To My Old Kentucky Home: Your Whiteness Will Not Save You

I had the opportunity recently to visit The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as The Lynching Museum, in Montgomery, Alabama, that memorializes racial terror lynchings. To be classified as a state that participated in racial terror lynchings, (defined as lynchings that were intended to terrorize black Americans and enforce racial hierarchy), it had to have had lynchings of 100 or more black people. Kentuckians lynched over 100 black people. In Rockfield, Kentucky, Robert Morton was lynched for writing a note to a white woman. In Bowling Green, Kentucky, Caleb Gadly was lynched for walking behind the wife of his white employer.

As I walked through the museum, I was determined to take pictures of each of the hanging pillars that bore Kentucky’s name, representing lynchings. As my arms started to grow tired from taking so many pictures, I bent over, and I wept. I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer knowing that I lived in a state that had a history of lynching black people who looked just like me. I cried because I was fighting so hard for justice in a state that was saturated in the blood of black men, women and children. I wept because just underneath the bluegrass were the bones of black bodies that never found a proper burial. I cried because I lived in a state where I had to go online a few years ago and complete a form about my thoughts on Confederate statues in Louisville. I was appalled and heartbroken that I had to fill out a form online to debate the humanity of black people. I was broken that a Confederate statue had been moved to a town where a pregnant black woman named Lucy Hamilton was sentenced to death for killing her white slave master and rapist. Lucy gave birth to her child and handed the baby over to the sheriff’s wife before being hung, and this is the very place Kentucky decided to relocate a Confederate statue.

How can I not weep? My God.

Kentucky may want to pretend it was neutral when it comes to slavery and the Civil War, but make no mistake — slavery, white supremacy and racism are as connected to Kentucky as are bourbon and bluegrass. Stories of forced movement of enslaved black men and women in treacherous conditions walking nearly 200 miles, is part of the legacy of Kentucky.

My people were sold down the Ohio River into places of horror. (Please read “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward E. Baptist to gather an understanding of Kentucky’s role in slavery.) “My Old Kentucky Home” is not a ballad about the love of Kentucky. It is a song about a slave anticipating being sold down the river where slaves have heard the life in the Deep South is even worse than being a slave in Kentucky, as if there are degrees to being in bondage, and this is our state song.

And now here we are, in this state, with its history, and Matt Bevin says he will run for reelection to be the governor of Kentucky.

Please listen to me, Kentucky. Especially white people in Kentucky. If you have never listened to me before, please hear me now. Let me be as plain and as clear as I can be, Your Whiteness Will Not Save You!

Bevin has made his choice to seek reelection, a man who has Shown you what he feels about the least of those in Kentucky. Do not be fooled by your whiteness. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security because of your whiteness. Your whiteness will not save you! Please know, if you are two to five paychecks away from being in a financial crisis, you may as well come on over here with us. If you have a pre-existing condition and need healthcare, come on over here with us. If you are tired of fighting just to exist, come on over here with us. If you are sick of working just to be broke, come on over here with us. If you work in a restaurant you can’t even afford to eat in, come on over here with us! If you work the night shift at a hospital you can’t even afford to be sick in, come on over here with us. If you work at a department store you can’t afford to shop in, come on over here with us. If you are poor, low-income and white, come on over here with us. If you live in an area of Kentucky where people have robbed your town of its resources, come on over here with us. If your father or grandfather worked the coal mines and now suffer from black lung, and they want to take away their healthcare, come on over here with us. If you want to stand on the right side of history and humanity, come on over here with us. Your Whiteness Will Not Save You!!

Trust me! Listen to me! For once, Kentucky, bet on humanity and not on hatred. Look around you! We are not your enemy. Black people have Never been your enemy. You have always fought the wrong people. Your enemy was never us. Go look in a mirror. The people who have their foot on your neck, that are taking your healthcare and pensions, look just like you.

If we are going to survive, we must start working together. There are More Of Us Than Them! All we have to do is Stand Together and Rise, Rise, Rise! •

Hannah L. Drake is an author, poet and spoken word artist. Follow her at writesomeshit.com and on Twitter at hannahdrake628.