RaceSex & Gender

kavanaugh is not being lynched

October 2, 2018
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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas explores his account of the Anita Hill hearings in his memoir under the heading “Invitation To A Lynching”. It is with little surprise that Republicans and their base would use that “invitation” to paint Brett Kavanaugh as a targeted man by invoking the legacy of a grotesque white American past-time with all the racial cognitive dissonance they could muster. Twisting what is essentially a job interview, into a heinous “deep state” conspiracy makes sense for a man like Kavanaugh, who comes from a demographic whose inalienable rights have been protected to the point that a barrier to power feels like oppression.

The anger that Kavanaugh displayed during his testimony would be jarring if Clarence Thomas had not shown the same indignation during his own testimony:

“This is a circus. It is a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a Black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity-Blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kow-tow to an old order, this is what will happen to you, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree.”

Thomas’ declaration painted Hill as a “race-traitor”, speaking to a long-standing trend of Black men using lynching as a metaphor for having to show accountability for actions that impose violence on women and Black women specifically. That harmful comparison disrespects the memory of the outright terror that was lynching and the immeasurable trauma it instilled in the Black community—men and woman alike.

Now that race has been removed from the equation in the case of Dr. Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, the Republican base can compare Kavanaugh’s high-stakes job interview to the needless killing of Black men and women while the Supreme Court nominee serves as an homage to other tactics used by Thomas. According to an 18-page analysis of Thomas’ testimony, University of Missouri scholars dissected examined what they call an “image repair strategy.”

“While his utterances did not conclusively prove that Anita Hill’s accusations were false,” the researchers wrote, “he did manage to secure confirmation.” Hill’s testimony was eclipsed by the highly-charged launguage in Thomas’ testimony, filled with words like “circus”, “destroy” and “lynching”.

Republican rhetoric around lynching is practically non-existant unless it is being used as emotional blackmail to induce sympathy for a man who is having a hard time securing a job as one of the most powerful people in country. Lynching was domestic terrorism but rampant (often internalized) anti-Blackness paired with misogyny allows for men facing repercussions over sexual deviancy to herald mass critique as “lynch-mobs”, their questioned innocence comparable to “lynchings”. Words mean things. Brett Kavanaugh isn’t being lynched and no one that looks like him can ever claim to understand that experience. Lynching was used as a means of terrorizing and controlling the Black American populace, right up until 1981, when 19-year-old Michael Donald’s body was found hanging from a tree in Mobile, Alabama. 1981. That is just 10 years before the Clarence Thomas hearings. It was 37 years ago.

It’s a job interview.

The testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a white woman, has not given the old-white-male power structure in the Republican a reason to pause. There are people alive who still remember the damage a white woman’s tears could cause, but the man in question is not Black: he’s white. Of course they have no issue citing Kavanaugh’s experience as something remotely close to lynching because the worst thing that can happen to a white man is denying him his assumed brithrite: power.