The ugly underbelly of racism is an open, fetid wound that knows no borders.
The true north may be strong, but we are far from free of the fester that oozes in ebbs and flows from the home of the brave where our American neighbours reside.
Every time President Donald Trump slings another assault on his current favourite targets, four congresswomen of colour, he encourages more like-minded people to nod in silent agreement. He emboldens more hordes, sometimes with their children at their sides, to chant “Send her back!” at his next rally.
This is nothing new for Trump, but part of a political strategy with roots in what unfolded during an August weekend on the streets of Charlottesville, Va. two long, hot summers ago. In the aftermath of a woman protesting racism who was murdered by a member of the Tiki torch brigade, Trump received salutes from his base for defending marchers that included Neo-Nazis as “very fine people.”
Is that kind of rhetoric responsible in part for empowering three white University of Mississippi students with ear to ear grins photographed cradling rifles next to a bullet-riddled memorial for Emmett Till?
Emmett was only 14 when he visited his mother’s family in Money, Miss. during another hot August in 1955. He was dragged out of his bed at 2:30 in the morning by Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, just hours after Emmett had stopped after a long day of picking cotton to buy some bubble gum at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market.
Rumour had it that Emmett had either whistled at, flirted with or touched the hand of Bryant’s wife, Carolyn Bryant, the white woman behind the counter. The two men savagely beat Emmett and shot him in the head before dumping his barb-wire bound body, weighed down by a large metal fan, into the Tallahatchie River.
Despite the testimony of a black witness who identified both men, it took an all-white all-male jury only seven minutes longer than an episode of Law and Order to acquit both men of all charges.
Less than six months later Bryant and Milam, shielded by the laws of double jeopardy, admitted to the kidnapping and murder and sold their story to Look magazine for $4,000. According to several sources, Carolyn Bryant added more horror to what happened when she admitted in 2007 that she had lied about Emmett making any kind of advance to her.
Although it’s easy to relieve some of the burden that remains on our collective conscience by focusing on the fact the ensuing outrage simmered hot enough to help spark the civil rights movement, one question should continue to haunt us 64 years after Emmett’s senseless death.
How far have we moved forward in the war on racism, and how many steps backwards is Donald Trump determined to take us in his shameless quest for reelection in 2020?
Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.