In an attempt to discourage white women from dating black men, twenty-eight-year-old James Jackson stabbed sixty-six-year-old Timothy Caughman to death.
Mr. Jackson traveled from Baltimore to New York City imagining white women heeding the warning inherent in his planned murder spree. Mercifully, the spree never happened as Mr. Jackson “got depressed” after his first attack and turned himself in to authorities the very next day. He explained in an interview with the New York Daily News that “He rather would have killed ‘a young thug’ or ‘a successful older black man with blonds… people you see in Midtown. These younger guys that put white girls on the wrong path.’ ”
When the poison of racism, thick in the air we breathe, takes bodily form in a murderer like James Jackson, the prevailing sentiment among white people tends to be shock. But shock is the luxury of the willfully ignorant, those not likely to be or know the targets of such attacks. The history of this country is such that a white man targeting a black man for servitude, incarceration or death, simply because of the color of his skin, is the natural order of things.
Many in the majority (that’s white people, for a little while longer, at least) choose to live deeply into a faux American story that sanitizes our violent history in exchange for tall tales of gentle slave-owners, level playing fields and racial harmony. When the fault line of racial division splits our communities wide open, it’s very often white people who are smacked in the face with the truth of who we really are as a country.
A vigil organized in the assailant’s hometown to honor the victim revealed conflict between neighbors as to how to tell this terrible story. Some clashed over whether the seeds of Mr. Jackson’s racial hatred had originated in their suburban town with its Klan-based history. He purchased his 24-inch sword online but some understand that Mr. Jackson’s hate is, in part, an inheritance from his racially segregated community.
Avoidance of painful history is also a luxury. It’s a choice given only to oppressors. Those of us on the receiving end of generational, racial violence remain vigilant in the present-day, attending to signals that remind us of our collective vulnerability. We might be exhausted from reports of racial attacks like this one. We might even be angry. But we are not shocked. We have lived this story for far too long.
The hatred that killed Mr. Caughman is the fruit of a culture in which generations of white men and women were trained to hate black bodies. A national refusal to embrace our true history guarantees that such hate will continue to thrive. We cannot change what we cannot discuss. Until avoidance of the truth gives way to the acceptance of the painful parts of the American story, racial “othering” will continue to fester in the hearts of our divided communities. We are in need of some truth-telling heroes. Some of us don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer for the rest of us to get it.
Story by: Leeann Shaw Younger