By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
The rotting corpse of a black man hung from a tree amongst a mid-summer breeze, as townsmen walked by ignoring its sight and odor.
Visiting from a plantation in the British West Indies, a stranger met up with a group of men gathered nearby along the bank of the James River.
“I caught the whiff of a dead slave hanging from a tree a couple of miles back,” he said. “You are not only losing a valuable stock by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for maximum profit, you suffer occasional fires, (and) your animals are killed.”
The man then went on to offer a solution for retaining their “valuable” property that would reap profits for at least 300 years.
“I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves, and I will take these differences and make them bigger. I use fear, distrust and envy for control purposes. These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies, and it will work throughout the South,” the stranger explained. “You must use the dark skin slaves versus the light skin slaves and the light skin slaves versus the dark skin slaves. You must use the female versus the male, and the male versus the female. You must also have your white servants and overseers distrust all blacks, but it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect and trust only us.”
William Lynch delivered that speech in 1712, about 302 years ago. But, did his formula work, and is it still in effect in 2014?
Using colorism, dark vs. light skin, Lynch maintained division among his slaves. Colorism is still a hot topic today. The film, Black Girls, and Oprah Winfrey have recently highlighted the subject. Comments on social media sites fill up the pages.
"It is the light skin, dark skin prejudice where people of color discriminate against each other within their own race," said Winfrey during a recent episode of Oprah's Lifeclass on the OWN network. "It really boils down to the belief that the lighter your skin tone, the prettier you are, the smarter you are. And the easier you have it -- that's the perception."
In an audience filled with primarily African American women a candid discussion on its implications today and its roots took place.
“Its roots go all of the way back to slavery. Where the slave women were bred and created children and the children became lighter and lighter and lighter and lighter,” explained Iyana Vanzant, a spiritual life coach and star of OWN’s Iyana Fix My Life show. “And that the mother herself was often left out in the field. And she therefore became a field hand. And, the lighter women were taken into the house to serve the mistress. African Americans today are so far removed from reality that they don’t even recognize the lasting cellular and genetic impact that it still has on us - that we still have colorism, light skin, dark skin, you’re better than or more worthy than. You’re better than, because the closer you are to being white…you’re better than.”
This philosophy is instilled in some black girls at an early age, manifesting affects in adulthood.
“Growing up and even now to this day, boys would always tell me I’m pretty for a dark skin girl. For a long time, I didn’t understand what that meant until I asked a boy what he meant by that. He told me that there aren’t that many dark skin girls who were attractive, but there are ‘redbones’ everywhere, and they are all beautiful,” posted Bianca Bell on Tumblr. “This really offended me, because he was basically saying compared to light skinned girls I was ugly. Luckily, the only person whose opinion matter to me, if I was beautiful or not, was my father’s. However, I have a lot of guy friends who only want to date light skin girls and girl friends, who feel they’re not beautiful, because they’re not light skinned. This light skin versus dark skin has become a huge controversial topic in the black community and has created a divide amongst the African American race.”
When it comes to breakdowns in the family, over 50 percent of African American marriages reportedly end up in divorce. Lynch’s formula included creating animosity between male and female slaves.
Today, many African American women take the lead in their households. Some adopt the attitude of “I can do bad all by myself.” Children residing in single parent homes have become the norm, as black fathers are kicked out of the home by their independent minded mothers.
“Black females in this country, for many social/historical reasons, find it difficult to be submissive to any man. For some reason, they find it demeaning and insulting to take a second level position and allow the man to be the head of the relationship,” says Ashanti Williamson, 43 of Detroit. “Black men, who struggle in this society to be recognized as men, due to the underlining racist elements in America, will not relinquish their standing in that relationship. They feel they should be recognized as a man. Black females can more often than not, dominate a white man, or are more willing be submissive to him, based solely on the fact that he is white, which is reminiscent of the slave girl/slave master mentality.”
Contributing to the division in the black family is the disproportionate number of black men incarnated in prison.
According to Project Muse, twenty-five percent of African Americans growing up over the past 30 years experienced one parent locked up during their childhood.
The Bureau of Justice reports the incarceration rate for African-Americans is about 3,074 per 100,000 residents, which is more than six times as high as the national average.
Black businesses have also been affected by the Willie Lynch syndrome, as predominately black clients patronize white businesses.
“We can sell the same product at a lower price and black folks will still go out of their own neighborhood and drive across town to patronize a white business,” says Jeffrey Reynolds. “Its bad enough that there’s competition among ourselves, but we have to compete with other racial groups to get people that look like us to buy from their own people. Willie Lynch had it right. Slave mentality didn't end with slavery, we’re still dealing with it today. It’s time to free our minds.”