“This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a Black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree. —U.S. Appeals Court Judge Clarence Thomas at his 1991 Confirmation hearing.
What do Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, legendary actor and philanthropist Bill Cosby, music superstar Robert Kelly and Virginia’s second African-American Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax all have in common? Besides being ego-driven Black men, either they or someone representing them has used the word “lynching” to describe the precarious public circumstances that came as a result of their own poor-decision making, which typically includes some kind of abuse of power.
Fairfax, the former Democratic Party rising star, has fallen from grace after being accused of sexual assault by two different women; one during his college years and the other at a 2004 political convention. Fairfax’s accusations became a major issue following the discovery that two of Virginia’s highest ranking Democratic politicians (Gov. Ralph Northam and Va. Attorney General Mark Herring) appeared in blackface while attending medical school and college.
As a Virginia native, I’m not sure if there are any white men of Northam and Herring’s age, tax bracket and alumni collegiate pedigree across the aisle who has NEVER participated in blackface. I suspect this may be why some of the hoopla has died down.
Like Northam and Herring, there have been calls for Fairfax to resign by both political parties, but Northam and Herring have refused to step down. Fairfax has insisted on due process and in an impromptu speech on the Virginia legislature’s floor last Sunday, the embattled politician likened what he is experiencing to a modern-day lynching. More specifically, he called it a “political lynching” and brought up his personal outrage in the midst of the legislature discussing bills, one of which had been previously passed to express regret and remorse for actual lynchings that took place in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Somehow Fairfax, who is accused of two separate incidents of sexual assault, sees himself as the victim in this political circus to such an extent he would invoke the term lynching to describe what is happening to him.
Stop and try again. The United States is a country built on hypocrisy and double standards, especially when it comes to women and people of color. It is a place where one politician, accused of sexual assault and harassment, can be asked to resign without due process, but our current President, who is facing the same accusations, is supported and sits in the highest political office of the land.
It is also a place where we have two men who sit on the Supreme Court who have been publicly accused of sexual harassment (Justice Thomas) and sexual assault (Justice Brett Kavanaugh).
The land of the free and home of the brave has not been kind to the millions of enslaved and disenfranchised Blacks whose blood, flesh, and tears have been shed because those in power knew only to operate out of fear, not honor or bravery.
What Fairfax says he is experiencing does NOT even begin to compare to a lynching. If you have ever seen the beaten beyond recognition body of Emmett Till, you know what it means to be lynched. Till was a child who was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman. He was stalked, tortured, murdered and his lying accuser and killers continue to walk free.
On August 15, 1926, Raymond Bird, a Black man accused of having sex with a white woman, was asleep in a jail in Wytheville, Virginia when a mob of 25 white men dragged him from his cell, shot him, tied him to the back of a truck and dragged his limp body for more than nine miles on State Route 699. The mob hung what was left of him from a tree. That is an actual lynching Mr. Fairfax and I’m also speaking to you Mr. Cosby, Mr. Kelly and Justice Thomas.
Is it fair that Fairfax is essentially being asked to “take one for the team” when it appears that Northam and Herring are allowed to use their “get out of jail” card? Nope, but appearing in blackface and being accused of sexual assault are two very different things. One act is racist, deplorable and immoral and the other is just plain criminal.
Fairfax is being asked to resign without due process because Virginia Democrats have embarrassed the hell out of themselves, the Democratic Party and the Commonwealth. He’s a Black man, so that means he’s expendable. Is that fair? Again, no, but it’s also not fair for an empowered Black man to liken his fate to a premeditated public murder. It’s just plain inappropriate.
Here’s a message to all of the high-profile, ego-driven Black men facing mass public scrutiny and the possible loss of livelihood, status, freedom allegedly due to actions of their making…remember, you are not being lynched, a mob is not coming for your neck, and most of all, you actually have a fighting chance to keep on keeping on.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is an award-winning writer, entrepreneur, and professor living her best life with her daughter, Kai, and fur-son, Mr. Miyagi. She is founder and editor in chief of The Burton Wire, a news blog covering news of the African diaspora.