Thursday, March 21, 2013
Durham resident is the author of the Willie Lynch Letter
Dr. Kwabena Ashanti dropped the bomb as I prepared to sign books at the Beyu Café in Downtown Durham.
“I’m the author of the Willie Lynch Letter, “he said as I waited for a crowd to line up for me to sign my new novel.”
It was the biggest news of the year, I thought as I begged him to tell me the rest of the story. Ashanti, who lives in Durham, NC, is the mastermind of the biggest hoax since the claim that Microsoft had purchased the Roman Catholic Church.
The Willie Lynch Letter is mentioned in the movie The Great Debaters. The notions of the letter became popular after Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan quoted parts of it during his speech at the Million Man March in 1995. Farrakhan later used the letter to support his claim that slave owners used the letter to control slaves.
The letter purported to be a verbatim account of a speech delivered by Willie Lynch to an audience gathered on the bank of the James River in Virginia in 1712 regarding the management of slaves. Lynch, a slave owner, tells other slave masters that he had discovered the secret to controlling black slaves by setting them against one another.
Ashanti claims that he wrote the letter in 1970 as a way to present his theory related to the current division inherent in the black community. The document was assumed to be an authentic account of slavery during the 18th century, and was used by members of the academy, ministers and activist to draw attention to the ongoing implications of slavery.
The letter advises slave owners to take advantage of the differences among the slaves – dark skin versus light skin, straight hair versus nappy hair, house slave versus filed slaves. The philosophy of the letter fit already existing assumptions within the black community. The letter gave credibility to the notion that deep division within the black community is a carryover from enslavement.
Malcolm X used the same thought process in his speech Message to the Grassroots. Malcolm spoke about the two types of enslaved blacks: “the “house Negro” and the field Negro”. The house Negro lived in his owner’s house, dressed well, and ate well. He loved his owner as much as the owner loved himself, and he identified with his owner. If the owner got sick, the house Negro would ask, “Are we sick?” If someone suggested to the house Negro that he escape slavery, he would refuse to go, asking where he could possibly have a better life than the one he had.
Malcolm X described the field Negro, who he said were the majority of slaves on a plantation. The field Negro lived in a shack, wore raggedy clothes, and ate chittlins. He hated his owner. If the owner's house caught fire, the field Negro prayed for wind. If the owner got sick, the field Negro prayed for him to die. If somebody suggested to the field Negro that he escape, he would leave in an instant.
Malcolm X said that there are still house Negroes and field Negroes. The modern house Negro, he said, was always interested in living or working among white people and bragging about being the only black in his neighborhood or on his job. Malcolm X said the Black masses were modern field Negroes and described himself as a field Negro.
The Speech to the Grassroots has been used to define and celebrate authentic black identity. It led to the usage of the label “Uncle Tom”. Malcolm’s words were rendered within the context of a revival to define blackness in a way that repudiated thoughts and actions that mirrored a celebration of white identity.
Ashanti has authored at least ten books that focus on the importance of an Afrocentric culture and the education of African beliefs. His book Psychotechnology of Brainwashing examines what he calls the system of White Supremacy’s niggerization process. He concludes that all areas of our society conditions black people to fear and seek acceptance from White people, while degrading black lives. His work seeks to reverse that process.
A librarian at the University of Missouri-St, Louis, posted the Willie Lynch Letter on the library’s Gopher server in 1993. The librarian later revealed that she obtained the document from the publisher of the St. Louis Black Pages, a local newspaper. Although she was convinced the letter was a forgery, she elected to leave it on the Gopher server because she believed that “even as an inauthentic document, it says something about the former and current state of African America.”
Roy Rosenzweig and William Jelani Cobb, two respected historians, have been on record that the letter is hoax before Ashanti’s confession. The opinion of the academic community has not tainted the relevancy of the letter in the eyes of many. Like the librarian at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the assumptions of Ashanti’s hoax are real enough to transcend his hoax into the realm of truth.
The questions related to Ashanti’s game are many. What does it mean when you formulate a philosophy based on assumptions that are not validated by true scholarship? What are the dangers connected to teachings lessons tied to historical pain devoid of a clear connection between the past and the present.
It can be assumed that Ashanti’s hoax is relevant to the discussion involving the psychology of black people. We could assert a high level of continued brainwashing and niggerization. All of that may be true, but can we make that claim simply because it feels that way?
With that being said, what are the consequences of embracing any theory based on thoughts created by the person who uses the hoax to justify their claims?
Sounds like brainwashing to me, but it could be argued that I’m brainwashed.