There's a turning point, though, from rumor to fact when Christmas is accused of murdering his lover and burning her house down. He goes from being weird guy to a violent n-----.
The reason is clear enough, and almost a hundred years later (Faulkner completed the novel in 1932), it still explains why the almost daily slaughter of innocent black children, women and men goes unpunished and unstopped. Christmas's blackness didn't matter to the all-white political elite of Jefferson until after he was accused of murder, because non-white violence doesn't fit the racist narratives of most white people. Before the murder, his blackness was and could remain casual speculation, but after being accused of such a horrific crime, it only made sense if he was black.
Now, of course, we substitute "thug" for "n-----" (actually, not even), or in the case of Sandra Bland, we call her an angry black woman who shouldn't have challenged the authority of a bully cop. Sandra Bland didn't use her blinker when she pulled over. She refused to put her cigarette out, in her own car. She was annoyed that she was being treated like this. An activist, though, she must have know what could happen to her, and she must have been terrified. Then we look at other cases. Michael Brown was jaywalking and had stolen a pack of cigars. Tamir Rice had a toy gun that looked threatening. Eric Garner was selling cigarettes without a license. Freddie Gray was walking in a black neighborhood. Walter Scott had a broken tail light.
The common denominator? Petty offenses, if even illegal, are propagated as justification for murder. Challenging power, challenging the status quo, is uncomfortable. For white elites, the victim has to be a criminal to justify punishment, and in that mindset, violence is inextricably tied to blackness. A racist will say, "Well, white people are killed by the police. Why doesn't the mainstream media report that? Where is Al Sharpton when a white policeman gets killed?" (etc.). But those stories don't get popular because they're uncomfortable to hear, difficult to consume. People don't want to see that because they don't know what to make of it. A good first step to understand internalized racism is to ask ourselves, Why are we more comfortable with some deaths than others? What words and stories do we use to make ourselves comfortable with murder?
Thug. Bitch. Angry Black Woman. N-----. The white psyche demands words like this to fit smoothly into our narratives of criminality and to justify the mutilation of black bodies. Christmas' blackness was just as crucial as Michael Brown's thugness in the stories surrounding their deaths, despite the fact that Christmas was white and Brown was actually a nice guy who had just graduated high school. You can't lynch a white man any easier than you can shoot dead a kid just out of his graduation robes. That's why Christmas became black. It's why everyone knows the irrelevant information that Michael Brown had stolen a pack of cigars, and it's why we've heard repeatedly that Sandra Bland might have smoked weed earlier in the day. It's why we see Sandra Bland's mugshot (terrible questions about which have been raised on social media) instead of a selfie at work or a picture with friends. We construct irrelevant and often fictitious criminal histories over their non-white corpses in order to soothe white feelings.
The difference, of course, is that Christmas was guilty of murder and was offered a trial, whereas black people today are regularly executed without recourse for petty crimes they often didn't even commit. The times are certainly a-changin': it's getting worse.
Say their names.
Sandra. Walter. Michael. Tamir.Clementa. Ethel. Cynthia. Depayne. Myra. Sharonda. Susie. Daniel. Tywanza. Dontre. Freddie. Deven. Eric G. Eric H. Feras. The list goes on....
Cry for them, then do something about it. I'm reminded of Dr. King's eulogy for Jimmie Lee Jackson, where he incriminates politicians, preachers, congregants and citizens for their indifference and irresponsibility toward Jimmie Lee's murder and toward the struggle for civil and human rights more generally. Who murdered Sandra Bland?