Will the Real Willie Lynch Please Stand Up
By. Jose Aviles Ed. D.
Why teach Willie Lynch? A document many consider a fake, a hoax or simply a fictional text. Historian Prof. Manu Ampim presents evidence to suggest so on his website, Death of the Willie Lynch Speech. The answer I believe is pretty simple though the content in itself is very complex. Many of the concepts presented in this text are as real and prevalent in today’s society as when they were conceived by its author when written either three hundred years ago or as early as the 20th century.
Let’s take the concept of “Big Brother is Watching.”
Big Brother is a fictional construct created by George Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Big Brother is the mysterious dictator of Oceania a kind of communist totalitarian society. The government and ruling party uses technology to keep their citizens under constant surveillance. This publication can draw some interesting and ironic parallels to the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 also known as the Patriot Act.
The Willie Lynch speech is a lecture supposedly given by William Lynch a British slave owner who ran a modest plantation in the West Indies. The speech was reportedly given at a gathering on a bank of the James River in Virginia in 1712. He was purportedly invited by slave owners in Virginia who were having difficulty managing their slaves and sought Willie for advice. He apparently discovered many secrets to managing African slaves. It was like a convention on slave ownership and he was the authority on training slaves. He presented concepts such as divide and conquer and psychological oppression to instill fear and distrust within the slave community. This made chains unnecessary since slaves would no longer run away or try to escape, creating an environment of mental oppression. Turning slaves against each other was critical using a variety of techniques which included but was not limited to the destruction of the family unit, destroying the black male image, increased stratification using physical characteristics such as skin color, gender and age. This fostered jealousy through the creation of hierarchical sub divisions amongst the slaves themselves. This was done through rape thus creating prestige and value to the slave owners’ children with slave women that allowed for a perceived status such as the house slaves vs. field slaves concept. Though Willie Lynch may be a fictional character many of these concepts ring true till this day.
W.E.B. Dubois makes a clear connection between methods used to oppress slaves, and laws designed to discriminate against African Americans when slavery ended to the obstacles African-Americans currently face in their communities, such as high crime rates, drugs, lack of education, poverty and broken homes. Dubois reflects on his past works in a piece called Apologia he goes on to state: “I did not realize the psychological reasons behind the trends of human action which the African slave trade involved.” p.327 Throughout his career he was able to empirically connect the struggles of the African American community to the past actions of the Government. Towards the end of his career he exposes that the design of such structures were motivated entirely by economics and in keeping a very select few in power and very rich. Later Dubois promotes the teaching of Karl Marx and embraces the concept that human history is based on the constant struggle between economic classes. Racism came to fruition through economics, creating additional divisions in American society. This leads us to today and the various policies that discourage upward mobility such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax. These programs are removed disproportionately as incomes increase discouraging people to seek better paying jobs since it becomes more cost effective to stay unemployed. Taxes can increase at rates as high as 80% when the working poor gains better employment or even raises. The Net Income Change Calculator provided by The Urban Institute can show us this. The reintegration of non-violent convicts into the workforce has been an upward battle as well, since it is virtually impossible to find substantial employment with a criminal record thus promoting the industrial prison complex. Which is in itself another form of modern day slavery in which a disproportionate amount of those incarcerated are African American, Native American, Latino and poor.
In “The Shaping of Black America-The Road Not Traveled” Lerone Bennett states “racism,… is not an individual idea or peculiarity but an institutionalized ideology that commits the institutions of a society to the destruction of a people because of race. The idea developed by the Virginians (and Americans) was simple and profitable.” P.61
In other words those who believe that William Lynch actually existed give him way too much credit for single handedly masterminding the concept of racism. It was an idea that took hundreds of years to evolve and is still evolving today. Racism is embedded in the very fabric of economic and social class structures. Was Willie Lynch real? No. Are the concepts real? Yes, and that is why it is worth reading and presenting in class as a fictional text that has value beyond the classroom. This should be taught to all students regardless of demographic. Willie teaches us that psychological oppression is a construct that is real and that we should question all policies and laws that place us in a category which in many ways puts us in a psychological box that prevents us from exploring all options. This preconceived notion that we are who everyone else believes we are must be smashed, whether it is through politics, education, sports or business. Allowing others to instill this fear in us which prevents us from pursuing what make us happy keeps that one percent in power. Willie Lynch is less about race and all about keeping the 99% at each others’ throats. It is about time we woke up.
Bennett, Lerone: The Shaping of Black America. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Co., 1975, pp. 61-82.
Du Bois, W.E.B. “Apologia.” The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America in Du Bois, The Social Science Press, 1954, p.327-329
Orwell, George: Nineteen Eighty-Four, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc. 1949