Book Report #1
Killers of the Dream, by Lillian Smith
Lillian Smith’s provocative social commentary, Killers of the Dream explains the outbreak of racism and segregation following the Civil War, and the succeeding abolishment of slavery. After identifying and treating the many symptoms, Smith proceeds to diagnose the root causes of the South’s illness. Initially taking a seat on the bench and psychoanalyzing herself, she then juxtaposes her case study upon the wider population of rich-white elites in the South that represented her personal knowledge and experiences. The maelstrom that ensued permitted a highly racist, segregated, and class stratified society; sustained Jim Crow acts as a viable painkiller for bottled up anger; caused the South to swallow a heavy dose of hypocrisy; and prescribed the same pill to its offspring, which over time, overdosed.
After the death of slavery, hierarchical social tensions birthed segregation as their heir to maintain the South’s longstanding traditions. Segregation needed to be carefully nurtured, and Jim Crow spread through the implicit influxes of racism and racial superiority. The esoteric nature of the racial agenda in the South reprogrammed the minds of its children and ensured adherence to the code. It also laid the foundation for future generation’s indoctrination and allegiance in a highly racist society where fear of punishment and consequences reigned supreme and eternal.
Using the language of psychoanalysis, Smith contends that segregation existed as a rigid set of rules that sought to restructure the racist hierarchy in the South after its defeat in the Civil War. Both blacks and whites had to learn how to behave in socially accepted manners, conducive to the regions of ego and the stifled and restrained id. However, the stifling of one’s Id and libido often manifested itself in a moment of weakness, sin, and lack of self-discipline; as a result, society and the superego either punished the taboo or accommodated it.
Smith identifies herself as a white child of Southern affluence that essentially nursed at the breast of two different mothers, one white and the other black. Described as anal, strict, and distant, the white mother kept to her spot on the pedestal, to which the white father had placed her and turned her to ice—frigid. Smith thus found love and understanding in the black mother that she portrayed as earthly and warm. Yet, the day came when she had to close the door on her loving black mother as the experience evolved into a disease—a malady that caused massive cognitive dissonance within herself; one that she believed every white child reared similar to her endured.
The cathartic and almost religious experience of lynching created a channel for poor whites to exercise and maintain their control over another race, class, and gender of people due to their perceived “currency of whiteness” or racial superiority. However, poor whites themselves belonged to a lowly socioeconomic group. As Smith reasons, the pressure of the hierarchical South to transcend class barriers allowed white elites to strike a deal with poor whites to ensure the elites maintained their wealth, power, and influence over society. This allowed the poor whites to have an outlet for their rage, as demonstrated: “You boss the nigger, and I’ll boss the money. How about it?” (176) The relationship between the two mothers and their interactions regarding the white father and the white child explains why the infusion of power into sexuality created such a mess that became the entirety of the New South vibe—a world of contradictions. This paradigm explains why so many in the era emerged as individuals with difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with their loved ones and lovers. The whole experience of the black mother disappearing remained buried in Smith’s memory for the entirety of her childhood, and not until some thirty years later did she notice...
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