History-Lesson Wednesdays: A Series

Hello again. Part of my goal this summer, and with this blog, is to fill in some gaps in my own knowledge about marginalized histories. This includes the history people of color, of queer people, of people with disabilities, etc. In an attempt to share what I missed in school, I’ll be updating every Wednesday with a little bit of history I didn’t learn in school. Side note: If I get anything wrong, please let me know!

This week: The Myth of the Black Rapist
tw: rape and rapists mention, racism

Oftentimes, black men are referred to as super-predators, and accused of “impregnating white women.” Here’s where the Black Men As Rapists Myth comes from: The Democratic Party in the 1890s. Remember, in the 1800’s the party names were flipped, Democrats being part of the Confederacy and the Republicans fighting for equal rights. Anyways, the blacks who could vote, the Republicans who were outnumbered, and this new party called the “Populists,” (those that believed that blacks and whites shared the same economic problems and should therefore be allied in political power) formed this thing called Fusion. Fusion was just a fancy way of saying, hey, if we all get together we can outnumber these racists Democrats.

And it ALMOST worked (a phrase I feel like I’ll be writing a lot of, soon). The whites were all, this-can-be-good-for-all-of-us, and the blacks were also on board, and then the Democratic party was like HOLD UP. They decided to put “the fear of God” into the white voters, and cast black people, who could’ve been elected to office, as villains.

It was here, in the newspapers of the late 1890s, that the Black Men as Rapists myth gained traction [Note: I’m not entirely sure that this is where the myth originated, this is just the first place in my readings I’ve seen it appear]. Newspaper headlines read “Estimable Lady Grossly Assaulted by Black Negro!” and pictured black men lurking in the bedrooms of white women. These images and headlines were so popular and widespread that they made this idea seem like an epidemic, and basically crushed any chance of Fusion. Unfortunately, the Democratic party also started this dumb myth that still permeates our country, as mentioned in the links above. 

Why don’t we learn this when we read To Kill a Mockingbird? Why isn’t the history behind these malicious ideas taught to students? My theory: To Kill a Mockingbird is a story of a white lawyer helping a black men (and failing, but hey, that isn’t the white man’s fault, right?) Admitting that the legacy of these myths comes from white people, our malicious ancestors, is to destroy the picture-perfect version that is beginning to crumble in the face of social media and people becoming “woke.” It also takes away from the “savior white person” vision that we see in books where the white lawyer/housewife “overcomes racism” and “everything is good now.”

We need schools to play a part in teaching our racist history; we need schools to teach the full story, regardless of how the past will look.

Source: Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000, by Adam Fairclough