I had to explain lynching to The Girl, the other day. No, our conversation didn’t come because of the wake of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial, although it was very timely. We talked about lynching simply because she saw a tree.
We had spent the afternoon in a fabric store, one of my favorite places. She said repeatedly while we were there that she had never been to a fabric store before, which made me sad, because she actually frequented fabric stores with me until she was about two. Once we had The Boy, my creative and crafting endeavors came to a grinding halt. I don’t fault him – life just changed once we had Baby #2. So I was sad that she didn’t remember, but I was more sad that we hadn’t done this often enough in five years that she might remember.
Well, we enjoyed ourselves at the fabric store. We looked at all sorts of yarn because The Girl is teaching herself to knit and crochet. For those of you who knew me pre-The Boy, you may be wondering why she’s teaching herself those skills when she has a mother who could teach them to her. For starters, I’m rusty, and I never really got the hang of knitting. Using two needles severely challenges my dexterity. More importantly, though, I’ve learned that The Girl doesn’t like in-person instruction. She much prefers to read how to do something, so she checks out yarn craft books from the library, and I (or her grandmother – thank you, Mommy!) supply the materials. That day, however, was not a day for yarn. Instead she opted for some fabric from the clearance table, because she wanted to make herself a skirt. The sunny fabric blossomed with variegated pink flowers – full of life and pizazz, just like The Girl. I’m not at all surprised she picked it.
While we were at the fabric store, our two favorite males were at the grocery store. The Husband loves his grocery shopping. They got home before we did, and as we pulled up to the house and saw The Husband’s car, The Girl announced, “Daddy’s home.”
“Just Daddy? Not your brother?” I joked with her. “What do you think Daddy did? Leave him at the store?”
“No,” she replied, looking around. “He hung him up in a tree.”
Woah. I couldn’t laugh that one off.
So I explained.
I told her that although I knew she was just being silly, most people, especially black people, wouldn’t think what she said was very funny. We talked about how lynching is an act of hate disguised as a thinly veiled attempt to administer vigilante justice in the face of a crime real, perceived, or imagined. I told her that although black people are the usual victims, lynching can happen to anyone in a variety of ways. We talked about people being hanged, and burned, and beaten, and tortured as forms of lynchings. I warned her that although the chances of someone getting hanged are a lot less today than they used to be that lynchings still happen. Concepts like innocent until proven guilty, jury of your peers, right to legal representation, right to face your accuser, prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment all sailed over her head, but I tossed them out there anyway.
What didn’t fly past her, though, was the madness of it all.
“Why, Mommy? Why would someone do that to someone else? Why would someone hate someone so much just because they’re different?”
“I don’t know, Sweetie. I don’t know.”
We gathered our bags and went inside. She hasn’t said anything about our conversation since then, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. And sometimes when I go outside and see the tree that sparked the conversation, I shudder, imagining My Boy swinging in the breeze, and think “Strange Fruit” indeed.