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Est. April 5, 2002
April 11, 2019 - Issue 784

The Long History of Harassment

"Unfortunately it seems, we don’t have to work as hard
or as long as Hitler and his henchmen. Blacks are shot
dead by law enforcement personnel who are subsequently
acquitted. And the president of the US, eyeing his supporters,
announces that he has no problems with those arrested taking
a few bumps and suffering some bruises. Why treat 'them' gently,
with compassion, at least? Let’s not mention the word, love."

Get Out!:

Harassment of Black Americans Has Historical Roots in American History

In Delano, Minnesota, a black family’s home was broken into in March 2017

and a warning was spray-painted on the walls:

‘Get Out.’ The vandals left a note, too: ‘Next time it’s going to be fire.’

Documenting Hate,” ProPublica

“I could shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any votes”

Donald Trump, January 2016

There’s a long history behind what motivates Dante Servin to aim his rifle at the black young woman standing at his door. He sees a black face, and it’s this face, this individual standing before him, perhaps speaking incoherently because of that broke down car a few yards away, that triggers his imagination. And he recalls images of violence not involving this woman before him. Yet, he begins to fear her. He’s visibly frightened now. He’s been taught that he has rights. He, Dante Servin, an off-duty Chicago policeman, returns indoors, locates his rifle. Servin aim at his target.

And the black woman, Rekia Boyd, 22-years old, believes, she, too, has rights as a human being to seek the aid of another. Only she lands on the concrete in front of Servin’s door. Shot in the face. Dead.

Boyd’s fears, less known, are no less historical. Certainly, she didn’t have the opportunity to convey here fears to law enforcement or anyone else. On that fateful night, one of countless fateful nights and days for African Americans, Boyd may have forgotten she was black, contrary to Servin, who didn’t forget he was white.

But maybe this time, it’s the narrative that experiences a jolt.

“In Columbus, Ohio a man went to police because someone had been ringing his doorbell or banging on his garage 25 to 30 times a night, almost every night.”

Early in January, 2019, I searched for ProPublica’s website and it’s featured project, Documenting Hate. Included on this database is a request for stories from African Americans. Not just any kind of stories, however, but one’s that recount experiences with our encounter with fear and hate. Specifically, the project requests stories written by blacks, describing the ways in which harassment is experienced—at home. Ironically, the project within a project is called, Get Out!

If you are familiar with filmmaker Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017), then you might chuckle. That get out is a warning: Leave immediately! You’re very being is in danger! Flee to safety! Leave this white enclave or you’ll never leave but become unwillingly and cruelly absorbed into the family!

But there’s another get out most blacks living in America have experienced almost as long as the get out that could represent the years of our captivity in slavery. In this horror movie, there are a series of signs (nooses, crosses, swatikas) verbal assaults (“nigger, get out!”) and physical abuse that could and often does lead to death.

In this nightmare, strongly suggests we best be gone! And soon!

We are at home—in our own apartments or houses—and what connects us is that we are unwanted. Some neighbor or a collective of people believe we are undeserving not just of our homes near them but also because we are perceived as the invaders. And what happens when that mindset becomes all-consuming?

According to the website, African Americans “are the most frequently victimized group nationally for hate crimes” (FBI database). After two years, Documenting Hate, with close to 6,000 entries, has compiled “a mix of news reports, tips, personal stories of bigotry and records collected by law enforcement and some anti-discrimination groups, records the highest number of hate crimes have occurred between 2010-2016.”

Most of the website’s accounts of hate crime are submitted onto it’s databases from victims recounting their stories, describing, in a sense, how the practice of harassment, aimed at blacks in their homes, becomes the norm in our culture, our larger and most influential home. And black women, more vulnerable victims, are a particular target for such hate. Harassment is disturbing, annoying, tormenting, and humiliating human being, and when directed at African Americans, the motive is usually hate.

Harassing one’s neighbor...violates the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal for landlords and neighbors to interfere with someone’s right to housing based on who they are.” However, trying to prove harassment is difficult. Try telling white America, let alone these government agencies, that there are racists—not just racism.

Police officers, revealing resentment even hostility at the sight of a black charging harassment against a white neighbor, are quick to denounce not only the behavior (often stealthy over time, tapping ceilings, fumigating with offensive smells, using “gaming” devices placed just underneath a neighbor’s floor) but also a mindset (how ridiculous!) that would engage in such a disturbing practice. As everyone knows, white violence doesn’t come readily to any American mind if America’s history of violence is willfully neglected. How many incidents of racial harassment become, instead, reports of a “hysterical” black woman.

White innocence is the norm in any situation! And in those situations, it’s black Americans whose safety is threatened, in fact, never guaranteed.

It’s harassment outside of the extra-ordinary, for it triggers patterns of thought and subsequent behavior in response to the presence of blacks, particularly those living and working outside of the ordinary confines relegated to African Americans. Urban enclaves enclosed by poverty and prisons behind walls and barred-wired fences, in the minds of so many Americans, characterize acceptable abodes for African Americans.

America has a long history of harassing African Americans and that history should warrant a change not only in how law enforcement (looking for proof of a crime!) deals with this crime but also how the American culture takes seriously this persistent practice of discrimination that makes living in America while black unsafe, if not downright dangerous. It shouldn’t take the body of a dead African American to expose a persistent narrative of hate—what sanctions the placement of blacks in the cross hair of (often) a white (“fearful”) man, holding a gun.

“...the suspect allegedly stood in his drive way taking pictures of her home and waved a Confederate flag.”

When I read historian Greg Grandlin’s discussion about the Lost Cause monument, erected decades after the end of both the Freedman’s Bureau and the era of Reconstruction (The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the mind of America), I have to asks: Is this not a form of harassment intended to send a message to a wider number of targets at once? Not here! You are not wanted here! In this country! It’s not your home!

If we recall history, we remember the towns, the neighborhoods of black homeowners, men, women, and children, burnt out. Chased away by the KKK and neighbors who formed a neighborly vigilante group. Not far away, too, are the bodies, hanging. Evidence, too, of torment, of torture and of terrorism at home.

The Confederate flag begins to appear after World War II—as a “backlash,” writes Grandlin, “to the Civil Rights movement.”

If you see this flag, and you’re a black home owner in contested terrain, consider yourself forewarned!

And the body count is extensive, and not limited to African Americans within the US borders, but also includes Indigenous, Japanese interred during WWII and some 15 thousand Haitians (1915-1935), “tens of thousands” of Dominican Republicans (1916-1924), 50 thousand Nicaraguans (1912-1953), and thousands of Philippians (1898-1946)--all living in homes from which they are harassed until driven out and massacred.

When the Spanish lost their “territories,” the lands where blacks and Philippines called home, to the US and left, soldiers saluting the American flag wrote letters home. And those letters were filled with descriptions of dark-skinned peoples, writes Grandlin. What great fun the soldiers had “shooting ‘niggers,’” or “water-torturing ‘niggers,’” or using “niggers for target practice.”

In the Dominican Republic, “niggers” could be killed with impunity and, as a reward, returning US soldiers were “celebrated and welcomed home with pomp and parades.” One officer wrote home that he eagerly anticipated his return to action, since there were still “‘nigger toes’” and “‘scalps’” to collect and bring home as “‘trophies.’”

Unalloyed hatred,” writes Grandlin.

Yes, unalloyed hatred.

War is an engagement with violence, with the practice of hate and cruelty, and war abroad is an extension of the war at home—the same practice of torturing and terrorizing blacks and people of color within US borders.

At home, a surge in fear and hate seems to have engendered a new generation of white Americans to engage in the hostility and cruelty of white nationalism. But this madness isn’t immutable…

I used to demonstrate for my students how difficult it would be to enter a place, say a classroom, and start insisting the students on the left of room commence killing students on the right side of the room. It’s not likely to happen. I would be, and rightly so, escorted from the campus in handcuff and taken to the closest jail.

If, however, I earnestly and diligently worked with students on the left side of the classroom to create a harassment campaign that was systemic in scope and engaged other classrooms and the community surrounding this building, if after many years, my, rather, our, campaign expands into pogroms of harassment in which neighbors and former co-workers actively engaged in abusing their neighbors, co-workers on the right, then we can say, we are on our way to the day when those “evil” beings on the right, those “troublemakers,” those blacks, Jews, Indigenous, LGBT, those poor and homeless, must be exterminated!

Unfortunately it seems, we don’t have to work as hard or as long as Hitler and his henchmen. Blacks are shoot dead by law enforcement personnel who are subsequently acquitted. And the president of the US, eyeing his supporters, announces that he has no problems with those arrested taking a few bumps and suffering some bruises. Why treat “them” gently, with compassion, at least? Let’s not mention the word, love.

Love isn’t in the American history of vigilantism against blacks (Mexicans, Indigenous, as well). Hate for racial difference, on the other hand, hasn’t ended. It travels from neighborhood to neighborhood, residing behind doors and windows wherever it’s history is repressed…

But there are rumblings from below, rising, speaking truth to power. Speaking. Organizing. Collecting. Recording.

Now is the time to say—no more! Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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