I was on vacation when I saw the photos. I won’t share them here, but I popped into Twitter to say this:
“White guys on horses whipping Black Haitians tells you all you need to know about racism in the US. Whether you're bothered by that or not tells you all you need to know about racism in your own environment.”
I stand by that. It is just plain wrong.
My reaction to the images of the US border patrol (white guys) whipping Haitians (Black people) was visceral. They reminded me of the images of overseers whipping enslaved people only a few centuries ago. For me, this was another egregious example of the way Black people are pushed aside in predominantly white spaces.
Let’s be clear: people have the legal right to seek asylum, no matter what the color of their skin or their origin. Countries also have the right to deny their claims. But they don’t have the right to do what we saw, to brutalize those asylum seekers.
What makes it worse is what someone I follow on Instagram pointed out: undocumented white people don’t get rounded up like that. White asylum seekers don’t get treated like that. Asylum seekers who aren’t from so-called “s-hole countries” don’t get treated like that. This kind of thing happens mostly to Black people (and people of color).
Those images suggest an enduring view of Black people as less than human, as closer to animals. It’s an argument that was used to justify enslavement, and its legacy pops up in all sorts of places and contexts. No matter how wrong it is, it still affects how some white people treat some Black people.
The use of whips is particularly egregious. I don’t know about you, but the few times I’ve brought myself to see films set in the period of enslavement, it’s the whipping I have the hardest time watching. The fact that white people could treat Black people so brutally and revel in it always makes me cringe.
There’s also a dreadful irony in the fact that in many societies corporal punishment is seen as too violent and brutal, so isn’t whipping Black people from the height of your horse even more so? Again, it’s just plain wrong.
Humanity is another issue. It’s not about whether those Haitians had the right to be there (and again, we all have the legal right to seek asylum). It’s about the fact that when dealing with white people, white people in authority manage to hold on to their humanity. When dealing with Black people, they often lose it. I’ve written about several examples of this in the past, and I’m sure you can think of many others.
As always, there have been people calling for us to look at the “context” of the images. And as always, you can miss me with the whataboutery. THIS IS NOT OK. It will NEVER be OK.
We keep wanting to believe we’ve come a long way in regard to racism. Those pictures proves we haven’t. If some white people can think it’s right to treat Black human beings in that way, it simply proves how far we have to go.
I’m heartbroken but unsurprised. We have work to do to make sure everyone knows this is wrong, and so we and our children never have to see images like that again.
How did you react to those photos? And how does my tweet land with you?
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.