I guess after teaching about lynching nearly every semester for the past 6 years I shouldn’t be surprised to know how ill informed people are about the practice of lynching. Ever since Clarence Thomas and his defenders claimed he was the victim of a “high tech lynching,” the term lynching has been misappropriated by politicians and other public figures. Thomas’s misappropriation of the term was a tremendous insult to the real victims of lynchings, who were tortured, beaten, castrated, burned, hung, and terrorized by huge mobs of whites. These mobs included white men, women, and children. Lynching was murder and torture as a public spectacle.
So when are people like Bill O’Reilly going to get this through their thick heads? On his radio show O’Reilly responded to a caller who alleged that Michelle Obama was a very angry and militant woman. Here’s the extended quote from Media Matters:
O’REILLY: You know, I have a lot of sympathy for Michelle Obama, for Bill Clinton, for all of these people. Bill Clinton, I have sympathy for him, because they’re thrown into a hopper where everybody is waiting for them to make a mistake, so that they can just go and bludgeon them. And, you know, Bill Clinton and I don’t agree on a lot of things, and I think I’ve made that clear over the years, but he’s trying to stick up for his wife, and every time the guy turns around, there’s another demagogue or another ideologue in his face trying to humiliate him because they’re rooting for Obama.
That’s wrong. And I don’t want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there’s evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that’s how she really feels — that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever — then that’s legit. We’ll track it down.
In the beginning it sounds like O’Reilly is defending both Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, but why did he have to add the lynching comment at the end? Either O’Reilly is a sick disgusting murderous bigot or he doesn’t have a clue what lynching is. I’d like to believe the latter. I’d like to believe that he hasn’t seen the pictures in the Without Sanctuary exhibit, and like most of my students he’s ill informed about what lynching is. Because if he isn’t ill informed, it would mean that he would want to be part of a group that tortures, kills, and mutilates, Michelle Obama, assuming he found “evidence” or “hard facts” that she was angry or militant.
It’s time to have a moratorium on people using the term lynching for anything short of killing and torturing people, whether or not it’s Clarence Thomas, Bill O’Reilly, or Golf Channel anchors. The misuse of the term lynching, whether intentional or unintentional, is a gross distortion of American history. Furthermore, the misuse and abuse of the term is an insult to the victims of lynching, as it understates how brutal, inhumane, depraved, and offensive this act is/was. Next time O’Reilly (and others) should educate himself (themselves), so he can find a less brutal and less racially loaded term.