There’s been one topic that I’ve desired to write about for at least a year and a half, and I’m happy that I finally am able to tackle this.
If there is any document that has been brought up by the black community within the past twenty-five years, it’s the speech from Willie Lynch. Ever since Farrakhan brought it up at the Million Man March in ’95, it has been quoted by rappers, used in college courses, written about in books, and discussed many times over.
What’s startling is this speech didn’t originate from the time period mentioned in the document, but is a modern creation from the 1970’s. Depending on who you are, reading this may or may not shock you.
Even when I first heard about the speech, I never really spread it around like that because I’ve never been one to rely on “smoking gun” documents that attempt to explain complex historical circumstances. When I found out it was developed in the ’70s, and promoted from the mid-90s till now, it was quite a shock to me. It also is amusing when you consider that some words used in the speech weren’t in use in the year 1712, and none of the civil rights leaders mentioned it before the 90’s when it became popular.
It’s incredible that a single speech holds so much sway in discussions about colorism and other divisions amongst African-Americans. It has such an influence that when someone is confronted about the origins of this speech, the response is usually, “It doesn’t matter if the speech is fake or not! It expresses a reality that we’re living. Stop being so focused on whether or not it’s accurate!”
For some, this is enough, but as a Christian who encourages you to change the way you think, this is not enough for me. In fact, it is more harmful than many of us realize.
I’m releasing this piece before Black History Month is over, and if there is anything this month conveys, it’s that history is important. It is important enough that it provides the narrative for the identity of a people. This was applied to the people of Israel, to the body of Christ, and it applies to all of humanity. When we are ok with inaccurate history, we enable the distortion of our identity and image.
The modern creation of this speech has caused many in the Black community to ignore the accurate historical accounts from slaves concerning the tactics used against them by slave masters, as well as diminish the nuanced response from the slaves who resisted those tactics.
Some of those tactics included the weaving of white supremacy into Christian theology, as well as using whippings to stoke fear, the breaking up of mothers from sons, and husbands from wives, sexual assault on both men and women, and other dehumanizing actions.
Being a Christian means that we understand the systemic issues of white supremacy that produce pathologies amongst blacks, while simultaneously understanding the sin that naturally exists in the heart of every man. It doesn’t take Willie Lynch to divide dark skin against light skin, young against old, or the other divisions mentioned to cause these divisions. The sin of pride can do that all by itself.
The thread and progression of history is far too dynamic and nuanced to reduce the problems within the Black community to one speech. As Kanye once said, “No one man should have all that power,” and we all have to wonder why it’s so easy to give a historically unverifiable man so much power over an entire people group.
It’s time to value truth when dealing with history. Whenever the story of Willie Lynch comes up, my response will forever be, “That’s not my history.”
Here’s a link to an article titled “Death of the Willie Lynch Speech” from Professor Manu Ampim, where he explains the source of this speech. He’s a bit brash and comes off pompous, but I wanted to share this to get you started.