This article includes racially offensive terminology and imagery in a historical context.
Black History Month was established to encourage Americans to dive into history that has long been overlooked. From black champions of civil rights, to black inventors and innovators, to black musicians and mathematicians, we learn about people whose accomplishments haven't always been celebrated. From slavery to Jim Crow laws to mass incarceration, we also learn how our country's legal and justice system practices have systematically oppressed black Americans for centuries.
But sometimes slice of overlooked history hits us so forcefully we have a hard time believing we'd never heard of it—or if it's even true.
Posts have been circulating on social media showing an old, black-and-white photo of kids playing a game called "Hit the N****r Baby," where they throw baseballs at black people's heads for fun. Such carnival games, also known as "African Dodger," "Hit the Negro," or "Hit the Coon," were still played as late as the 1950s.
Snopes says that the "Hit the N****r Baby" photo came from a 1942 YMCA brochure for Camp Minikani, a children's summer camp in Wisconsin. So not only was this game played, but it was acceptable enough to have been included in a freaking camp brochure.
It's so jarring and appalling to most modern sensibilities, it's hard to fathom how such blatant racism was ever the norm—but it was. And it wasn't even that long ago. My own mother was alive when these games were played, and her mother is still living. Two generations of my own family lived when "Hit the N****r Baby" was a considered cute carnival game. And not just in the South, which we know aired its racism out in the open, but all the way up in Wisconsin. That blows my mind.
The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University goes into disturbing detail about how these these games were played and the dehumanization of the people used as targets. A video on YouTube shows how black Americans were used as targets of violence for white people's entertainment for decades. (Please be advised that the video includes racially offensive terms and imagery.)
This is reason 234,007 why when white folks try to claim that the oppression of black people in America was sooooo long ago, I have to shake my head and blink a few times. Blatant, proud white supremacy was normal for the vast majority of American history—especially in the southern U.S., but not exclusively. People act as if, when slavery was abolished, all the proud white supremacy that fueled it just magically dissipated—but clearly that wasn't the case or we wouldn't have ended up with Jim Crow laws. And it's not like when Jim Crow laws were eliminated a century after slavery ended, all the proud white supremacy that fueled those just magically disappeared. A sweeping change of laws is not the same as a sweeping change of heart.
There are inevitably going to be some "get over it" folks who will complain about this history being brought up, as if it's better to just forget what happened in the past. That's quite convenient for the people who aren't directly and negatively impacted by the history of white supremacy, and quite unfair to the people who are.
Assuming most of us find the content of this video appalling, we have come pretty far in just a generation or two, so that's a somewhat silver lining. But at the same time, the FBI has warned about white supremacist terrorism, and "white nationalism" has become a politically palatable label for far too many people. Citing FBI statistics, New York Magazine's Intelligencer states, "hate-crime violence hit a 16-year high in 2018 with the black, Jewish, Latino, and transgender communities being targeted more than ever."
Clearly we still have more work to do toward eliminating white supremacy, internalizing racial equality, and establishing true racial justice. Hopefully seeing this heinous, relatively recent chapter of our history will lead to recognition of the racism that has been prevalent since our founding, as well as a reckoning of the injustices that the U.S. has still not atoned for.
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