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On "Lynching Song"


Onwucheka Jemie

Most lynchings are for rape. But it is common knowledge that in the South it is extremely rare that a black man has actually raped or attempted to rape a white woman. In the South, sexual contact between black men and white women, from slavery times to the present, has almost always been initiated by the white woman. And every black man in the South knows that if he is unlucky enough to become the object of a white woman's affections, he must leave town or die. When a white woman invites you to love, you are doomed. If you accept and it is found out, as it will sooner or later, she will cry rape, and you will be lynched. If you refuse, she will in humiliation and revenge cry rape, and you will be lynched.

The rape-and-lynch psychosis must be viewed in the context of the perverted sexual mythology whereby white Americans first reduced black people to subhumans, then invested them with a hypersexuality, forced access of white males to black females, blocked access of black males to white females, and proceeded to project white lust and puritan guilt onto black males and victimize them for the sins of white males. For Southern white men to publicly admit that in liaisons with black men, Southern white women are usually willing accomplices, most often the provocateurs, is for them to lose control of reality as they wish to know it. Instead, that secret knowledge drives them even more rabidly violent. It is this psychological cat and mouse game that gives a poem like "Silhouette" its ironic power:

Southern gentle lady,
Do not swoon.
They've just hung a black man....

From Langston Hughes: An Introduction to the Poetry. Copyright 1976 by Columbia University Press.


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