By Willie Dwayne Francois III,
In the early hours of March 4th, President Trump accused the first Black president of the US of a crime without any evidence. Tragically, this social media rubbish has been swept under the rug of his long litany of public deceptions and alternative facts. The President’s four twitter bombs—again demonstrating the danger of governance-by-tweet—poisoned the global streams of information from which an international citizenry expects to consume fresh and factual ideas from its leaders.
During the start of the long anticipated hearing on Russian meddling in US elections, the Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, read Mr. Trump’s tweets to the heads of the FBI and NSA and served the nation the truth about Trump’s wiretapping allegations against his predecessor. In the gumbo of brash personalities, partisan inquiries and protocol adherence, one of the few conclusive statements dished out to people hungry for truth occurred when FBI Director James Comey unambiguously stated the FBI and Justice department unequivocally have found no evidence Mr. Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. The information presented to the White House by Chairman Devin Nunes notwithstanding—an action that compromises the impartial intentions of committee—there is still no evidence to support the accusations against Mr. Obama. Apparently, there will be no apology. Where is the outrage?
While the American public normalizes the Trump infantry’s tactic of throwing smoke bombs of disinformation as media distractions, this accusation signals something far more sinister, a norm at work possibly beneath the consciousness of Mr. Trump and certainly something hazardous to the conscience of our republic. The racist undertones of Trump’s allegations evoke an a priori, yet historical, categorization of nonwhite, mostly Black, bodies in America following the abolition of the chattel slavery system—the criminal. The religious myths of White superiority and purity in America sacralize an oppositional definition of Blackness—a national narrative that remains uninterrupted by the election of Mr. Obama to the American presidency.
A constitutional scholar, a graduate of the most privileged American academic institutions, and a legitimately elected US President, Barack Hussein Obama lives within the long reach of unwarranted, unfounded, unchecked allegations of criminality to which millions of nonwhite folk in America have been subjected for nearly 400 years. Possibly even beyond his own self-awareness, President Obama holds membership in a lynched class—a type of permanent unprotected under-caste in America vulnerable to unchecked, though not unexpected, accusations and violence. Constituents of the ruling class terrorize members of America’s lynched class in service of maintaining strict racial etiquette. There is limited outrage on the left and right, because the racial undertones of Trump’s unfounded claims against Obama are too normal. Mr. Trump knew he could get away with calling Barack Obama a criminal, because it is politically and socially palatable to accuse the lynched class of crimes. Where is the outrage?
What more should we expect from a “Law and Order” president who openly endorsed restoring the unconstitutional tactic of stop and frisk? Accusing Black men of crimes they did not commit is traditional in America. It legitimated the threat of irrational and random White violence visited upon the Black citizenry during the period of “legalized” lynching. Even when the burden of proof favors the accused, justice is often miscarried. The prophetic spirit of Ida B. Wells-Barnett resonates profoundly today: Black people are “more sinned against than sinning.”
False accusations of Black criminality live at the center of American lynch culture. Lynch culture hinges on uninformed White vigilantism rooted in racist paranoia and cultural scapegoating. A vestige of antebellum American logic, the Black person lives as the synecdoche of American disinheritance and domestic enemies. In the logic of Whiteness, which undergirds all American institutions, Black people were created to be ruled. Manumitted from chattel to criminal, the Black body is disposable as layered notions of the delinquent, dangerous and felon are folded into the idea of Blackness. Hating those who fall within this idea of Blackness is a form of patriotism in America.
The American project of maintaining a White male hegemony majors in the socioeconomic condemnation and mass criminalization of Blackness. The idea of Mr. Obama, which may be distinct from the reality of Mr. Obama, threatens the security of what Kelly Brown Douglas terms the “cherished property of Whiteness”—a protected and given sense of group superiority. Whiteness refers to a structural logic, not skin color. White supremacy bleaches our “normative gaze”—a lens through which we observe, order and compare human bodies that effectively renders Black freedom, innocence, power, protection, and decency impossible. Mass criminalization of Black life is a re-creation of a chattel racial arrangement of American society.
Mass criminalization reveals the insidious culture, economic incentive, political utility and historical continuity of racism alive in America. The Western myth of Black criminality feeds the impulse of White women to clinch their purses at the sight of Black passersby, loads the guns of police officers that shoot first, and signs the warrants for residential drug raids. This myth drafts predatory policies such as stop and frisk, exaggerates the perception of Black intra-racial violence, never mentions White-on-White crime, steers the U-Hauls of the Black middle class exodus from familiar urban locales, and converts urban public schools into prison preparatory academies where an arrest is a common substitute for in-school discipline.
Where is the outrage? Whether we take him literally or seriously, America deserves an apology for the president’s criminalization of Mr. Obama. While Mr. Obama will surely outlive these false accusations, the lies of lynch culture have plundered countless Black bodies, namely Aiyana Jones, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice just to enumerate a few. Whether or not America allows our president to get away with this will tell us who America really is. We need public and prophetic outrage from elected officials, conscious clergy, fearless activists, and freedom-loving Americans to call out the sin of Black criminalization and exorcise the demons of White supremacy. This is not to save the reputation of Barack Obama, but to protect the lives of the rest of us in America’ lynched class.
Willie Dwayne Francois III serves as Pastor-elect of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville, New Jersey (Atlantic City). He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College and holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. Francois’ pastoral activism takes shape around racial and economic justice and criminal justice reform. He is an adjunct instructor in African American Studies at the University of Houston.