I went back to college this year. That is both good and bad. It’s good because I love to learn and my classes are great, even my math class is better than I expected. It’s bad because I have a very hectic life, with a seven year old daughter, a grown son,( who is out on his own) two dogs, a husband and a hundred year old house we are trying to remodel, so saying I’m exhausted most of the time is an understatement. None the less, here I am a very excited college student.
In my Social Problems class today we talked about the usual ills of society, prepped for an exam, turned in a critique of an article and watched a video. The video was about a Billie Holiday song called “Strange Fruit”, which she recorded in 1939. It is about lynching, here are the lyrics…
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
And of course being a video there were images showing what was being sung. Throughout the video they talked about how Billie Holiday came to record it but what was so haunting was how they explained the lynching. When they told how they didn’t have to be guilty of anything just accused, but simply because of the color of their skin, they were hung. And how, depending on what the accusation was it also could dictate the extent of abuse that came with the hanging. A rape could mean their genitals were cut off, they could be gutted or burned, and all while they were still alive, then they were hung. This, more often than not, was done in front of a crowd. Men, women and even children would be present, and they were happy. They were happy because the man or boy hanging was “less than human” and getting what he deserved. How all these “good Christians” carried this out in the name of God and then went home had their dinners, scratched the dog behind the ear and felt “just”. Good Christians? Those two words, they stabbed my heart. I’m a good Christian.
During the class discussion that followed everyone agreed how horribly brutal and wrong this was. All I could think was how some of those same phrases and circumstances are still being played out today, only in terms of our gay community. They are referred to as abominations. They are taunted, bullied, denied rights…all by sign wielding crowds of cheering “good Christians”.
When the discussion finally worked its way around to me I was so hurt, angry and heartbroken I almost couldn’t speak. What I did manage to get out through a clenched jaw and tears, was that these lynching’s and the hate that was put upon blacks was FEAR! Fear of people that were different, that this fear of an imagined loss of power and control was the same fear and hate given to our gay community today. That somehow acknowledging that they are people, just like everyone else; these “good Christians” would somehow lose something. I told my class how angry and hurt I am. That nowhere, with the Christ I have in my heart, is any of this justified, not then and certainly not in 2012.
My anger is as a Christian. DO NOT use my gentle, loving Christ to justify hate, judgments and violence. And as I sat with tears running down my cheeks I thought about the people I have in my life. My friends, family members are all loving, kind, compassionate, talented, amazing people. People I love dearly and would lay down my life for, some of who just happen to be gay.
I know this isn’t to the same extent as it was during those horrific times; we aren’t lynching gays in the town square or out in a field or from the poplar trees. But I also know that it makes no difference to Matthew Shepard’s family that it was a fence and not a tree, the agonizing result was the same.
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