thoughtful comments submitted by Michelle Smith
On Wednesday, September 26, I got a text with a horrible image of a Halloween decoration from a home in Lansing. The image looked like a black man being lynched. My initial reaction was shock and sadness: Surely the community I love had not done this?
It turns out the decoration, originally intended to resemble the horror movie villain Jason, had been altered by strangers who stole the mask from its face, turning it into a racially offensive spectacle.
Since 1877, over 4,000 African Americans were lynched in this country. However unintentional, this Halloween decoration immediately reminded me and many others of real black men being lynched. The image looks almost identical to photos of lynchings one can easily find with a quick Google search. Seeing something like this hanging from a tree in your neighborhood has the potential to produce emotional scars or induce racial trauma.
Since this incident, I have done my own reflections, and I believe there are (at least) four lessons we can learn:
- Truth and intentions matter. Once I learned the full story, I saw that the family’s intent was not to be hateful. Knowing this truth, I could now choose to extend grace.
- Good intentions can STILL lead to bad results. Not only with Halloween decorations, but in life! Sadly, I too have done or said things with the best intentions and still offended someone. I had to own that. Learning this family’s intentions were not bad was a huge relief! However, that does not change how I feel when I see that image. It still hurts, because it is a painful reminder of what happened to people of color in this country.
- Check the source. Misinformation is easy to listen to when angry. I am grateful to those who helped clarify the facts, including The Lansing Journal. It helped bring better understanding of how the police responded, how the neighbors felt, and how “The Day of the Dead” is a Mexican tradition that influences this family’s celebration of Halloween.
- People in our community matter. It was beautiful to see the neighbors of this family rally behind them, defending them and the Halloween traditions of their block. However, we all live on different blocks with different traditions. It is up to each of us to think beyond our own blocks to the impact our actions have on the larger community. If someone in your community is offended by an action, shouldn’t that matter?
If you would like more information about lynching in the U.S., you can now go to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (museumandmemorial.eji.org). Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative opened this memorial in 2018 to honor the victims and their families, as well as provide a place for truth-telling and reconciliation, aiming to help America face its history of lynching so that the wounds it created can heal.
Lastly, I would challenge all of us to respond to this and future situations that involve issues of race according to James 1:19: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
I leave you with a quote from Bryan Stevenson: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
The Lansing Journal is a community newspaper. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community.
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