If Everything Is a Lynching, Nothing Is a Lynching

Screenshot: CNN

I’m reminded, today, a day after Donald Trump called his impeachment inquiry a lynching—and an hour after reading that good ole’ Uncle Joe Biden once made the same analogy about Bill Clinton’s impeachment—of last week’s round of “So, Who Doesn’t Want to Be a Nigger But Wants to Say Nigga?” Specifically, my thoughts are centered on one of the more entertaining and absurd sub-conversations about nigga/nigger use and usage, where white people either attempt to find linguistic equivalents to it (as Chris Cuomo did months ago with “Fredo”) or they perform outrage at a Fisher-Price racial slur (like what happened last month with Antonio Brown and “cracker”).

These phenomena stem from a pathological lack of perspective; a learned myopia so thick it’s almost quaint. There are no equivalents to nigger for the same reason there are no equivalents to gravity. That word’s existence and power are direct correlations of the conditions that saw fit to create it. For white people to exist the way they were intended to when whiteness was conceived, niggers need to, too. Chivalry is useless without puddles to lay coats over, right?

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Of course, white people—even white men—have been attacked, discriminated against, unjustly imprisoned, and wrongly executed. But because they were thought to be communists. Or witches. Or maybe they belonged to what was believed to be the wrong religion or sexual orientation. Never—literally never—has whiteness or maleness been the target of institutional bias and hate in America, but there seems to be a value in pretending that ain’t true.

The result of this performative astigmatism is a collective Munchausen’s syndrome, where instead of acknowledging that it is literally not possible for whites in America to face legitimate persecution, they invent it. We had/have it, and they want it too. Not the actual persecution, though. Hell no. Never that. Just what they believe to be the best parts of it, which is the ability to feel aggrieved, and for their racial grievances to be recognized too. It reminds me of my kids in a way. A few months ago, my then 7-month old son was sick, and needed medicine. My three-year-old witnessed this and also started “coughing.” She wasn’t sick; she just wanted some medicine too. It was cute.

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The easy takeaway here is that the sort of white men who invent these victimizations aren’t remarkably dissimilar to three-year-olds. This is not untrue. But it’s also not completely true. Because what’s also happening here, for all us to witness, is the gradual eroding of meaning; a surreptitious act that requires an adult shrewdness and intentionality.

If everything is a lynching—an impeachment, a court hearing, a tweet, an uncomfortable conversation, a light critique, a drop in cell phone service, a longer than anticipated wait time at Panera Bread—then nothing is a lynching. And if nothing is a lynching, well, are we even sure lynchings really happened? Cause if what’s happening to the President qualifies, then, well, they couldn’t have been that bad, right?

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About the author

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB and a columnist for GQ.com. His debut memoir in essays, What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins), is available for preorder.