When I got pregnant, one of the gifts I received was one of those “Baby on Board” signs to hang on the back of my car. I didn’t know why but it rubbed me the wrong way. Why should other drivers be more careful just because there was a baby in the car? Should they not care about all the other humans sharing the road? I put the sign at the bottom of a box and didn’t give it another thought.
Two years later, I was sitting at my desk reading Remembering as Resistance when this passage made me tear up. Her great uncle, Frazier B. Baker, and his infant daughter Julia were lynched in 1898.
At this point in the article, nine other lynching deaths had been mentioned but none evoked that same visceral reaction. Was it because I am a mother with a young daughter? Or was my sympathy and sadness actually something that I needed to examine and address? I think it was a little of both and also the reason why that sign at a baby shower many months ago irked me.
Why was the life of a lynched baby more tragic than that of her father and countless other victims? This is hard to admit but I think it is because we can safely assume that babies are innocent while still allowing the idea that maybe those other victims did something, anything that led to their horrific ends. It is the place in my mind that I am trying to change, trying to grow and trying to stifle. It is also the place in my brain that tells me that if I stay quiet and pliable and in my place, I will be safe.
But what slight, real or imagined, could ever warrant the atrocities inflicted on people like Frazier B. Baker half a century ago? Emmett Till whistled at a white woman and that resulted in his death, except he didn’t. She lied and he lost his life and his status as an innocent child killed by adult men.
My logic for being more devastated by the death of an infant is the same logic that allows for believing that Mike Brown got what he deserved, that Philando Castile was posing a threat, or that Walter Scott should not have run. If these men had just been perfect, if they had just done what the officers had told them, they would have lived. Or would they?
Today, lynching is thankfully behind us in the most literal definition. But as Hannah Ayers pointed out in her documentary and article, there is still so much more work to be done and it starts with people like me: white folks who mean well, but whose thought processes still need work. Only by addressing our own prejudices, can we make real change and help those from whose oppression we have benefited. Some days, like today, that’s going to mean you can’t believe everything you think. What a place to start.