Some good news in the world!
New information about the unsolved Emmett Till murder has emerged, prompting investigators to reopen the case.
Carolyn Bryant, the white woman who accused the fourteen-year-old black child of whistling at her recanted her accusation years ago. She’s now 84 years old. Two men, Bryant’s then-husband and his half-brother, were acquitted but later confessed to torturing and murdering the child but were not retried.
I think a lot about Bryant, about how, as a white woman, I wield the same power she did. I think about what it means when white women call the police on black children mowing grass, playing in the park, asking for directions, delivering newspapers. I practice using my white woman’s voice to interrupt those attacks on black children’s lives. Stop harassing that child! What that child is doing is none of your business. I’m going to stand here, between you and this child, until you leave. You aren’t going to treat a child in my neighborhood this way. I’m recording this interaction and will share it as evidence of your harassment of this child when the police arrive.
Above, Tamir Rice.
Generations of white women bear responsibility for the death of Emmett Till–and Tamir Rice and Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and Cameron Tillman and Laquan McDonald and Andy Lopez. It’s not that we accused these children of crimes but that we have used “protection” of our white womanhood as a justification for fear of–and thus violence against–of boys and teens of color. We don’t have to be on the scene for violence to be done in our names. But we can also be part of the work of making a more just world in Till’s name.
Above, the climatic scene in The Birth of a Nation, the 1915 film that gave us a vision of the post-Civil War KKK as a force for protecting white womanhood. The heroine, played by Lillian Gish, fears being raped by a black man, played by white actors Walter Long in blackface. She throws herself off a cliff to her death as he pursues her. The film was boycotted by many people–but it also helped inspire a rebirth of the KKK.
Hunting down those who commit civil rights crimes is as important as hunting down Nazis and holding them responsible. Till’s loved ones deserve it. As a white woman, I’m grateful for it.