Strange Fruit and Mob Mentality

Strange Fruit and Mob Mentality August 20, 2022
In 1939, Billie Holiday sang The haunting song, “Strange Fruit,” which is a sobering melody about lynchings in the South. She was subsequently targeted by the US government and Harry Enslinger, a known racist. They didn’t like the fact that she used heroin, but they really hated the song more than anything.
Billie Holiday was often harassed and arrested because of the song. Oddly enough the reason they didn’t want her to sing the song is very similar to the reason for the subject of the song.
At the risk of making this too simple, the reason humans do things like hang other humans is similar to the reason why we have gangs and the Mob. It starts as an intent to protect whoever we consider to be “us”. The group we are protecting could be our neighborhood, our town, our faith, our race, or our country.
Scores of black human beings were murdered in Tulsa, Oklahoma because of fear during what was termed “Black Wall Street.” Believe it or not, it all started with a couple of teenagers in an elevator and was most likely initially harmless.
In 2021, thousands of protesters stormed the US Capitol because they were afraid of losing their country. When fear is radicalized, it becomes a powerful weapon in the hands of perpetrators. Preachers, politicians and activists know too well that the perfect pitch begins with making us afraid of what will happen next.
When people are afraid, they are prone to buy whatever is being sold.
Enslinger could justify persecuting jazz singers because it was a “war on drugs.” Frightened citizens, unable to curb their own racism and overtaken by their fears, allowed him to do this.
What bothers me most about this issue is that it has become prevalent and normal in Western churches. We are so political, and we tend to see any challenge as “the end” because that is the way it is presented to us by pastors and politicians.
All it requires is an “other” that someone convinces us to be afraid of. When “they” are the cause of our imagined demise, it’s easier to imagine eliminating them in some way.
The thing I love about Billie Holiday is that she used the pain in her life to motivate her to positive action. She didn’t eliminate the things she was afraid of, she faced them. Sometimes she did well, sometimes she didn’t.
Those of us that are often afraid would do well initially to just set with some things we are afraid of. As with most things, it might be beneficial to ask more questions. Responding to the salesman’s pitch (preacher, politician, salesman) is usually not the best option. In one way or another, the best thing to do with fear is to face it in a responsible way.
I was going to post the lyrics to the song, but it’s much more moving if you listen to Billie sing it. In many ways her life was heroic, and in other ways it was tragic. Probably a lot like most of us. Generally, I am not afraid of failing, but I don’t want my legacy to be that I let fear rule my life.
For too many congregations of Christians, that IS the main storyline.
Be where you are,
Be who you are,
Karl Forehand

Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity

Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!

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