White People’s Ego Will Get You Killed
The two young men had been high school friends. One was Black, one was white. The Black man went missing. He had last been seen with the young white man, his friend. The white man schemed with his half-brother to shoot the young Black man and rob him. The brothers buried the Black man in a shallow grave, and the white man’s wife allegedly later tried to help remove blood from the car to cover up the murder.
Later, in a post-Miranda confession, the white man admitted his half-brother shot the young man in his car.
When the town began to hear that police suspected locals in the crime, everyone was shocked, Black and white. They all knew each other in this small town–surely an outsider had committed the murder? While the suspected killers were still at large, before the body had been found, the Black community scheduled a candlelight prayer vigil for the missing man.
How did the white people of the small Mississippi town react? They ruined the prayer vigil. They fear-mongered until racist militia roared into town. “We can’t just enjoy a peaceful community gathering because we gotta worry about is someone going to do something crazy, or if the police are going to react out of fear,” [the man’s cousin] said.
The Black man was the victim. He was a robbery victim and a homicide victim. Yet, the town turned the possible murder of one of its citizens by his white friend into an extravagance of white fear.
The originator of the fear-mongering was a group on Facebook—the Devil’s Toolkit—called the Mississippi Minute Men Militia. The group lied about the hurricane shutters on the police department to claim ‘they boarded up the police department.’ They lied and said the US Marshals were on their way. They lied and claimed the town needed defending from ‘these criminals.’
Users on Facebook—the Devil’s Toolkit—shared the post as if it had originated with them, making it look like they had actual personal knowledge of impending doom. They used Facebook—the Devil’s Toolkit—to spread wild rumors. Antifa and BLM are coming to attack the town! Outside agitators are being bused in! They’re coming from Houston (a city where many Black folks evacuated following Hurricane Katrina)! The posters insisted they needed to ‘protect our town.’ The only source of the rumors was–you got it, the Devil’s Toolkit.
Why would the white community react that way?
Because in the context of white and Black, white people cannot stand to be wrong. Could it be the white people here cannot stand for the Black community to be the victim of any white person’s violence because that makes the white people wrong (see the prior statement)? That if white people are, in fact, in the wrong, and one of their own violated the norms of the town and killed a friend, they must lie and claim they are about to become the victims, and thus (thank you, Jesus!) are in the right again? That if necessary, they must create a situation where violence erupts so they can blame the Black folks?
Always it seems, the white people must re-center the conversation on themselves, ‘their’ town, ‘their’ businesses, ‘their’ safety, ‘their’ superiority. Even when one of the town’s own was tragically missing.
Not every white person participated in the fear-mongering. A tax preparer had this to say afterwards: “The white community in this community has an addiction to hate and fear & we just made a mistake,” he wrote on July 16. “… WE, white people, used social media to promote so much fear that ON THEIR WAY TO A PRAYER VIGIL AN INNOCENT, GRIEVING BLACK COMMUNITY GOT TO DRIVE PAST A RIDICULOUSLY LARGE GROUP OF OUR GOOD OLE BOYS SITTING IN THEIR TRUCKS WITH THEIR GUNS LOADED, GOD ON THEIR SIDE & FEAR AND ANGER IN THEIR HEARTS.”
A local white pastor also pushed back on the hurricane of fear the white people in town had ginned up. “How many lies are you gonna believe and send off down the line before you realize, Satan is just trying to get us?” he asked. “See, nobody ever goes back and says, I was wrong, please forgive me, we were wrong. Nobody ever does that. They just go on to the next rumor.”
There were probably other white folk who didn’t participate (see, I’ve taken care of the ‘not all white people’ claim.) But enough white people thought the most important thing was their white fear that they ruined a prayer vigil designed to comfort the frightened family.
Why am I repeating this story in such detail? Because white people have fear of Black folks. We do. Even when we don’t want to, we do. Some of us are extremely lucky and have escaped this contagion, but for the most part, if you’re white, that fear is gonna well up in you sooner or later.
When that happens, you must do one thing. You. Must. Examine. It. You must pause and say to yourself, this is me as a white person being afraid of a Black person. What is triggering my fear? Is it fact or is it rumors (in person or on the Devil’s Toolkit)?
Do the rumors play into stereotypes? Are the “outside agitators” being “bused” in from [fill in blank for known Black city/neighborhood]?
Does the rumor use typical rumor strategy (“my friend’s cousin’s wife is a state trooper and she told him”)?
Do the rumors rely on what is the current worst white fear (burning down white businesses, carjacking white babies, raping white women—the list is fairly static but some bob to the surface while others recede)?
Who is spreading the rumors? Is it a group that has a vested interest in the rumor (what are men’s militia’s going to do with their little selves if no one is threatening their white way of life? How are they going to feel pumped up and big if they don’t have fake crises to handle with their guns? How can they feel important if they can’t make Black folk into threats?)
How are white people responding to the rumor? Are they enjoying fanning the flames? Do they want to believe in the dangerousness of Black folks? Are the rumors a racist’s ‘too good to be true’?
What I’m saying: look at your white folks. What do you see? Are your white people playing white people games? If so, it’s white people ego, not truth. And nothing is more dangerous than white people’s ego. It will get you killed.
A powerful piece–one of your best. It deserves wide circulation
Ellen Morris Prewitt
Thank you, Joe. I haven’t been posting lately, but this story got my attention.
Marsha Van Hecke
So powerful, Ellen. Glad you’re posting again. Or posted this, at least.
Ellen Morris Prewitt
Thank you, Marsha. We bought our house a month ago yesterday, consolidate the Memphis and NOLA apts into the house, and gave away about 1/3 of everything in rolling waves. I am just now getting to where I can breathe again. But the truth is, I kept thinking, you need to post. But nothing triggered me to actually do it. This obviously did. 🙂
Powerful and poignant, Ellen. I couldn’t help but think of the gun toting St. Louis couple now slated to speak at the RNC. I hope many people read your post but I despair that so many are unwilling to hear the message. And I’m humbled by your honesty, your conviction, your passion and your action!
Ellen Morris Prewitt
Thank you, Ruthanne. You’re right about the St. Louis couple. I’ve seen so much grandstanding by white folks during the BLM protests. A puffed chest, “just let them try to come here.” I used to think it was bravado hiding fear, but there’s too much enjoyment in it. It’s a welcoming of the chance to prove your white people are right. i appreciate your kind words. As I told my husband, for Ruthanne to say that means the world to me. <3
I found this on a post from Jim Van Hecke. I’ve shared this on my Facebook and they’re people I love who I dearly hope will read this and think about the message it gives. Thank you for the opportunity to share it.
Ellen Morris Prewitt
Jim is my dear cousin! I’m glad the post spoke to you, and I think you for sharing it. It’s one of those posts that I don’t know whether it’s the right thing to do or not, so it greatly helps when people let me know they cared enough to share it. Thank you!
Marie A Bailey
This needed to be said. Thank you for speaking out so eloquently!
Ellen Morris Prewitt
Thank you, Marie. I appreciate it.