Karlos K. Hill Karlos K. Hill blog brought to you by History News Network. Wed, 16 Jan 2019 09:48:09 +0000 Wed, 16 Jan 2019 09:48:09 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://blog.hnn.us/blog/author/45 What Donald Trump's Election Means

Dr. Karlos K. Hill, Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, is the author of Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

On Election Day 2016, the U.S. electorate had an opportunity to make a united stand against Donald Trump’s racist, sexist, and xenophobic politics. We did not and we should all be ashamed and afraid. Most especially, I am disappointed in the 8 percent of black voters who supported Trump. How could you? Were you not deeply offended by Trump's racist diatribes and “you don’t have anything to lose” rhetoric. I guess not. I am disappointed in the roughly 30 percent of Latino voters who supported Trump. All I can say about that is, WTF! I am disappointed in the white women who voted for Trump. Apparently, sexism and misogyny don’t matter. I am disappointed in white men who looked the other way and pretended that Trump’s language and behavior was no better or worse than what you hear in the average locker room. When all the votes were tallied on election day, it revealed that large swaths of this country enthusiastically supported a person who not only embodies reactionary politics but is now poised to enact them into law.

For Trump voters who felt angry, unheard and dismissed, they feel vindicated today. Through Trump’s candidacy, they successfully plumbed their noses at everything they think matters to the establishment, the elite, and multicultural America. Politics aside, they have asserted in a loud voice that they care nothing about civility and decency. We know this to be true because the more vigorously Donald Trump was chastised for his comments and behavior regarding women, immigrants, minorities, and disabled people, the more loyal his supporters became. Not only does Trump's election dismantle the last vestiges of political decorum, it also represents the height of white privilege and hypocrisy. Constantly, his supporters argued that he didn’t really mean what he said or he was being misunderstood. We were constantly told it was the biased media who contorted his words. Would the same benefit of the doubt been extended to a minority presidential candidate? Was the same benefit of the doubt ever extended to President Obama. Absolutely not! 

Trump’s white working class voters are smiling now and they better savor it, because Donald Trump is not going to make their lives any better and in fact will probably only make their lives worse. To be sure, everyone is going to suffer due to a Trump presidency but most especially his loyal supporters who believe that his presidency will bring them jobs and prosperity. And so in the final analysis, America got the president it deserved and it will get what it deserves with a Trump presidency. Let’s hope for all of our sakes that the forces opposed to Trumpism can stymie the worst that is to come.

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Wed, 16 Jan 2019 09:48:09 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153846 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153846 0
Is It Appropriate for a White Woman to Paint a Portrait of a Black Lynch Victim?

Parker Bright's Protest

Dr. Karlos K. Hill, Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, is the author of the book Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and The Murder of Emmett Till: A Graphic History (Oxford University Press, under contract).

Is it appropriate for a white woman to paint a portrait of a black lynch victim? 

This controversial question is swirling around the 2017 Whitney Biennial art exhibition due to protests of white female artist Dana Schutz’s “Open Casket” painting. Schulz’s painting portrays the disfigured face of Emmett Till, a fourteen year old black boy, who was lynched by two white Mississippians in 1955. 

Schultz’s inspiration came from historic photographs of Emmett Till’s open casket funeral which brought national and international attention to Till’s murder.  Parker Bright, a black artist, has blocked the view of the painting as well as engaged patrons in conversations about it. In a Facebook Live post, Bright can be heard saying to onlookers, “I think this piece is an injustice to the black community. It does not do anything for the black experience and it is a mockery for the Whitney to display because it does not do any justice. She [Dana Schutz] does not have the privilege to speak for black people as a whole and the Emmett Till family. It is an injustice to the art community and the black community. No one should be making money off a black dead body.” 

Others have piled on. A New Republic article condemned Dana Schutz and the Whitney for being tone deaf. “For a white woman to paint Emmett Till’s mutilated face communicates not only a tone-deafness toward the history of his murder, but an ignorance of the history of white women’s speech in that murder—the way it cancelled out Till’s own expression, with lethal effect.”

As a historian of lynching, I understand that white people have appropriated lynched black bodies for their amusement and profit. During the lynching era, white photographers sold photos of white mobs gathered around black lynch victims. White people purchased those images and mailed them as postcards to friends and family to mark the event. 

When the exploitation of lynched black bodies occur, I have a duty to confront and condemn. “Open Casket” is not one of those occasions.

Quite frankly, the protests and blanket condemnations are offensive. 

I understand questioning an artist’s motives and intentions. I understand questioning an artist’s creative choices. I even understand questioning an artist’s relationship to a culture they do not belong to and are attempting to represent. 

However, to assert that a white female artist cannot paint Emmett Till because she is white is hypocritical and flies in the face of the history of artistic anti-lynching protest.

In 1935, the NAACP co-organized “An Art Commentary on Lynching” at a gallery in New York City. The exhibition featured white female artist Peggy Bacon's drawing of racist Southern judges and their penchant for imprisoning black men on baseless charges of white female rape. (Bacon incidentally contributed art to the New Republic in the 1930s.) The NAACP hoped that Bacon’s work along with the other artists featured, would build awareness and political support for federal anti-lynching legislation.

“An Art Commentary on Lynching” exhibition and “Open Casket” represent the tradition of interracial anti-lynching protest that is seemingly lost on protesters.

Furthermore, Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett Till’s mother, would have been opposed to the recent protestations. In 1955, it was Mamie’s courageous decision to have an open casket funeral. She allowed the media to photograph Emmett Till’s disfigured face “so that the world could see what they did to my boy.” That mission did not fade with the passing of Mamie Till-Mobley in 2003 and certainly she did not envision the mission as one in which only black people should undertake.

If white artists or white people more generally cannot take a stand against the lynching of Emmett Till, then where does that leave us? How does racial healing occur?

Emmett Till’s legacy is sacred to black America. We know that he died a brutal death at the hands of white men who went free even after admitting that they had committed the crime. Black America has not gotten over that injustice and likely never will. But creating a false protest in the name of Emmett Till is wrong.

Emmett Till belongs to all of us who stand against racial bigotry and intolerance. Dana Schutz’s “Open Casket” is a part of an artistic tradition of anti-lynching protest that highlights American society’s urgent need to confront the history of lynching. We should be applauding her work rather than condemning it.

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Wed, 16 Jan 2019 09:48:09 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153909 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153909 0
Congressman Steve King Is Not an Outlier

Rep. Steve King

Dr. Karlos K. Hill is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and The Murder of Emmett Till: A Graphic History (Oxford University Press, under contract)

Several weeks ago now, Republican Congressman Steve King tweeted that Dutch far right politician Geert Wilders rightly understands that whites cannot restore Western civilization with someone else’s babies. By someone’s else babies, he meant non-white babies. King believes Western civilization is white civilization and therefore only pure white people can perpetuate Western civilization. 

King’s unspoken assumption is that Western civilization is directly or indirectly responsible for the modern world: science, technology, democracy, and capitalism to name a few. In other words, without the white West, human beings would still be living in caves. Rather than understanding the growing racial, ethnic, and culture diversity of the United States as a core strength, King and others like him view racial diversity and dare I say racial hybridity as a weakness that is corroding white America and the West more generally.

As has been pointed out by many commentators (including his colleagues within the Republican party), Steve King’s comments are blatantly racist and should have no place in American politics. However, instead of simply condemning King’s comments as reflective of a racist fringe, we need to recognize two things. 

First, Steve King has served uninterrupted as U.S. representative of Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District since 2003. As documented by the New York Times, Steve King has made a career of making xenophobic comments about Mexicans as well as disparaging comments about the contributions of non-whites to civilization during his tenure as U.S. representative. And time and time again, the voters of Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District have reelected him. So my point here is how fringe can his ideas be if Iowa voters have consistently reelected him? After all, King’s “someone else’s baby” tweet received 14,000 likes on Twitter.

Second, the idea of white racial purity and biological determinism runs much deeper than we are oftentimes willing to admit. 

For example, we live in a country in which the one drop rule (a person with one black ancestor or one drop of black blood is considered black) still determines a person’s race. Barack Obama, our nation’s first biracial president, is perceived as black despite the fact that his mother was white. Now of course, Barack Obama embraced his blackness (thank you Barack) but had he not, he would still be perceived as black by most Americans. In fact, 69 percent of biracial adults with a black parent report that most people (including black Americans) view them as black and have experienced racist treatment due to their perceived race.

Historically, early twentieth century segregationists and eugenicists championed racial purity or the one drop rule because of their obsession with maintaining a pure white bloodline that was uncontaminated with the blood of racial inferiors. While most Americans today would neither align themselves with segregationists or the eugenics movement nor are they terribly obsessed with maintaining pure racial bloodlines (save Steve King), a recent study shows that biological determinism still plays a significant role in how whites view blacks. 

According to the study, while whites generally believed that traits and behaviors are largely shaped by environmental factors rather than genetics, whites nonetheless perceived genetics as playing a greater role in determining differences in intelligence and athletic ability among blacks and whites. 

Additionally, polling data from the 2012 American National Election Studies documented that when white voters were asked to rank black and white people on a scale from hardworking to lazy and from intelligent to unintelligent, 62 percent of white American voters gave black people a lower score in at least one of the attributes. 

Highlighting the prevalence of anti-black stereotypes and the biological deterministic worldview from which they stem is to suggest that while Steve King may be outlandish, he is not an outlier. It is also to suggest that as a society we should not take too much comfort in chastising King for his remarks less we overlook how we are all complicit in and need to confront white supremacy in all its guises, past and present.

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Wed, 16 Jan 2019 09:48:09 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153912 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153912 0