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The Phantom Culprit

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I have a face that is known around the world, but I’m most infamous in the United States of America. It is there that I was born untold years ago and it is there that I am propagated and nurtured. I am as much a symbol of American culture as baseball, but my appearances aren’t seasonal. I am ordained whenever the need arises. A young white mother in South Carolina drowned her two sons by rolling her car into a lake. Attempting to absolve herself of any blame, she lied that a black man car-jacked her children. She gave a police sketch artist a description of me and for days, in front of television cameras, she tearfully pleaded that I should return her children. That sketch appeared in newscasts around the world. I was once again resurrected.

One day, a powerful white politician parked his car on the Manhattan side of the East River with a panoramic view of his home borough of Queens. Then this important official shot himself in an attempt to divert public attention from his past corruption. It was I whom he fingered from his hospital bed. I shot him; he lied, in an attempt to rob him. The picture of his empty car parked at the spot of the shooting was shown on television for a week with an appeal for information that would lead to the arrest of a shadowy black man fitting my description.

An unfaithful white husband, in Boston, drove his wife he no longer wanted, pregnant with a baby boy, he had not desired, atop an unkempt bridge in a black neighborhood and shot them dead. He knew that this was a prime location from which to launch his fabrication. He also knew what description to give in order to set the Boston Police Department on the lookout for me. The hunt began, as it has for hundreds of years, with compelling zeal.

That I am a convenient and believable scapegoat for some white people with sinister motives, due to no fault of my own is at the heart of my story, and is also a symptom of an incessant American illness. I tell my story in the protest style of the old Negro writers of the Negro Renaissance because so many people proclaim that the time for that kind of protest has long past. I disagree – how can the time for that kind of protest have pasted when the reasons for protest has not? Far too many white people still find it easy to believe that I did it, whatever the it might be because they know human nature they say. For half of the time I’ve been with them on this continent, they have denied my humanity, but now they accept and fear the reality that my instincts are, indeed, human ones. And, knowing human nature as they do, they reasoned that if my instincts are human, I would want to kill them for all that they have suffered upon me. They know that this is how they would react had the shoe been on the other foot and in this sense; they inadvertently allow that I am the same as they. Whenever the alarm goes out for my arrest, they suspect that I am striking back at them, as they would do, for the centuries of harm they have heaped on me.

Then, for them, there is this murky distinction between the unreal part of me which is a figment of their minds and the existence of real black Americans. They confuse us for each other – they mix and match us whenever it’s to their convenience. That I am not real sometimes escape even me and I find myself referring to the real black people as me. It’s a handy sociological tool that bridges the distinction between reality and expectancy.

 This is exactly my problem: Most white people’s expectation that I would retaliate for what they have done to me, allows them to believe that I would car-jack children, shoot a powerful politician, kill a pregnant woman, or even worst. I might want to share equally in the abundance of American life. It is a fact that they anticipate a day when I will raise up to make amends that keeps my portrait at there ready in their minds. They have a collective expectation and a single image of me in their individual minds. Why else would a white women in an elevator with a rich and famous black man fear for her pocketbook? She has prefect vision, but it is not with her eyes that she observes this man. She views him through the filter of her guilt and her fear. She thinks this is an opportunity for him to even the score. The fear blinds her; she thinks he’s me – the Phantom Culprit – the one black man all white people carry around in their heads.

Now it’s only fair that I point out that when I say all white people, I don’t literally mean all white people – but only that amount which gives the statement accuracy. This means that there are some whom I’ve malign – you know how you are – I beg your pardon.

Here is how I am most often described. I have a long face with full lips, a broad nose, sinister cheek lines and menacing eyes. I am brown skinned. I am sometimes drawn wearing the knit hat that was popularized in cartoons depictions of second story men wearing black masks, carrying a long flashlight and a sack of loot. I resemble no other black man in America, yet every black man in America can be mistaken for me and many have fallen to that misfortune. It takes little effort for those who describe me to verbally transmit my facial likeness to those whose fingers reproduce my image, because I am an identical figment of their imaginations. Whether I’m tall or just a midget is not known. It isn’t known if I have all of my limbs. Menace that I am I may have four arms and thorns for fingers. And, as allusive as I’ve been, I might have wings that enable me to swiftly perform my geographical gymnastics. I find it humbling that I have not never been given a proper name, a situation that sometimes make it hard for me to grasp the reality of my existence. For the sake of this narration, lets everyone call me Leroy, no, make that Leroy the Phantom Culprit. Yes, now that has a certain ring of truth to it, Aha, you say, now you know who I am.

I’m not really a person; I’m a tool. It used to be that many white policemen in big Northern cities learned to carry an extra pistol or a knife with them, so if they were ever involved in an unjustified shooting death of a black person, that extra pistol or knife became evidence to exonerate the policeman and justify the killing. I condemn the North for this practice, but in Southern areas of the country, this was an unnecessary annoyance. These are the tool white policemen used to protect and guide their careers in law enforcement. I am the tool white policemen use as subterfuge for the horrors they commit.

Personally, I don’t mind it for myself, but it does cause a lot of disruptions and unpleasantness in black communities and among black people. Many black men have died in my stead. Many of them while profusely proclaiming their innocence, and many of them, while plainly innocent to officials and the public, are condemned for the dysfunction, on the matter of race, that takes place in the minds of some white people. On many occasions I have been accused of engaging in what they say is my favorite pastime, raping white women, a preeminent capital offense, and over the years scores of innocent black men have had to duplicate the fate of the Scottsboro Boy in the most horrific manner. Nothing ever enrages and blinds the white man more than the accusation that I have bedded his woman – forcefully or not.

I don’t mind that many white people describe me in the same way, after all, if they didn’t, I could not exist. The energy of my existence comes from their imaginations. It is through them that I derive my shape, my notoriety and malformation, my helplessness as well as my power. Yes, my power – although I have casted myself as a victim, on the Yang side of my weakness is my power, as, on the Ying side of my power is my weakness. Slippery? Let me explain: It is only there, in the mass white psychic, that I exist.

There was a time in the South when the majority of white voters favored the Democratic Party. During the civil rights era, the Democratic Party aligned itself with the movement for equal rights; a position that alienated white Southerns, to whom my image became iconic for the Democratic Party – for then an intolerable association. Over a period of three decades there was a massive shift of white voters to the Republican Party in order to retard the social progress of black people. The irony is that this shift has the resulted in millions of white people voting against their own interest, doing damage to their families, the political system, the country and themselves. The South is a region of the country where even some professional people work second and third jobs trying to make ends meet and yet, many working-class white people are persuaded to support policies that favor the rich, simply because they are certain that these polices don’t help blacks. Whenever they view the Democratic Party, they see that sketch of me and the distortion sends them off in the wrong direction. That is the kind of power they have given me. Admittedly, it’s not a direct power I possess of my own accord, rather, a power that results from their folly – but power just the same.

Hold on tight – I am about to offer another equally slippery observation: much of what’s done to prevent blacks from striving forward turns out to harm working-class whites also. It appears there is this inner-connectiveness between them. When so many whites flocked to the Republican Party to inoculate themselves against my presence, they also shut out remedies to problems that afflict many of them. My power lies in their attempts to lock blacks out of the American dream. For many of them, the solutions that would ease black burdens are the same ones that would bring them comfort. If a white man in the South, with two jobs, a working wife, three children, a double-wide trailer and a hunting dog would vote his reality, he’d favor a reduction in his payroll taxes and not let politicians’ manipulation him into thinking he benefits from a reduction in the capital gains tax. He’d seek a raise in the minimum wage and a membership in a labor union to protect his status, but because he is encouraged to associate these issues with my image, he rejects them and imprisons himself on the outside of my cell thinking he’s better off.

No one has accused me of any wrong doing in the recent wave of corporate scandals. This supports their propaganda that I am a dim-witted creature incapable of the kind of sleight of hand that robs millions of American workers of their future. They know that it would be useless to draw a sketch of me in say, the Wall Street debacle. No one would believe it. They believe much about me that involve mindless violence, but they would never believe that I am capable of financial thief and deception on such a grand and ruinous level. Such a capability requires a studiousness that begins in a quality grade school, a 3.5 grade average in an Ivy League college, a facilitated acceptance into the corporate world and the ethics of Attila the Hun, who killed his brother Bleda in the year 444, rather than share power with him. All privileges long denied to me.

Much will be said of my improved conditions in this society when the day comes that my sketch appears in connection to grand scale corporate scandals – but that’s like turning things inside out – a bad measure, or perhaps, just a badly formulated way of seeing things. My world is measured in the negative. For an example, no one suspected me during the Maryland highway sniper horrors that killed many people a few years back. Professional profilers were sure that this was the work of white men as past history show. A sketch of Leroy the Phantom Culprit was not thought to be practical in this case and would only distract from apprehending the whites thought to be the shooters. In this case a hunt for me would only be a distraction that could cause the death toll to mount needlessly. We know who commits these heinous acts and it’s not Leroy, the experts were confident. Well, now we all know the results of this kind of thinking.

There I have shared some of the high points in my recent existence with you, but I want you to know that I am always on the job – operating on autopilot. When the clerk at the department store interrupt waiting on a black customer to make eye contact with the next white person in line to give assurance that she will be served before the current customer is completed, that’s the me in his head at work. When there’s an altercation and the white policemen arrive on the scene and arrest the black victim and not the white perpetrator – I am alive. When the car dealer or realtor adds the hidden black tax to the deal, I toil in shrouded wakefulness. When local governments under fund schools in black areas, they invoke my presence. I’m manifested in various everyday means and it’s these seemingly small symptoms that are my bloodline until the next big case.

Although I’ve never been publicly exonerated once the truth emerged, there were times when only the truth survived. The young white mother finally admitted to drowning her sons and led the authorities to the gruesome site in the lake where their bodies lie clinging to each other in the back seat of her car submerged in the watery lie she told. Then they forgot about me. The powerful New York politician made another more successful try for death and they called off the search for me. The unfaithful husband in Boston finally ensnared by his lies went back to that bridge and after his flight from it, joined his wife and unborn son in a way that precluded my being hunted down.

Now I look toward my long and eventful future with eagerness and anticipation. I never know when I’ll be called upon again in a major way, only that I will indeed, be called.

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About Horace Mungin

  • taurus47

    On January 20, 2009 Barack H. Obama became the first African American President of the United States. Yes, there is racism in these United States and we should not forget tht, but there is also hope. Of course we need to remember the past, but we also need to look at our actions that feed into the myths, stereotypes and just plain lies about us. We could pull up our pants, tie our shoes, stop producing and buying crude music that is disrespectful to our women and our people, stop using the “N” word, stop putting poison (food and drugs) into our bodies, persue higher education and stop being so ever loving angry all the time. This is 2009!!!

  • Horace Mungin

    Yes, there are many self-afflicted wrongs in the black community and I hope to get to write about some of them in the course of things – this article,a careful read will reveal,is not about those those self-afflicted problems.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Beautiful writing, Horace. Echoes Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

    I’m really surprised you have received so few comments thus far. I suppose the political junkies don’t have much appreciation or use for fine literature.

    You should try to have this piece re-posted in “literature” section (but unfortunately, we don’t have one); or in “culture” perhaps.

    I really loved it.

  • Horace Mungin

    “Fairy tales,” what fairy tales? To me a fairy tale is a fabrication – there is none of that in this peice. I didn’t intent this article to be an example of racist dogma, I merely chunched a brick in the dark to see who would screem – I ain’t blaming anyone for anything and I protest the removel of AlterEgo’s posts – please return them – they are essential to the point my article makes.

  • Baronius

    The big tip-off is that most people, if their comments are deleted from a site, would leave in a huff and never return. H&C keeps coming back and asking why his comments are deleted. Next, typically, is his “who is this JOM person you’re talking about” phase. Anyone else getting called by the “wrong” name would just assume that the commenters are jerks, and quit. He sticks with it.

    I find in unfortunate that H&C cannot play well with others, because I bet that his commentary about Obama would be hilarious.

  • http://jetsgaypride.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    That and a lack of a back URL… Who is H&C?

  • http://jetsgaypride.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    Is it me or is everyone on Pacific time now?
    Who is JOM????

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I think it’s too reasoned for H&C. He wears his prejudices on his sleeve and no apologies of any kind. That’s what kind of “charming” about him, never mind the lesser characters.

  • http://jetsgaypride.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    Ah, then it was me, probably the title of this article threw me :)

  • http://whizball.blogspot.com Aaron Whitehead

    Horace —
    Enjoyed the story. Reminds me of a lot of August Wilson’s characters.
    It is odd to me that, like #1, many people point to Obama as president as if to say “it’s over” or “at least things are better!” But that doesn’t seem to me to be what Horace is saying. For so many people — white and black — things haven’t changed. They don’t change just because there’s a Republican or a Democrat in the White House and they don’t change because of the color of their skin.
    I think if you want to refute the essence of the piece, you have to argue that Horace’s character doesn’t exist, and that what he describes as reality is not, in fact, real. That is very, very difficult.
    And I don’t know what black-on-black crime has to do with this. A little elaboration is in order.
    Speaking as a white male who is in favor of moral — if not political — correctness, I think we need to start talking about our big, unspoken fears and desires. And we need to stop looking for a quick fix — a presidential election or an elaborate burial of a racial slur — to a complex problem.
    To quote Shambala Green on “Law & Order,” “Putting a picture of Bobby Kennedy on your wall isn’t enough anymore.”

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Horace and whoever else may be interested:- The comments made by the person hiding behind the AlterEgo name is already banned from Blogcritics and has only managed to sneak in here because of the ongoing tech issues.

    He and his comments will be gone soon so please don’t waste your time or mine by engaging with him.

  • http://jetsgaypride.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    Horace, a bit long but a good read none the less… minus the distractions of course

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Why, Jet. I think it was very descriptive.
    Have you ever read “Invisible Man” by Ellison?

  • http://jetsgaypride.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    Roger I wasn’t talking about distractions within the article. and yes I have a copy of it here somewhere withing my hundreds of books I own, but it’s been a lonnnnnnng time since I read it.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I get you!

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ Jeannie Danna

    Hello Horace, I really like your style . It is crisp and to the point. You are so right about the white fools in this country running to the Republican Party for the wrong reason. My father taught me at a young age to treat all people with respect and not to clump one another together and label with tags. So I am trying hard not to do that to all these white fools running to the Republican party! I like your use of the word slippery and I wish aliens would come from outer space so we could all get together to fight THEM!

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Horace,

    Would it be OK if I were to republish your article on my own weblog?

    You can check the site by clicking on my url.

    Roger

  • Horace Mungin

    Roger- publish on, my brother.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Thanks. And I will provide all the references once done.

  • William Carter

    Excellent read. I remember you talking with me about that some time ago. It’s as though the politicians are playing both sides against each other while they pursue their own agenda.

  • Horace Mungin

    5/26/09 – The Phantom Culprit and accomplice accused of abducting white mother and daughter – both later found at Disney World.