While the authenticity of the so-called “Willie Lynch” letter/speech is dubious at best (Cobb, 2013; Ampim, 2003), some of the methods of control mentioned by the author do have historical basis. What is more, they remain relevant today, as many of the ways in which people of all ethnic backgrounds and other points of difference are manipulated by one of the prime forces in our lives: the media. In a sense, the media has power and “owns” us in a manner similar to the way a slave holder in eighteenth- or nineteenth-century America owned his or her slaves. Lynch mentions three principal methods of social control in the opening his speech – fear, distrust, and envy – and we can identify the use of all of these in various forms of media used for various purposes.
Fear is a tactic that can often be found in television and print journalism. These sources play upon our fear of difference or threats to our safety in order to maintain our attention (and their viewers/readers) and, indirectly, to influence our perceptions and beliefs. The representation of race or religion, for example, has great power in the American news media, and has at times created very specific ways of seeing African-Americans (criminals) or Muslims (terrorists). Similarly, potential disasters, outbreaks, or attacks – such as earthquakes, the Ebola virus, or terrorists – keep people fearful, vigilant, and distracted from other, possibly more real and important matters. In a state of fear, as Lynch tells us, people are mentally weak and more easily subject to influence. News media, and, through them, government and corporate interests, take advantage of this state.
Television, film, and magazine representations of people, especially in regards to beauty and wealth, can also be used to create envy in viewers and readers. This is another way of controlling what we want or who we want to be and distracting us from what we need and who we should be, according to our own values. These images of wealth and beauty, appearing in magazine advertisements, for example, are very often unrepresentative and unrealistic, and yet we overlook this and submit to the influence of those creating them. Similarly, certain modes of behaviour and roles are encouraged through television and film, often those that represent the dominant ideology in a society – in regards to how particular classes of people should act, how sexuality and families should be structured, or what political beliefs to hold.
By controlling modes of discourse, those in power effectively control language and put limits on what we can think, feel, express, or believe. Lynch sees this, and – in a project similar to that of Big Brother in Orwell’s 1984 – orders that: “We must completely annihilate the mother tongue of both the new nigger and the new mule, and institute a new language that involves the new life’s work of both” (“Willie Lynch letter,” 2009). In controlling the conversation, the media can keep us focused on its message – keep us watching, believing, or buying certain things – and drown out conflicting messages. Lynch writes that without such control, the slave may “incorporate something in his language whereby he comes to value a house more than he does his hog pen,” and that, in such a case, “you got a problem. He will soon be in your house” (“Willie Lynch letter,” 2009).
- Ampim, M. (2013). Death of the willie lynch speech: Exposing the myth. : Black Classic Press. Retrieved from http://manuampim.com/lynch_hoax1.html
- Cobb, J. (2003). Willie Lynch is dead. Afro-Netizen. Retrieved from http://www.afro-netizen.com/2003/09/willie_lynch_is.html
- Willie Lynch letter: The making of a slave. (2009, May 22). The Final Call. Retrieved from http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Perspectives_1Willie_Lynch_letter_The_Making_of_a_Slave.shtml