Under Judgment Of White Men

I've repeatedly had to prove myself worthy to white men, and that gets exhausting. A child of Mississippi, I can't talk about myself at all, without talking about both gender and race.

Though I’ve withstood the judgment of white men throughout my life, as a white woman I’m not winning any awards for enduring the harshest, that’s for damn sure.

But, before we get where we need to go, I have to tell you a little about those neighbor-killing folks I mentioned before.

What God Meant LiterallY…and Not

This isn’t gonna be a lecture, so don’t fall asleep on me, now. Here’s what you gotta know, and–I promise you this will all connect to your life, and mine, by the time we hit the bottom.

The Puritans believed God let you know what he meant in the Bible and wasn’t messing around, so people better accept his scripture as written…except for the stuff about the Israelites.

Using that same text, they decided they were the true Israelites. Their logic went something like this: They were escaping religious persecution, Protestants who sought to reform the Church of England. Chosen by God, they were fleeing into the vast, unknown wilderness, bravely searching for the “promised land” in the New World.

Anyway, I’ll leave that there for now.

Embodying Perfection

These people designed their lives around holiness in word and deed—signing a covenant with God to follow biblical moral law, promising to  love God and one another, while upholding justice and mercy.

Knowing they’d fall short, they focused on daily reminders of their imperfections; they worked to cast out evil wherever and whenever they spotted it, within themselves or other people.

Here’s the thing. We have records from that time, y’all. Lots of them. Firsthand accounts. And people were still people. Lots of adultery, fornicating aplenty, wagonloads of petty arguments about land and money, just shenanigans of all sorts.

Some of those shenanigans ended up in gruesome deaths.

Shit Gets Hysterical, But Not AT ALL Funny

Though they later called it a “hysteria” that made those good Christian people start offing anyone who looked at them sideways, hysteria does not seem applicable to me. Hysteria should be a fleeting condition–at least one would hope.

The girls’ afflictions via “black magic” were first documented in January; the last executions of so-called witches happened in late September.

This wasn’t temporary insanity. This unholy massacre lasted nearly a year.

It started with a couple of young girls, a minister’s daughters, having fits. Clearly, evil was in the community, and these innocents were suffering. When pressed, these girls had an easy scapegoat.

They pointed right to Tituba, an enslaved woman, who had been taken from her home of Barbados over a decade before. Though she had worked and prayed alongside their family all that time, caring for their children, now two of those kids were saying she’d taught them spells and black magic. She was the first to be charged with witchcraft.

So, there’s Tituba, sitting in a courtroom, all these white people ready to lynch her and free themselves of the evil, waiting for her to confess. Though she tried a denial, yet again, after already spending time in prison and being interrogated at length, they brushed that off.

Eventually, she says, sure, whatever you guys say, that’s what happened.

And, you know what, she adds….there’s way more evil in Salem than you have even addressed yet, so take a good look around you. Yep, look right at your neighbors, Tituba urges, because it’s everywhere.

And, wow, did she have some spooky-ass stories to back it up. Reading the court transcripts will chill you to the bone. She was good.

She had tales about a hog, a red cat, a huge black dog, and a hairy critter that walked on two legs. She described a creature with wings, two legs, and the head of a woman—something typically accompanied by a canary that would suckle between the fingers of a witch. Her best stories were about a black-coated man. (I don’t need to tell you how Puritans dressed.)

But, sure, she says…she had seen his evil book and all the marks in it—but she couldn’t ever make out the names. Nope, she couldn’t point to a single person specifically, just confirm there were quite a number of folks who had themselves some late-night dealings with the devil.

The white men demanded specific names, beyond the two they had already sorted out themselves and found guilty, but she wasn’t having it.

However, those girls supplied names–a regularly updated and expanded list–as often as needed.

Where Blame ALWAYS Tends to Fall

Here’s a side-note you might find interesting: Many historians try to place all or most of the blame on Tituba for the entire fiasco, saying her participation was damn near completely responsible for the vile acts that followed.

Well, she was no more a participant in those trials than she was a “participant” in that damn village in the first place. And, she was right anyway. There was plenty of evil in Salem and its people. The fact she escaped with her life is a miracle, and she saved herself without pulling down a single new innocent in the process.

The historians who don’t blame Tituba usually blame the adolescent girls…sure, those evil, feckless girls killed a bunch of innocent people. C’mon, now.

This was a bunch of messed-up kids, emotionally stunted and repressed, who’d been raised in a community that preached evil and sin 24/7, girls who were typically ignored or beaten into behaving properly—until they were “afflicted.”

Suddenly, not only did they have attention for every word they uttered, but they could tell the most powerful men in the village what to do.

And, by God, those men would do it.

Easy To Kill

In the early cases, the women called out as witches were some the community didn’t really mind murdering.

There was a 39-year-old woman, both poor and pregnant, who went begging door-to-door while her husband did his day-laborer gigs. There was a 65-year-old woman who had fornicated once and wore a silk scarf. Then, there was a 71-year-old woman who had a border dispute with one of the town’s richest families—you know, the clearly evil people.

The most powerful families in Salem were the Proctors and the Putnams. The latter had a daughter who could point out those witches like she was getting paid in chocolate strawberries. It was coincidental as hell how many of those witches were interfering with her Daddy’s business dealings.

The other rich white fella, John Proctor, considered himself immune from things regular people had to deal with (which wasn’t a crazy assumption at first)–well, his entire family was arrested on charges. Proctor, who often threatened to beat or whip those afflicted girls for lying, didn’t make it out alive.

After the easy-pickings at the jump, the girls were running out of obvious suspects.

To keep things going, they had to branch out. Luckily, a septuagenarian widow, who was a midwife and nurse known for her sharp tongue, had her foot ointments and other medical supplies used as evidence against her, proof of objects of the occult. Boom. Witch. Death.

It might not surprise you to know that midwives in other spots were also commonly accused of witchcraft, because of their medicinal knowledge; they were also connected to stillbirths and miscarriages, since—ya know—their vocation was delivering babies.

Where Are the Good (White) Men Though?

In case you’re wondering, “Wait, where were the decent people?”

Surely, there had to be a couple of good people in power (also known as white men….sorry, but not sorry cuz I didn’t make these rules).

Someone must have tried to slow down this lunacy…

Well, there were a couple who tried. George Burroughs, a minister, got skeptical after a while. There were 200 accused witches at one point. He was like, c’mon…and he spoke out. Now, suddenly George was bewitched by evil too. He got accused, and convicted, as fast as the others.

Right before his hanging, he offered some powerfully moving words to the assembled crowd, and ended by reciting the Lord’s Prayer–which was something a witch shouldn’t be able to do.

The crowd got hesitant; some were crying and starting to protest. Another man of God, though—Boston minster Cotton Mather—was there to halt that nonsense, reminding those townsfolk that George was an evil man who had been convicted in a court of law.

He must have been more convincing because they went ahead and killed George, then killed four more people right after.

Complicating the whole mess, of course, were a whole bunch of people confessing to these exact crimes. I imagine it was something like, “Where’d ya say I need to sign so that you don’t murder me? Right there? Cool. Cool.”

Each additional confession supplied more proof that these white men were on to something.

Faith ALWAYS Stronger Than Fear

Then, there were some Christians who refused to sign anything claiming they put their name in the Devil’s book, no matter what earthly fate it meant for them.

It could have been that their fear of God was more powerful than their fear of their neighbors, but I think it was more. If you ever get a chance to read some of their writings from jail, you’ll see their words are something special.

I don’t believe they were terrified of being cast out by their Heavenly Father if they tried to save themselves when crazy people came calling, speaking lies they knew were lies. But they seemed to hold strength in their devotion to God. These imprisoned women spoke of a deep and abiding faith, an unshakeable one.

Being Christian was their entire identity, and they were willing to die to hold their pact with God.

Bolder Claims of Bewitching

Eventually, the girls’ claims about who was still bewitching them had to get bolder. They were out of easy targets.

Martha Corey was a respected woman, known for her devotion and piety; she felt safe to speak her mind. She stated, without even trying to be a little bit diplomatic about it, that those girls were lying through their teeth. She publicly condemned the trials and the judges too.

As you might be anticipating by now, those girls then said Martha afflicted them. And she was executed too.

Her 80-year-old husband, Giles Corey, was stripped, forced on the ground, and tortured. See, because he hadn’t confessed, they couldn’t kill him. They had a Plan B though. They would stack heavier and heavier stones on his chest until he either confessed or died.

According to witnesses, his last words–three full days later–were: “More weight. More weight.”

I could just stop there and let Giles come off as a saint and a martyr, but the full story was this: After pressure from the powers-that-be, who wanted to nab his wife Martha in the worst way, he’d caved and said just enough for them to convict her. So, even if he wasn’t a saint, he was a martyr–one of many.

He did what he could to recant, but the deed was done. Though he refused to speak against her in court again, knowing that would cost him his life, she was executed anyway.

Men and Martyrs

I’ll tell you another man who died a martyr in my book; you may have heard of him: Eric Garner.

He suffocated to death, from strangulation, right there on a public street. His last words, which he managed to say 11 times, were: “I can’t breathe.”

Some people who share my skin tone were quick to point out that he was breaking the law—what with that scandalous selling of individual cigarettes without tax stamps.

White Friends…Please Don’t Go

Now, listen, if you happen to be white too, a new white friend on this page, please don’t leave.

I’ve lost too many white friends over the last four years because we all decided we had to choose which of us were good and which of us were evil.

When it comes to good and evil, most people are not an either/or, and I’m confident, deep-down, all of us know that. None of us are perfect, or perfectly right, about a single damn thing.

Until we accept that as a constant truth, we won’t be able to mend. And we desperately need to heal.

By the way, in case anyone wants to call me to task for my simplistic racial terminology, I know I’m not using the labels many have come to expect. I understand the history behind why those are important in academic, social, and cultural circles. And, I do use terms like African-American, when I’m around people I don’t know well, of any race.

But, in normal life, I do not refer to myself as Caucasian.

If I’m talking, that word feels ridiculous in my mouth. If I’m writing, I need at least six damn tries to spell it.

Maybe my fingers know more than I do about my rightful heritage, and I’m part cashew and part cushion. Which sounds about right anyway—I’m soft and huggable, maybe a little nutty.

Please—to any white friends who are tempted to wave the red flag and charge—hear me out a second about Eric. Don’t  assume I’m about to start shaming you for being white, any more than I’d shame him for being black.

I’m also not here to beat up on police officers; I will say they are part of a system, and a system is made up of people, of all types, which means that system will have flaws. I believe most who are called to be peace-keepers are brave, selfless heroes willing to risk their lives for others.

Believing that to be completely true doesn’t mean I can’t also believe, with just as much conviction, that there are some who have issues to work out as individuals, before they’re given so much authority, powerful weapons, and near-total immunity for their choices.

Trouble Breathing in a Smoke-Show

Let me pull myself back on point here: After that happened to Eric, a lot of people had trouble breathing.

I’ll never pretend to understand what it feels like to be a person of color, especially a black man in America.

But I promise you that my heart ached, and my tears were real.

I won’t get into the rest of the list of martyrs in the last few years because frankly it’s just too painful. The people who care about those names already know the list. The ones I most need to talk to right now might not recognize the name, or have wanted to hear the stories and their details, so I’m not going to push you on that point.

Friends, we got pressed into party lines so tightly and unrelentingly that just now–when I uttered an incantation including the words Eric Garner–something might have risen up in you to decide that I AM a witch. And an evil one.

Even if you’ve been following along with me enough to see that maybe I’m not so bad.

Friends Who Don’t Wear My Gang Colors

I’m ready to have some white friends again, beyond those who wear my gang colors.

Try not to be angry with me, when I suggest this situation—what happened in the late 1600s—keeps playing itself out today, right here, live and in color on our televisions.

We could draw parallels to people of color fleeing violence, to women who speak their truths about sexual abuse or rape, and to children who tell us when some evil men hid behind a church’s power to commit unspeakable acts.

Maybe we could drop our metaphorical blue capes and metaphorical red hats.

Maybe we can start talking again about what connects us.

All On One Side Now

Now that one stressful event after another has actually turned into a world pandemic, there are still a lot of innocents being sacrificed in our country.

There are still a handful of people (mostly white men) deciding who deserves to be saved.

But, this time, there are way more of us on the same side, y’all. We have to be.

Most of us can’t just take an indefinite period where we stop working, kick up our heels, enjoy a break with the fam, and maybe catch up on our shows. Even one month of not working for many of us means no food, no water, no electricity, no medicine, and no shelter.

Paycheck-to-paycheck people rarely vacation; they certainly don’t do it for a month or more. Now, some are looking at two or three months stretching in front of them, wondering what in the world they will do.

See, this virus is a curse in many ways, but there is a possible (hidden) blessing.

We may start to see again that we’ve got far more pulling us all together than we’ve remembered in a long time.

THOSE ABOVE US

Of course, there are a few people right now—a very small number of them—who are fine with how things are shaking out.

They get what they need out of the deal, and a few dead martyrs scattered along the way…well, that’s no skin off their noses.

They might even say, well, those people got what they deserved anyway, right?

Maybe “those people” could have just made better choices. Maybe they could have obeyed authority harder, or stayed out of our village in the first place, or had the right friends in high places, or developed a perfect reputation and had nothing on their record but a history of good deeds.

But, wait…that didn’t work in Salem, did it?  So, maybe they’re doomed either way.

Unless something fundamental shifts in our minds.

Unless we have a miracle, or something magical, open our hearts again.


 

 

About the Author
The Southern Prophet is an ordinary Southern woman who had an extraordinary spiritual experience.