John G Bell


Fall '03 - Gomez & Unsel

Week 8 – Critical Integrative Comment

“An Evil Eye and an Unequal Hand”: Constitutional Abomination, Lynching & Jim Crow

Jim Crow laws and the struggle over the implementation of the constitutional intent after the end of Reconstruction are an example of how important dissent is in raising issues of injustice. It’s also an important example of how important it is to listen for dissenting voices in order to avoid escalating violence and coercion by those trying to be heard. 

This may be controversial to say, but the people in the South were expressing dissent and should have been heard. Not hearing issues means that authentic needs could not be met. The idea that the lynching phenomena were textual messages the Whites were telling themselves is an example suggesting there was deep trauma involved. There were deep psychological needs that these people were attempting to address. I don’t mean to suggest that this is an excuse, but that I’m wondering about ways the violence could have been avoided or at least lessened. If these needs could have been recognized and addressed in ways that didn’t involve violence, then that would be a worthy project. 

The thing that I’m painfully aware of at this point is that if I’m going to hold that dissenting voices should be heard, I have to be willing to hold that dissent I don’t agree with should be heard. Otherwise, I’ve merely decided to hear messages with which I agree, and that does not address the issue of unheard dissent. If I desire to have my dissent heard, then I must be willing to listen to the dissent of others. 

If I fail to hear the dissent of others, then I’m part of what encourages those dissenting voices to use more force to be heard. I become, at best, the middling Anti-Federalists that abandoned the Plebeian radicals. What is worse is that I dehumanize the opposition by refusing to recognize that the opposition can have authentic needs that aren’t mine. I become part of the problem when I fail to have the civility to hear civil dissent, because I am part of what marginalizes dissent into uncivil expression. 

John F. Kennedy has perhaps been over quoted as saying something very similar: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." 

The failure of the Reconstruction is a convenient title to a syncretic event of massive social and governmental failure. It’s convenience is in how tidily it seems to contain in the past something that is still in the present. There are little hints everywhere, such as the southern gentleman in one of our videos that talked about a deep sense of defeat in the south. The wounds of slavery were not healed. That’s almost cliché to say, but it’s important. Not only did slavery itself not end, but the universal societal wounds weren’t addressed. We’ve been merely placing band-aids on these for over two hundred years in this country. 

There’s a certain dangerous schizophrenia in the cultural refusal to believe that the past is still with us in the present, or that there even is a culture about which to speak. This disassociation from the past disconnects us from the present and the future.