Day 3 of White History Month: Criminalizing Blackness, Part 2 - Jim Crow Etiquette
The legal aspects of Jim Crow are important to recognize, but Jim Crow was not just a set of laws, but as described by Leophus Taharka King, a “set of ideas, social norms, life ways, mythoforms, role-play symbols, sanctions, and devastations created after the Civil War by white politicians intent on maintaining a system of oppressive control over African American life and economics”.
Often the legal aspects of Jim Crow are the most recognized, leading to other institutions being ignored. The racial etiquette of Jim Crow worked alongside the laws. Jim Crow etiquette was a system of pervasive anti-Black norms that regulated daily life, particularly in the South. These laws were intended to subjugate Black Americans or “keep them in their place”.
Examples of Jim Crow etiquette:
- White Americans referring to Black Americans by their first names or with infantilizing terms such as “boy” or “girl” - all while Black Americans had to address white Americans with the utmost respect, using honorifics
- Black Americans were not to display their intelligence or knowledge in a way that could threaten white Americans
- Black Americans could not suggest that white Americans were lying or even that their intentions were bad
- During World War II, until Eleanor Roosevelt intervened, Black nurses were only allowed to tend to German prisoners of war – not white American soldiers. This occurred even with a severe shortage of nurses.
- Black and White Americans were separated in hospitals and only private ambulances would pick up Black patients.
- Black women received no assistance with luggage or bags on trains or buses.
- When not excluded by law, Black Americans were often were often still restricted from attending movies, the theatre, and other forms of entertainment. If allowed, they generally had to use back entrances and sit upstairs in sections referred to as “nigger heaven” or “buzzard roost.”
- Black Americans were not allowed to try on clothes, as businesses feared that white Americans would never buy them if they did.
The consequences for violating these norms were dire. Black Americans had virtually no legal protection in a system entirely controlled by white Americans. Lynching was used as a tool of intimidation and a way to control and limit the lives of Black Americans. It often took place precisely because Black Americans refused to accept the racist status quo. A number of Black women, often those who resisted white male sexual violence, were raped, tortured, and killed. Thriving Black communities (such as Rosewood) faced violence and destruction. Successful Black women and men were tortured and lynched.
The period of Jim Crow is popularly held to have ended 1950s and 1960s, but many of the norms and ideas about how Black people should behave did not end.
Jim Crow Etiquette Today
Like the racial disparities of Black codes and Jim Crow laws, remnants of the Jim Crow etiquette are still in place.
Black Americans are still often kept out of white spaces. Even middle class Black Americans are frequently followed in stores and excluded from white spaces (see: Sikes and Feagin’s Living with Racism: The Black Middle-Class Experience). Recent cases can be seen even at high-end chains; an example of this is Barneys racially profiling customers. De facto residential segregation and housing discrimination still continue today.
George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin because of his own racially-based, anti-Black fears. Nothing about Trayvon Martin was threatening, but the fact that a Black boy would be walking around a largely white, gated community after dark was justification enough for Zimmerman to stalk, confront, and murder him.
Driving While Black
In many cases, Black drivers are stopped for no reason other than their race. When stopped, Black drivers (and often, Latin@ drivers) are more likely to be searched than white Americans. Black and Latino men are more likely to have force used against them.
This is particularly true in cities that are more segregated and that have smaller Black populations.
[See: “Contacts between Police and the Public: Findings from the 2002 National Survey” [x]
"Vehicle Cues and Racial Profiling: Police Officers’ Perceptions of Vehicles and Drivers" [x] ]
Police BrutalityAnalyzing 130 police-brutality accounts in several cities across the nation, Kim Lersch discovered that the targets of this type of police malpractice are almost always black or Latino. The latter made up 97 percent of the victims of police brutality.Yet the overwhelming majority (93 percent) of officers involved in these incidents were white. Police brutality mainly involves white-on-black or white-on-Latino violence. Moreover, it appears that white elites in many cities sometimes use or allow police harassment in order to keep black residents “in their place.” Some police harassment and brutality targeting Americans of color seem to be linked to maintaining de facto housing segregation. Since the days of slavery, being “out of place” has been potentially dangerous for black Americans, especially black men. If black men are found in historically white residential areas, they still run the risk of harassment by the public or private police forces there. - Joe Feagin, Racist America
Day 1 of White History Month: Imaginary Black-on-White Crime
[Images: Newspaper Article on Rosewood Massacre, Newspaper Article on Scottsboro Boys [x], Boston Herald Cover feating Charles Stuart [x], Conrad Zdzierak and Surveillance Photo of Conrad Zdzierak wearing a mask to appear Black during a robbery [x], Ashley Smith [x], Police Officer Robert Ralston [x], Ashley Todd hoax [x], Bethany Storro [x]]
White-on-Black hoaxes follow a standard pattern. First, law enforcement officials are called into action. They are asked to protect an innocent White person from further harm and to apprehend a widely perceived threat, a menacing Black man. Second, the incident arouses sympathy and results in calls for swift and stiff punishment. Third, even after the hoax is uncovered, the image of the criminalblackman lingers and becomes more embedded in our collective racial consciousness. - Katheryn Russell-Brown, The Color of Crime
White Americans have ascribed criminality to Blackness for centuries. There is a long pattern of blaming (and punishing) Black Americans for crimes they never committed, furthering this notion. While the aspect of race was noted when Conor Zdzierak disguised himself as a Black man, blaming Black Americans for crimes is part of a long-running historical theme in the United States. The trend relies upon ideas of inherent Black criminality and white virtue - particularly the Black Male Rapist and Pure White Woman. False accusations and racial hoaxes have led to terrible consequences: death (particularly lynchings), riots, imprisonment, and economic losses.
Disclaimer: Rape accusations are almost always true [pdf]. One notable exception is a historical pattern of false accusations against Black men for raping white women, often resulting in violent consequences.
1923 Rosewood Massacre
The Rosewood massacre was not unlike many other historical cases that lead to anti-Black violence. In 1923, a white woman named Francis Taylor, claimed that she had been beaten and raped by a Black man. This story quickly turned into rumors of rape and assault. In reality, she had been beaten by her lover, John Bradley, but the Sheriff took the story at face value; he neglected to question Sarah Carrier, who had been working for Francis Taylor.
The Sheriff instead suggested that it was a supposedly escaped prisoner, Jesse Hunter. A large mob of white men gathered; it amassed hundreds, largely from the neighboring town of Sumner, but with men coming from as far as 200 miles away to join in. They first tortured and lynched an innocent Black man named Sam Carter. The mob then proceeded to Rosewood, claiming that Jesse Hunter was hiding with his cousin, Sylvester Carrier - a Black man from an influential Rosewood family. It was certainly no coincidence that Rosewood was an exceptional Black community that was self-sufficient and relatively prosperous.
The white mob proceeded to kill both Sylvester and his mother, Sarah Carrier - the same woman who worked for Francis Taylor and had claimed that she had been beaten by her lover, not a Black man. They continued onwards over the next few days, killing more Rosewood residents and eventually burning Rosewood to the ground. A grand jury found “insufficient evidence” to prosecute members of the mob. The surviving residents of Rosewood were left with nothing. Families were scattered and forced to rebuild their lives elsewhere.
Victoria Price and Ruby Bates and the Scottsboro Boys [Timeline]
In 1931, two white women, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, engaged in sexual activity on a train. In order to avoid charges, they accused nine Black teenage boys of raping them. Within days the boys were indicted by a grand jury, and in the following two weeks, all nine of the boys (ranging in age from 13 to 19) were convicted of rape and sentenced to death.
There was no physical evidence of rape, and a letter was uncovered in 1932 where Ruby Bates admitted to her boyfriend that she was not raped. In 1933 she testified that she was not raped.
Despite this, the sentences of the boys were converted only to lengthy sentences (from 20 years to life). None of the convictions were dropped until 1937, when Roy Wright, Eugene Williams, Olen Montgomery, and Willie Roberson were exonerated. The remaining men still had to serve sentences until they were paroled (and one briefly escaped). The last three of the Scottsboro boys who had not received a dropped conviction or pardon were only posthumously pardoned in 2013.
Contemporary Cases – Racial Hoaxes
Racial hoaxes - crimes that are fabricated or blamed on someone because of their race - are not only committed by white people, but if you search for any of the names below, you are likely to find portrayals of them as pained, complex figures. You will find their heinous actions attributed to mental illness, personal troubles, and childhood trauma.
Legal scholar Katheryn K. Russell-Brown wrote extensively about racial hoaxes in her book Color of Crime, documenting cases between 1987 and 1996; she found that 70 percent of the time, racial hoaxes involved white accusers. Not only have ordinary citizens falsified reports of Black criminals, but police officers and judicial representatives have invented imaginary Black criminals as well.
Charles Stuart murdered his pregnant wife, and with the help of his brother Matthew Stuart, proceeded to make the situation look like a robbery gone wrong. He blamed the incident on an imaginary Black man, igniting racial tensions in Boston and leading to police largely occupying the neighborhood of Mission Hill. He eventually picked Willie Bennett out of a lineup, leading to calls for Bennett to receive the death penalty. Charles Stuart’s brother eventually turned his brother in; soon after, Charles Stuart committed suicide.
In 1994, Susan Smith claimed that she had been carjacked and her two children abducted by a Black man, starting a frantic manhunt. While her hoax quickly unraveled, she exploited racial stereotypes and fears to cover up that she murdered her two young sons.
In October 2008, Ashley Todd (a McCain campaign volunteer) claimed to have been robbed at knifepoint by a Black man, who upon seeing her McCain bumper sticker, carved a backwards ‘B’ into her face. Todd only admitted the story was false and the wound self-inflicted when surveillance photos contradicted her account. The incident sparked racial tensions nationwide.
Philadelphia police officer Robert Ralston claimed that while questioning two Black men, one of them shot him in the shoulder. The story never quite added up and the evidence was non-existent, but he still managed to launch a manhunt and inflame racial tensions. Weeks later, it was revealed that his wound was self-inflicted. Ralston was to cover the cost of the manhunt, but did not face criminal charges.
In 2010, Bethany Storro claimed that a random Black woman approached her saying “Hey, pretty little girl, want to take a drink of this?” and proceeded to throw acid on her face. Of course, no such Black woman existed, but police still spent hundreds of hours questioning and detaining Black women, all while sympathetic strangers donated money to Storro. Her account undoubtedly relied upon the dynamic between Black women and white women to gain sympathy.
Day 2 of White History Month: Criminalizing Blackness, Part 1- Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws
“This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” - Andrew Johnson [x]
While the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery and involuntary servitude (except as punishment for a crime), legal restrictions were quickly placed upon newly freed Black Americans. By no coincidence, these laws made it easier to penalize Black Americans and turn them into criminals. Blackness itself was grounds for legal restrictions.
Black Codes - the precursor to Jim Crow - restricted the rights of Black Americans to move freely in public space, buy and own land and property, and conduct business. Black Americans were strongly disadvantaged in the legal system. Most Southern states enacted various laws that restricted the lives of Black Americans in 1865 and 1866.
There were common features among many of the Black Codes. Many states simply changed the wording of Slave Codes such that restrictions continued that prohibited Black Americans from learning to read or write. Vagrancy laws made it so that all Freedmen were required to be employed; penalties for being unemployed resulted in vagrancy charges, which could be punished through forced unpaid labor.
Children of those arrested for vagrancy could be forced into “apprenticeships” where they would be forced to work, often for their former slaveowner. Black Americans were executed for crimes that white Americans merely received jail sentences for. The lives of Black Americans were worth little as many white Americans could avoid penalties for murdering Black Americans.
Examples of Black Codes (by no means an exhaustive list):
- Separate jailkeepers for Black and white Americans (North Carolina)
- Black men convicted of raping white women would be given the death penalty (North Carolina, Tennessee)
- Inability to testify against white Americans in court (North Carolina, Kentucky)
- Taxes - that if left unpaid, would result in vagrancy charges (Mississippi, South Carolina
- Forced apprenticeship (North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi)
- Work contracts required which often could not be broken without penalty (Texas, Mississippi)
- Fines for “disobedience and negligence” and for missed work (Texas) or insubordination (Florida)
- Restrictions on owning and carrying firearms (North Carolina, Florida)
- Restrictions on voting, holding office, or serving on juries (Texas, Tennessee)
- Restrictions on moving into and out of the state (North Carolina
- Restrictions prohibiting Black Americans from “impudence,” “swearing,” and other signs of “disobedience.” (Louisiana)
Most of these laws were repealed because of action taken by Northern states, but similar laws came into place with Jim Crow. Jim Crow laws continued to criminalize Blackness and valorize whiteness. These laws resulted in disparities in the criminal justice system and restrictions on civil rights up to a century after slavery ended.
Jim Crow is generally used to refer to institutional discrimination in the South between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but these laws and norms existed even earlier in the North. While Louisiana passed a law creating “separate but equal” train cars in 1890, segregated railroad cars were used in Massachusetts long before that.. Northern states provided a model for Southerners to treat newly freed Black Americans.
- Buses.All passenger stations in this state operated by any motor transportation company shall have separate waiting rooms or space and separate ticket windows for the white and colored races (Alabama).
- Education.The schools for white children and the schools for negro children shall be conducted separately (Florida).
- Housing: Any person…who shall rent any part of any such building to a negro person or a negro family when such building is already in whole or in part in occupancy by a white person or white family, or vice versa when the building is in occupancy by a negro person or negro family, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not less than twenty-five ($25.00) nor more than one hundred ($100.00) dollars or be imprisoned not less than 10, or more than 60 days, or both such fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court. (Louisiana)
- Militia. The white and colored militia shall be separately enrolled, and shall never be compelled to serve in the same organization. No organization of colored troops shall be permitted where white troops are available and where whites are permitted to be organized, colored troops shall be under the command of white officers (North Carolina).
- Promotion of Equality: Any person…who shall be guilty of printing, publishing or circulating printed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and negroes, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fine or not exceeding five hundred (500.00) dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months or both. (Mississippi)
Penalties for Blackness Today
When slavery (and slave codes) ended, the Black Codes took their place. When Black Codes were eliminated, it was only a few years before Jim Crow developed. Jim Crow laws ended with the Civil Rights Movement, but these disparities did not just disappear. The legacy of these laws can be seen in the criminal justice system today.
Stop and Frisk
In New York, Toronto, Southern California, Black people are much more likely than white people to be stopped. In New York, when stopped, they are more likely to be frisked and have physical force used against them. This is despite the fact that whites who are frisked are more likely to have weapons and contraband on them.
Black defendants are over three times as likely as white defendants to receive the death penalty when the victim is white. In one study, Blackness itself is found to be an aggravating factor comparable to “causing great harm, fear, or pain”
Some states used Black Codes to exclude Black Americans from jury duty, but Black Americans are still excluded from juries today. Prosecutors have used supposedly race-neutral reasons such as “low intelligence” to remove Black Americans from jury duty. In Houston County, Alabama, 80% of Black Americans have been struck by prosecutors in death penalty cases.
Job Opportunities With a Criminal Record
Black applicants with a criminal record are at a disadvantage in the labor market when compared to their white counterparts. In fact, Devah Pager found that job opportunities for Black Americans without a criminal record were worse than those of white Americans with a drug conviction.
I need white people to stop pretending consent was possible during slavery.
Stop lying to yourselves that those black cousins are the result of illicit love affairs & grasp that slaves could not say no.
When consent is not an option, when you’re only seen as 3/5ths of a human being & you have no legal standing? You can’t say yes.
I need white America to sit down for a sec. Look into the faces of black Americans with the same last names & figure it the fuck out.
Our ancestors were raped by your ancestors. Regularly. Some of the kids were treated kindly. Most were not. They were sold.
White mistresses punished the slaves for “tempting” master & congratulated themselves on that bloody work. Read the narratives.
Not the cleaned up ones either. Read Incidents in The Life of A Slave Girl & understand that Mammy was a victim, not the one who loved you.
She couldn’t care for her kids, couldn’t choose her husband or their father most of the time. She was a slave.
Millions of people died on the Middle Passage. Millions more died here at the hands of your ancestors. Own that.
Now you want to sing Kumbaya & keep oppressing our communities & erasing our contributions. Spare me the tired bullshit.
Male slaves fared no better. There’s a long history of them being raped, tortured & killed too. That was slavery. Stop romanticizing it.
Our children were fed to alligators as bait (feel free to look that up) died of starvation or exposure & that was slavery too. Yep, we were livestock & you use sickly livestock as bait.
Stop watching Gone With The Wind & fantasizing about beautiful plantations if you can’t accept what happened on those plantations.
House slaves had it better in the sense of access to food & possibly better treatment, but they were still slaves.
14 year old slave girls weren’t falling in love with the men who could beat them & everyone they loved to death.
Read the tales of enslaved women who killed their children to spare them. Read about people beaten to death as an example.
Sally Hemings could have left Jefferson in Paris. Of course her entire family was still in his power. And his “love”? Didn’t free her. Ever.
Go look at the pictures of former slaves backs. Whipped until they bled & left to scar so they were maimed for life & couldn’t run.
Also before you talk about the cleaned up narratives, remember that the people relating their stories knew lynching was always possible.
Records of slavery were deliberately destroyed so that former owners wouldn’t have to pay anyone.
That “peculiar institution” was generations of blood, pain, & terror. That’s what built America. Never forget that.
Now stop talking about anyone’s white ancestors like they deserve the fucking credit for the success of people descended from slaves.
American slavery began in 1619. June 19, 1865 was the last official day of slavery. Do the math on how long it takes to heal that wound.
After slavery was officially over? Black codes & Jim Crow laws followed. America’s history of oppression is longer than that of freedom.
Also before any d*mb motherfuckers land in my mentions. I have a degree in history. I will read you to filth & bury you in sources.
Trust & believe there is no country here for people who want to romanticize a system that is still grinding away at my community.
All this fluffy fucking talk about American history to coddle white kids feelings & engender patriotism? You won’t get it here.
My ancestors built this country, I served this country & I will tell the damned truth about this country. Don’t like it? Fuck you.
Now let me get in my feelings about slavery before Africans were brought here. Because we weren’t the first people enslaved.
We were deliberately sought out for our skill sets & resistance to disease. Know why we were resistant? We’d had contact for years.
All of that “My ancestors never owned slaves so it has nothing to do with me?” Go look at those NDN ancestors again. See how many were free.
While you’re in there checking that out? Look up those old country ancestors & see how many benefited from slavery indirectly.
Also while we’re talking about NDN relatives? Yo, learn a name besides Cherokee. Better yet, learn about the genocidal tactics they faced.
Look up immigrant groups becoming white in America. Find out who had to bleed so they could gain access to white privilege.
Let’s really talk about the Red Summer of 1919 & how it wasn’t an unusual occurrence. Tulsa, Rosewood? They were just famous.
Let’s talk about welfare & who could access it. Hell let’s talk about who is collecting more of it right now.
Let’s talk about the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action (spoiler! White women!) & what it means to attack black people instead.
Shit, let’s get into the Great Depression & the Great Recession & who is hurting the most financially through both.
Let’s talk about conditions on reservations, in the inner city, & the violence faced by POC who try to leave those areas.
Hell, let’s talk about why we don’t see shows that reflect the American population set in the past, present, or future.
Go read Columbus’ diaries & see what “civilization” really meant to the people he encountered.
For that matter go read up on King Leopold & the Congo. I’ll wait while you cry.
That’s the thing about whiteness as a social construct in America. It’s not about white people, it’s about white power over others.
When we’re talking about white privilege? We’re talking about what it takes to shape this society based on oppression.
America is a young country with a lot of power because of genocide, slavery, & continuing oppression. Individuals build institutions.
All of these conversations aren’t about bringing out white guilt, they’re about ending this institution developed over the generations.
Also let’s be clear that America is sick with this ish across the political spectrum. It may manifest differently but it exists everywhere.
Before I go, let me also suggest that people who are curious about anything I tweeted about take a tour through Google with terms.
It’s not that I won’t answer questions, but there are books out there that I think everyone should read on slavery, whiteness, & America."
- Karnythia, laying it down with righteousness on Juneteenth — the truth about slavery and its lingering effects on America. (via skyliting)
I don’t want to see tl;dr no you ALL need to fucking read this. (via thisisnotblackhistorymonth)
READ THIS!(via ashotofchoklit)