I’ve watched the first episode, “Chapter 1: Georgia”, of The Underground Railroad on Amazon Prime. I’ll not be watching more. Let me explain. After that I’ll give you links to some relevant posts here at New Savanna.
Violence, cruelty, and murder
The first episode has two scenes of particular violence, one early, one late. In the early scene a boy and a young woman are tied to a post and are whipped. It’s late evening, so the light is poor. We’re at a distance so we don’t see faces. We just see clothed bodies slumped down while tied.
The late scene is much worse. It’s daylight. And...come to think of it, I’m not going to describe what happened. It’s not necessary. You can imagine easily enough. An escaped slave has been captured and he is tortured and killed on the lawn of the planation while the good white folks watch, chatter, and even dance. The owner gives a disquisition on how such discipline is necessary to give guidance to these sub-humans (something like that).
What’s really important, however, is the way these scene is presented to us. Before we get to it we’re out in the cotton fields. The overseer (named, as I recall, Prideful) tells the workers to drop their bags in the field where they are and come with him. He leads them to the plantation lawn and lines them up so they can see the scene I just described to you. They see it; we see them seeing it; and then we see it. While the murder/torture takes place the camera moves back and forth between torture/murder and the slaves watching.
I don’t know whether the other nine episodes have more of this. If so, I don’t want to see it. Even if not, though surely there will be more terrible violence. I’m not interested.
I’m familiar with relevant history. I’ve seen that well-known photo of the man whose back is a mass of scar tissue. I’ve read accounts, particularly of lynchings. I’ve blogged about them – see below. I’ve seen photos of lynchings, many in the form of postcards. This kind of material is not new to me.
What I suspect and fear is that scene is a metaphor for the whole series. African Americans and Woke Whites are cast in the role of those slaves, watching, while the series itself does duty as that scene of torture/murder. If you’re an African American and so minded, you get to feel justified in a sense of grievance and victimization. If you’re white and woke, why, you can score a month, maybe two, of Sundays worth of penance by watching the whole series.
No thank you.
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Some posts to read:
This post begins by describing the lynching of Henry Smith in 1893 in Paris, Texas. There was enough advance notice that the railroads ran special excursion trains to bring people to the event. An estimated 10,000 men, women, and children gathered to witness Smith’s torture and killing.
Later on I reference John Dollard’s 1937 study, Caste and Class in a Southern Town, which “redirected the study of southern race relations in general and lynching in particular” by asking a simple question: Why do people need racism? As Dollard observed, social life is often frustrating, generating aggressive impulses which cannot be always be satisfied. In Dollard’s view this leads to
a generalized or “free-floating” aggression . . . [that] can be thought of as a tendency to kick, hit, scorn or derogate someone or something if one could only find out what. A second necessity is that of a permissive social pattern. This must exist in order to lift the in-group taboos on hostility. The permissive pattern isolates a group within the society which may be disliked. Usually it is a defenseless group. . . The third essential in race prejudice is that the object must be uniformly identifiable. [pp. 445-446]
In other words, white racists are using blacks as scapegoats for the accumulated frustrations they experience in daily life. Aggressive impulses are being displaced from their real objects, which are appropriate targets, to substitute objects, toward whom one can act aggressively.
I conclude by citing a study showing that one “could predict the number of Southern lynchings occurring during any given year between 1882 and 1930 simply by knowing the price of cotton. When cotton went down, the frequency of lynchings went up.”
From the post:
In a detailed study of lynchings occurring between 1880 and 1930 (Lynching in the New South, 1993) in Georgia, representing the deep South, and Virginia, representing the borderline South, W. Fitzhugh Brundage shows that lynchings were committed by several types of group, the terrorist mob, the private mob, the posse, and the mass mob. Terrorist mobs were relatively small, generally less than fifty people, and consisted of members of groups organized to maintain white supremacy through intimidation and violence; the Ku Klux Klan is the best-known of these groups. Private mobs were also relatively small, but were convened only to avenge or punish specific alleged offenses, and then dispersed. Posses were quasi-legal bodies constituted to capture criminals. However, they frequently overstepped their charge and lynched the criminal.
Mass mobs, such as the one that executed Henry Smith, were responsible for the largest number of lynchings, 34% in Georgia and 40% in Virginia. These were also the most spectacular lynchings and involved hundreds or even thousands of people from all strata of Southern society, from top to bottom. These were the most highly ritualized lynchings, a matter emphasized by both Brundage and Williamson, who talk as though these mobs did their work according to written standards and practices.
The final two paragraphs:
However savage the violence in a mass mob lynching, the ritualized nature of that violence means that the lynchings were not simply wild outpourings of anger and hatred. Rather, they represent culturally sanctioned and rehearsed expressions of attitudes. This ritualized violence is one way that people were able to affirm their communal life.
Many lynchings were occasioned, if not by rape, then by allegations of rape, but not the majority of lynchings. According to Brundage, murder was the offense alleged in 46 % of Georgia lynchings and 44% of Virginia lynchings while sexual offenses were alleged in 28% of Georgia lynchings and 46% of Virginia lynchings. The remaining lynchings, 25% in Georgia and 10% in Virginia, were for a variety of offenses, such as theft, arson, or insulting a white person in any of the numerous ways whites perceived insults from blacks. In contradiction of these facts, the general perception of lynchings in the South was that they were occasioned by rape. Sex is what was on people’s minds.
In this post I use a Star Trek episode, “The Empath,” as an analogy to the psycho-social role African America has played in the socio-psychodynamics of the nation as a whole. African Americans are cast – they surely didn’t not volunteer for the part – in the role of the empath in this episode. The key passage (the rest is a direct quotation from the post): Let me suggest that this process of absorption and dissipation is an instance of something I think of as the empath dynamic, so-called after that Star Trek episode:
From the Wikipedia:
On stardate 5121.5, the starship USS Enterprise arrives at Minara II to pick up research personnel. The mission is crucial since the Minaran star is close to going supernova. Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Spock beam to the planet to locate the research team while the Enterprise waits in orbit. The landing team finds the research camp abandoned and the scientists missing.
Meanwhile in orbit, the Enterprise is bombarded by intense solar radiation which is causing instrumentation failure, and threatening the lives of the crew. Mr. Scott orders the ship to break orbit while the landing party continues the search for the missing scientists on the planet.
As the search continues, the landing party finds themselves teleported to an underground chamber, and there they find a young woman lying on a raised platform. The woman awakens but she appears to be mute and all attempts to verbally communicate with her are in vain. Dr. McCoy names the mystery woman "Gem".
Soon, two silver-robed aliens appear, and identify themselves as Vians. Kirk approaches the beings but they repel the team with a force field. Kirk is injured and knocked to the floor. The silent Gem then rushes to Kirk's side and uses a mental power to absorb Kirk's injuries, taking them on herself and then dissipating them, healing him instantly and revealing that she is a powerful empath.
The various processes by which the African American community receives a hit of anxiety/aggression from the European American community without returning anxiety/aggression in equal measure are the processes which allow the empath mechanism to work. Many of these processes are self-destructive – the most obvious are crime and substance abuse (as a parallel, think about the British getting the Chinese addicted to opium).
This is about the “electric” elephants in the “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence in Disney’s Dumbo. I have two addenda about the execution of elephants in early 20th century America. The first is about the public electrocution of an elephant on Coney Island. Could the electrical charges in those elephants in the 1941 Disney film be a cultural echo of that very public execution? The second addendum links to an account of an elephant that was publicly hanged in Tennessee in 1916. Folklore had it that “two Negro keepers” were hanged along with the elephant.