It’s that time of year again to talk about some of my favorite posts from 2020. Usually, I merely pull from my blog and discuss my top five favorite pieces; however, this time I’m going to cast a little wider net and talk about some of the pieces I published in other venues alongside posts from Interminable Rambling. A lot has happened in 2020, and a lot has changed. Yet, with even these changes remind us that a lot remains the same.
Essays in On the Stump and Bitter Root
If you would have told me a year ago at this time I’d have two essays as part of the backmatter for two comic series, I’d say, “Yeah right? Like that’d ever happen.” Well, here we are, at the end of 2020, and it has happened. Earlier this year, Chuck Brown and Prenzy’s On the Stump debuted. It a series where “[h]istory diverged one fateful day in 1868 when presidential candidate Horatio Seymour lost his temper mid-debate and violently attacking Ulysses S. Grant,” leading to elections and legislation being decided not by debate but by vicious, violent battles on the stump.
My essay, “The Forging of A Nation,” appears at the end of the second issue, and focus on the first panel of the series where we see Senators Jack Hammer and Sweet Smell battling it out in front of a cheering crowd on the Washington Mall with the Washington Monument in the background. This panel sets the stage, and it reminds me of all of the African American authors from the 1800s and their references to Washington. As well, I look at the Blacksmiths and their construction of the U.S. Capital and the Forge underneath it. These point to the fact that this nation would not exist without African American labor, and that it was forced labor. Again, this traces a long tradition to David Walker in 1829 and others.
Later in the year, my essay “Amputating Whiteness” appeared in the tenth issue of Brown, David Walker, and Sanford Greene’s Eisner Award winning series Bitter Root. One of the characters throughout the series, Johnnie-Ray Knox, reminded me a lot of Lillian Smith and her work. Knox is a white teenager who, after taking part in the attempted lynching of a Black teenager in Mississippi, becomes an ally of the Sangerye family fighting the jinoo and monsters of racism. In the essay, I talk about his arc moving towards an ally and the ways that one become inculcated in racism and hate and what one must do to untangle oneself. I talk about Lillian Smith and an anecdote she discusses in Killers of the Dream where she talks about a white woman who, during an interracial dinner party at Smith’s house, felt nauseous about eating with Black women even though she knew in her heart that what she was doing was right. Her nausea did not subside till after the meal. Philosopher George Yancy says of this anecdote, “This is an incredible example because it demonstrates that having a serene conscience or an epistemologically correct belief does not ipso facto militate against the impact of one’s white racism.”
You can listen to my conversation with Brown about On the Stump, Bitter Root, and Lillian Smith on a recent episode of the Lillian E. Smith Center’s podcast “Dope with Lime.”
Blood in the Pool: The 1868 Bossier Massacre
During the summer, I started digging in to the history of the region where I grew up in Northeast Louisiana. From reading Frank Yerby and visiting the EJI’s Memorial for Peace and Justice, I had a vague knowledge of the racial violence that occurred in the Red River Valley and along the I-20 corridor, specifically during Reconstruction. However, I did not know any details or the full extent until I started delving into the history of the Bossier Massacre, an event that saw over 120 Black men, women, and children murdered by whites in order to suppress their votes.
This massacre began on the spot where I learned to swim in the Shady Grove subdivision. When I grew up in Bossier, no marker identified the spot, either as a former plantation or as the place where the massacre began. No history class I took ever talked about the massacre. They did not talk about Colfax. They did not talk about St. Bernard. They did not talk about the Mechanics Institute. They did not acknowledge any of this history. As a result, I spent my childhood oblivious to the blood that fed the soil beneath my feet. It took me almost forty years to learn about those events, and about their continued impact on the region, a region that has some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. This knowledge, coupled with the history, explains so much about the current state of Louisiana and that region.
“Blood in the Pool: The 1868 Bossier Massacre” is my examination of the events, connecting them to my own childhood and to the present. These tragedies need to be taught in schools. They need to be discussed in public forums. They need memorials so we will not forget. When we fail to these things, or when others suppress the transmission of these stories, nothing changes. The Bossier Parish history pages eliminates even a mention of the massacre, opting to label the returning Confederate soldiers as “virile youth” who sought to return to peace until Carpet Baggers, Scalawags, and Blacks disturbed it. The Lost Cause mythology remains strong, and I argue, “No more.”
“Same Wolf, Different Clothes: White Evangelicals and Critical Race Theory”
Over the past year, the Trump administration and white evangelicals have taken aim at Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, labeling then unpatriotic and unbiblical respectively. The administration’s 1776 Commission is a direct attack, and the Conservative Baptist Networks repeated statements and resolutions are also a direct attack. Essentially, what these attacks do is set up Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality as the new bugaboos in the culture wars, using them to stoke false fears within their constituents and parishioners, a way to rhetorically construct boogeymen. I’ve written about this at multiple points this year, notably in “Christianity, Ross Barnett, and White Supremacy.”
In November, after the Georgia Baptist Convention’s resolution against Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, I wrote “Same Wolf, Different Clothes,” an essay that highlights the ways that what we are seeing is nothing new. It occurred in the 1960s in response to the Civil Rights Movement, and it continues today in response to calls for racial and social justice. At its core, what is occurring is that preachers are using pulpits as political tools to curry favor and maintain power. They are twisting the Bible to meet their own needs and desires, eschewing any focus on those that they hurt, turning their backs on others. This is the core of these attacks, the core that works to maintain white supremacy.
As I write, “What it does do is furnish these leaders with political power. As far as the congregations go, it deflects from needed self-reflection. It resists a reckoning with racial injustice, and the systems which perpetuate them. It ultimately tickles the ears of the safe and comfortable, as those who most need help are told their interests and lives don’t matter enough to warrant a little discomfort.”
Stay tuned next post where I talk about the rest of the year end roundup. Until then, what are your favorite posts or favorite pieces I have done this year? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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