word ‘niggardly’ which set off a firestorm of controversy on both sides of the spectrum. There were those in the media who were quick to defend Howard saying that the word was taken out of context, that he didn’t mean the word the way it sounded. Then, there were those who said that context or not, Mr. Howard should have been a lot more sensitive to how that word would sound to a certain segment of the American public that have been hearing for decades now, a word similar to that one, a word with some of the most negative and hateful connotations ever created behind it.
Whenever I heard a white male columnist or average Joe complain that the word ‘niggardly’ wasn’t meant to be offensive because that word didn’t comes from a place of hatred, I gathered that they must have built a time machine and went back to the precise moment when that word came about since they seem to have an absolute certainty of its’ ‘innocent’ origin. As much as they want to live in the fantasy that white people have never really at any point in time truly harbored racist feelings towards those of us with more melanin, I just can’t afford that luxury.
I wouldn’t put it past whoever came up with that word just exactly what their intent was. I don’t think that the town of Lynchburg, Virginia was called that solely to honor the namesake of the man John Lynch, especially since there are two other cities named Lynchburg, and all of them allowed its citizens to get away with the vicious, sick, vile act of lynching which many times happened because of a white person (re:woman’s) lie or a perceived slight from a black person who didn’t know their place.
But to hear many white male pundits tell it, that word has no terrible history behind it and the black people who say otherwise don’t know what they are talking about, that we are either just too ‘paranoid’ or overly sensitive. Well, gosh golly gee wiz! I can’t imagine why black people would be paranoid about the origins of some words white people use even if it’s not meant in a derogatory way.
I’d like to offer a bit of advice to those people and say seriously, please do not tell me what words I should or shouldn’t find offensive. You haven’t walked a mile in any black person’s shoes and obviously don’t want to. So, how the hell are you going to instruct me on when I should pick my battles?
None of us living in this day and age really knows what the motivation is behind that word. It’s interesting that those same apologists aren’t nearly so vocal when an obnoxious prick like William Bennett says that in order to alleviate a lot of crime in this country we should start aborting more black babies. Or was that just a slip of the tongue too? Maybe like the singer said, my mind IS playing tricks on me! And I suppose I was just hearing things when John Rocker made blatantly racist comments about the racial diversity of major cities like New York, and I could go into all the countless instances of flat out bigoted vitriol directed at our current president Barack Obama, but I don’t have 5 hours to spare.
They seem to have this ideal that there never any racism in America, that the entire foundation of this country’s history wasn’t built willingly and wantingly through sacrificing many lives that their ancestors deemed completely unworthy at will. They might as well tell us how ‘good’ a lot of slaves had it and that ‘slavery wasn’t really all that bad. I’d like to know what Twilight Zone bizarre universe they discovered that one, because they certainly didn’t find it in the one I live in.
I happen to live in the real world, not a fake one that perpetuates lies while putting up stupid defenses because the people you tell it to can’t face the truth of their legacy of their reality. Well then that is their problem. I don’t care whose toes I step on because it’s preferable to walking on eggshells. I don’t have to protect anybody’s feeling when they are doing their damndest to disrespect and disregard mine.