Willie Lynch and Black Criminality

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the year is 1712...

What is now the United States of America was but a mere assortment of colonies; the newly ripened fruit of colonialism and slave labor in the new world. In one of the oldest of these colonies, Virginia, a British slave owner by the name of Willie Lynch was said to be invited to present to local slave owners his methods of slave owning (Internet Archive 1996). His alleged speech made over three centuries ago was explicitly detailed in his letter. In Willie Lynch’s letter, he delineates a more effective way to own slaves—an alternative to simply hanging slaves when they “misbehaved”.  He states:

 

“I have a full proof method for controlling your black slaves. I guarantee every one of you that, if installed correctly, it will control the slaves for at least 300 hundreds years. My method is simple. Any member of your family or your overseer can use it. I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves; and I take these differences and make them bigger. I use fear, distrust and envy for control purposes. . . On top of my list is “age,” but it’s there only because it starts with an “a.” The second is “color” or shade. There is intelligence, size, sex, sizes of plantations. . . Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action, but before that, I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than trust and envy stronger than adulation, respect or admiration”  (FinalCall.com News 2009)

 

Essentially Lynch’s plan was to manipulate black slaves by pitting them against each other and simultaneously forcing a dependence on their white master.  Now, it’s important to note that both Willie Lynch and his letter are technically fictional; the slave practices of “Willie Lynch” are simply 18th century propaganda.  Willie Lynch, however fictitious he and his letters may be, continues to have a ubiquitous influence on African Americans today. By using divisiveness and distrust amongst blacks as the underlying themes for his ideology, he was successfully able to help perpetuate the image of black criminality, a pervasive illustration that is still present today in 2016.

 

Since our arrival in this country about four centuries ago, African Americans have been negatively portrayed as a myriad of stereotypes. Some of these gross misrepresentations were, more or less, unintentional ignorance. A fair amount, however, were consciously implemented as a method to develop an image of black inferiority; “Keep the body, take the mind. . .” as Willie Lynch said (FinalCall.com News 2009). None of these stereotypes was more pervasive than the black criminal. What made this image less of stereotype and more of a reality for whites and blacks alike was the fact that this image of black criminality was supported with statistical evidence: “New statistical and racial identities forged out of [the 1890] raw census data showed that African Americans, as 12 percent of the population made up 30 percent of the nation’s prison population” (Muhammad 4). What wasn’t mentioned in this census data, for obvious reasons, was the presence of specially designed race-conscious laws, discriminatory punishments, and habitual forms of racial surveillance that had been institutionalized during the Reconstruction Era as a way to suppress black freedom. White social scientists and criminologists then presented the data to the public as indisputable, objective evidence of the deviance of African Americans (Muhammad 4-5). Consequently, all other forms of criminality (i.e. white criminality) suddenly appeared less fearsome, and criminality gradually went from plural to singular. This “statistical evidence” coupled with the post-slavery assumption of “color-blind universalism” where many whites believed in the declining significance of slavery led many individuals to attribute black failure to the innate pathology of blacks. They would inadvertently critique black criminality in what they assumed to be a racially neutral language: “I am not a racist . . . the numbers speak for themselves!” Moreover, this illustration of the black deviant not only made white people fearsome of blacks, but also developed a feeling of self-loathing within many African Americans that is still evident today. Again echoing the words of Willie Lynch almost 200 years prior, “[Blacks] must love, respect and trust only us. . .”

 

Even to this day, self-hatred is a serious problem not only in the black community but globally as well. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s estimated that 77% of Nigerian women use some form of skin bleaching cream in order to lighten their skin (Leondis).  With pseudo-statistical evidence supporting claims that blacks are “things against which normality, whiteness, and functionality have been defined” (Muhammad 7) from as early as the 1890’s and as late as the 1960’s with the Moynihan report, it’s no wonder that many blacks struggle with self-hatred. In an article published in The Guardian, controversial author, Orville Lloyd Douglas, states:

 

“I can honestly say I hate being a black male. Although black people like to wax poetic about loving their label I hate "being black". I just don't fit into a neat category of the stereotypical views people have of black men. In popular culture black men are recognized in three areas: sports, crime, and entertainment. I hate rap music, I hate most sports, and I like listening to rock music such as PJ Harvey, Morrissey, and Tracy Chapman. I have nothing in common with the archetypes about the black male.  There is so much negativity and criminal suspicion associated with being a black male in Toronto. Yet, I don't have a criminal record, and I certainly don't associate with criminals. In fact, I abhor violence, and I resent being compared to young black males (or young people of any race) who are lazy, not disciplined, or delinquent” (Douglas)

 

Although Douglas is speaking from his experiences in Toronto, similar sentiments resonate with many blacks in the United States as well. Douglas’ self-hatred is a direct result of Lynch’s propaganda from 300 years prior. Douglas’ hatred of blacks and what they are portrayed as in addition to the implicit envy he has of white people is exactly what Willie Lynch and other slave owners wanted—to manipulate their slaves by undermining black culture entirely. Douglas’ statements indicate that Lynch was right. 300 years after that fictional letter was written with that imaginary pen, black people are still distrusting each other and subconsciously envying the fairer skinned race that used to hold them captive. What used to be accomplished with various slave breaking techniques (e.g. whippings and corporal punishments, separation of families, prohibition of reading or learning of any kind) is still being accomplished today with black criminality and their skewed statistics.

 

~Adam H. Williams~